Category Archives: theatre

A Walk Through My Mind

Recently, I started taking long walks again. Coming out of the slough of despond can have that effect, and vice versa. And as I walked, I began to think. As as I thought, it seemed like a good idea to share some of my thoughts.

So last week, setting off from Crewe Toll towards Princes Street, in Edinburgh, I thought I would share what was on my mind as I was walking.. Siri obligingly opened my voice memo app, and the result is here for you to listen to. There is traffic, and breathlessness involved, so it’s all very ‘in the moment’ as we say in the biz.

There’s talk about theatre, and the weather, and I do apologise for the poor quality of the recording. Clearly this is going to be a steep learning curve.

As I mention in the recording, at the top of Dean’s Bridge, a rather interesting building can be seen. I still haven’t been able to ascertain if it’s a private house or not. Here it is.
           

Play

Look Back to Move Ahead

I know you shouldn’t laugh at your own jokes, but this – my first ever Philosophy Essay, submitted on 27th April, 1999 – still cracks me up.  The assignment was to respond to The Lier’s Paradox by arguing for one of four possibilities (it’s true, it’s false, it’s neither true nor false, it’s both true and false)

 

To The Editor

Aegean Times

Piraeus

Sir

With regard to the headline of your recent article (The Problem of the Lying Cretan) I wish to make it clear to your readers that I take great exception to the assertion that the esteemed actor Epimenides (of Crete) is a liar.

When he made the statement “I am (now) lying” Epimenides was not lying.  He was expressing himself with poetic licence.  This rhetorical device has been used since the days of Aeschylus to great effect in poetry and drama.  Epimenides, comsummate artist as he is, instinctively incorporates it into his improvisation.

According to your literal interpretation, when Epimenides said “I am (now) lying” he was stating a fact, and a fact is by definition true, in which case he was lying.  By this reasoning it is also possible to say that if he was telling the truth, then the statement was false, that is, it could not have been a fact.

If Epimenides spoke the truth, and was lying as you say, then his statement must be both true AND false. However, it is impossible to speak truthfully and tell a lie at the same time (a lie being an intentionally false statement and the opposite to telling the truth).  Therefore, his statement could not be both true and false.

This being the case, the statement must be neither true nor false.  But this is equally impossible for the same reason, that one cannot lie and speak truthfully at the same time.  So if Epimenides was stating a fact, we are left with the ridiculous paradox that his statement was both true and false, or neither true nor false.

When Shakespeare’s Hamlet utters the words “I am dead, Horatio” (Hamlet, Act V sc ii), he is not actually dead.  If he were he would be unable to speak at all. Yet he is speaking sincerely, without intent to deceive.  It would appear that the statement: “I am dead, Horatio” is not literally true, it is not a ‘fact’, but when spoken truthfully in the circumstances of his status and condition, states a higher Truth – the Truth, in fact, that his aspirations, intentions, and princely potential are finished, along with his life.  The words epitomise the desolation of the moment at the climax of the play. As the distinguished Scots theatre director Tom Fleming stated with reference to a similar line in Macbeth (Boy: “He has killed me, Mother”, Act IV Sc ii), it is not a lie.  It is poetic licence.

Of course, Hamlet is a fictitious character, played by an actor who has not be poisoned and stabbed.  A fictitious character cannot be really dead, since he was never really alive.  The actor who portrays him is pretending, creating an illusion of a character who never existed anyway.  Therefore when he makes the statement, “I am dead, Horatio” it is not, in truth, a matter of fact.

Yet if Hamlet’s words could not, given the same or similar circumstances, be spoken by any one of us, then Shakespeare has failed as a dramatist.  Had he failed we would not still be watching productionas of his plays, especially Hamlet.  He succeeds because his characters do speak for us, expressing our deepest desires and sorrows, only with greater effect. Shakeaspeare’s skill lies in the way he uses langfuage, and one of the devices he uses is poetic licence – the freedom allowed to writers in regard to grammatical construction, and to the use of facts, “especially for effect” (Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary, 3rd ed. [1997] p. 1035).

When Epimenides said “I am (now) lying”, like Hamlet he was referring to a greater truth than the literal meaning of the words.  He was engaged in the telling of a tall tale which grew taller by the minute, until he reached the point where his remark “I am (now) lying” was the epitome of exaggeration.  Just as Hamlet’s use of the present tense (I am) heightens our awareness of the wasteful tragedy of his death, so Epimenides’s “I am” heightens our awareness of the gargantuan nature of his fabrications, and of our complicity in them.  Hamlet’s “dead” overwhelms us with the inevitability of loss. Epimenides’ “lying” generates universes of make-believe.  “I am dead” in Hamlet’s mouth makes us aware of our own mortality in a moment of catharsis.  “I am lying” slipping from Epimenides’ tongue awakens us to the vitality of our own imagination and playfulness.

Thus Epimenides was not lying.  He was speaking truthfully, through the device of poetic licence, expressing in the fewest possible words not so much a simple daxt as the great truth of humanity’s endless capacity for invention.

I remain

Yours faithfully

Apallina of Athens

__________________________________

This was the tutor’s response:

Excellent work, Flloyd.  An immensely entertaining (and highly original) essay, that incorporates argument alive precision and clarity within its imaginative format. Well done!”

and then something happened…

“Before expression, there is nothing but a vague fever, and only the work itself, completed and understood, will prove that there was something rather than nothing to be found there” (69). Thus Merleau-Ponly describes the current state of my thesis, “nothing but a vague fever”, a fever which burns intensely somewhere behind my frontal lobes, its very vagueness adding fuel to the flames

That was how I felt about my thesis, roughly 4 years ago. Fortunately, the fever burnt out round about the time I presented my practice-as-research project as a fully realised production, towards the end of 2010, and by the middle of 2011 I found I was able to sit still for hours, days, weeks at a time and write, edit, re-write, cut, write and read and write again until I had completed a full draft for submission.

Did I mention I was doing this part-time?  Just in case you think I’m either slow or lazy (which is not to say I’m not), since

IMG_0120

officially a University of Queensland PhD Thesis is supposed to be completed within 3 years. I started mine in 2006. Why? Good question. Next question please…

This is what I looked like back in those days. By 2010, when The Fall of June Bloom (or What You Will) finally made it to full Equity Showcase production, at the Geoffrey Rush Drama Studio, UQ St Lucia Campus, I had gone completely grey, and had acquired two grandchildren.

Writing the actual thesis had been a stop/start affair over the years while I attended to my teaching practice, presented my ideas at various conferences in the UK and the USA, spent time with the kids (who now live in Seattle) and getting June Bloom up and running. I saved money on rent by house-sitting, and stopped going to the hairdresser to help with production costs. I am happy to say enough money was raised to ensure that everybody received a decent payout at the end of the day.  I really don’t believe in doing profit share unless there is a profit to share. But I digress.

The thesis was approved by my advisers (who used to be known as supervisors) and submitted for examination at the end of May, 2012. In keeping with the rest of my experience of the whole PhD Candidature thing, it was supposed to be back within 3 months, but it took 9. I finally received 3 reports in March 2013. One examiner said pass it with minor revisions, one said pass it with major revisions, and the adjudicator said pass it with major revisions that are really not all that major. Are you still following?

My initial reaction was – no big deal. Make it better. Good idea.  Then I thought about it. Then I stopped thinking about it. Then I got busy with some rather exciting teaching and acting work. Then I thought about it some more. I went through it like a dose of salts, handed it back to my chief adviser, who said “WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING???”

By the time I recovered from the realisation that I had completely misinterpreted the problem, something had happened. I had aged.

Ageing is not something anyone actually expects, or believes will ever happen to them. We all know we will get older, but up to a certain point we don’t actually believe that it will affect us particularly. As long as we’ve got reasonable health, what is the problem with getting older?

I remember being 45, working with a wonderful mime artist named Pat Keysell, who was then 52.  “Flloyd”, she said to me one day, as we walked from my flat in Govanhill in Glasgow to the rehearsal venue at the Tramway, “don’t you find you slow down as you get older?”  I was shocked to realise I was constantly charging ahead of her down the road, and having to wait for her to catch up. She was so agile in performance, a beautiful physical artist who transformed into a deer, or an owl so completely with a simple flick of her ankle, or toss of her head, I simply couldn’t understand why she walked so (relatively) slowly.

FFL-10
latest mugshot, taken in March 2013 by the extremely talented and kind Barb Lowing

Ten years later, I still didn’t get it. But twenty years on, boy do I know what she meant. And not only do the joints object to movement if I allow them to stay still for any length of time, the brain cells also take ages to fire up after a rest, and frequently misfire with awkward, frustrating results. So editing and revising the thesis is a slow, painfully tedious process with only occasional hints of the fever that burned with such delicious intensity not so many years ago.

It will be done, eventually. Actually, sooner than that. It has to be finished by March next year. Thank goodness. Right now, I’m back in Seattle with my son and his  family, enjoying the late summer/early Fall, catching up with friends and learning lines for a beautiful play to be presented as a workshop production in Brisbane next month. I will get this tiger off my back, but in the meantime I shall let William Blake have the last word:

TIGER, tiger, burning bright  
In the forests of the night,  
What immortal hand or eye  
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies          
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?  
On what wings dare he aspire?  
What the hand dare seize the fire?  
And what shoulder and what art  
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?  
And when thy heart began to beat,  
What dread hand and what dread feet?  
What the hammer? what the chain?  
In what furnace was thy brain?  
What the anvil? What dread grasp  
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?  
When the stars threw down their spears,  
And water’d heaven with their tears,  
Did He smile His work to see?  
Did He who made the lamb make thee?  
Tiger, tiger, burning bright  
In the forests of the night,  
What immortal hand or eye  
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

 

 

Post Fringe Ponderings

The final performance (for now) of The Fall of June Bloom (or What You Will) took place at 7 pm on Sunday night, 3rd April, at the Phoenix Fringe Festival. The house was just over half full, but it seemed more, it’s such a tiny venue Space 55. It only seats around 36-40, and a few empty seats here and there don’t seem to matter.

The big guns were in. David Barker, Professor of Acting at ASU, and two guys from the Fringe Festival.  Angela (our director for the Phoenix production) brought her mother, and Zack, the MFA student who had been at the VASTA conference in 2009, the one who suggested that the production would be a real treat for students if presented to them as a lecture, had come along all primed to come up when invited to do a short passage from a Shakespeare monologue. Sadly, when the moment came, I completely forgot to invite him up! Sorry, Zack!

One thing that has been relatively consistent throughout all the performances, both in Brisbane and in Phoenix, has been audience engagement.  For the most part people laugh, smile, or listen intently. The Phoenix audiences were larger than in Brisbane – I don’t think we ever had more than 12 people in the audience in Brisbane, whereas we had 15 to 25 in Phoenix, and in a smaller space so they would have felt less exposed.  The Phoenix audiences were also much more prepared to look me in the eye, and to respond. I could look at just about anyone, and they would look back, whereas in Brisbane many people (especially non-actors) either avoided eye contact or refused to maintain it.

The difference at the final performance was that David Barker, who arrived about 10 minutes late and sat in the front row, just looked at me impassively throughout the whole performance.  He never smiled (that I noticed), nor did he ever give any indication that he was interested in the discussion, or the ideas expressed.  This only became truly relevant to me when I met him the following day at the Phoenix Film Festival schools workshop.  He came up to me and thanked me for working with Lauren (one of his students), asked me how she was to work with, and whether I had written the script. That was it.  In my book, that is code for “I didn’t like it much, and your performance did not appeal to me either”. He probably only came because of Lauren, which is fair enough, and was only interested to check that I hadn’t been taking advantage of her, or teaching her bad habits.

So there you have it.  All the people who stopped me on the way out after each of the three performances to thank us effusively, to congratulate both Lauren and me on our performances, to admire the production and the ideas expressed just evaporate into the “foul and pestilent congregation of vapours” that hovers, uninvited, close by, while the one mean-spirited response (or lack of) lights up like a ‘brave o’er-hanging firmament fretted with golden fire”.

What IS that?  You’d think I’d be able to control it better, after all these years.  I claim to be non-competitive yet I am unable to accept being anything less than the best there is. I know I’m not, by a long chalk, but I keep on hoping that somehow, some day, I will suddenly emerge as this great actor!  Of course, I work at it. I don’t expect to get any better at it without actually putting in the hard yards, doing the training, exploring, experimenting, engaging with the craft, developing my skill set.  The problem seems to be an old one. I get above myself. I don’t realise I’m doing it until I find myself being cut down to size.

From New Album 14/03/11 2:21 PM That’s Angela Giron, me and Lauren Dykes, the Phoenix division of Thunder’s Mouth Theatre.

So what does that mean – to get above myself? How is that even possible?

I think I am playing the good old Aussie game of hunting down the Tall Poppy. The rules are that nobody must stand out, or appear to be higher, smarter, richer, prettier, or anything-at-all-er more than anybody else. If they are, they must be cut down.  I refuse to play this game against other people, but boy am I terrified of being perceived as being a Tall Poppy myself!  Hence my real claim to fame, my actual expertise that qualifies me as a genuine Tall Poppy, is in the area of self-sabotage.  I’m the Best!

A Strange Quietus

I’m home, I’ve unpacked, and I’m trying to figure out how I feel, IF I feel, what I feel and why. I remember this feeling – I have felt it before, once. It was a similar occasion, many years ago, when I had given a performance after some years of ‘resting’. It is a kind of contentment, a gratitude to those who helped to make it possible for me to do my job, as a performer, combined with a sense of satisfaction that I have been allowed to do that thing I was born to do.

Tonight was the opening night of my play, The Fall of June Bloom (or What You Will). I wrote it, I’ve produced it, and I act in it. There have been many extraordinary talented individuals along the way who have helped me to shape it, produce it, and bring it to performance. It is the kind of theatre I like to experience as an audience member, and tonight there was an audience who enjoyed the experience we gave them. Wow. Just that – wow.

Changing the Mode

It seems so long since I last performed on stage. Making the switch from teacher and director to actor has proved more challenging than I expected.

We’ve been rehearsing for two weeks, and today I felt, for the first time, a genuine ease between us all – the two actors, the musician and the dramaturg. At some stage today we each gave and received direction to and from each other quite unselfconsciously. Well, perhaps I wasn’t as unselfconscious as all that, but my remarks or suggestions seemed on the same level of generousity and adventurousness as the others, and to be accepted as such. That fine sense of ensemble is starting to glow in the work, and it is very pleasing. One more week, and then we’re on, the final element is added in – the audience. Hope to see you there!

A new career?

I mentioned in my last post that I had provided a voice-over for a colleague in Dunedin.  His name is Ian Chapman, and he is a musician, writer, lecturer and all round talented person with a spectacular Alter Ego called Dr Glam. Check out his website www.drglam.co.nz, and while there, you can click on the Music link and find the mp3 “Interstellar Overdrive” which also features  Sparkles (aka me). To my hyper-critical ear she sounds like the love-child of Kylie Minogue and Dame Edna Everage, but you can judge for yourself…

Let the Games Begin!

As some of you may know, I’m am now deeply into pre-production for my new play, The Fall of June Bloom (or What You Will). It’s been 18 months in development, as the practice as research element of my thesis. We have the venue, the cast, the production team and the crew, and here are the details:

9 to 12 November, 7.30 pm

Geoffrey Rush Drama Studio, St Lucia, Qld Australia

Tickets $15 ($10 concession)

If you’d like to support the arts, and the creation of a new theatre work, visit our IndieGoGo site, where we’ve set up some cool Perks and games to play with Shakeseare.