On The Amazon

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The The Very Best Weblog Writing Ever By Anyone Anywhere In The Whole Wide World (Volume One) featuring yours truly, the missus and a whole bunch of talented folk, is now on sale at Amazon.com.

Krissa's Mom had a copy lying around the house over the weekend and I really enjoyed flicking through it - it's very good.

Really, you know, good.

You should buy it.

Weston-super-Mare's Finest

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The audition last night was short but fun.

I turned up at the offices and read a short excerpt from a script a few times, trying different things.
The character, he said, needed a John Cleese-y edge to it, so I gave it my best shot.
Everything was recorded, and the guy said he'd email me in the next few days, and also he thought he liked my audition the best.

But then he might say that to everyone.

We'll see.

Cyellebraited Hice

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So I have an audition tomorrow.

It was an accident, honest.

I had no intention of starting a project as big as a play so soon after 'As You Like It' ended - work is very, very busy, and Krissa and I have some Doing Summer Stuff time to get in. But I was curious, and curiosity takes you, sooner or later, to Craigslist, where I found this ad.

And I thought...why the hell not?

So tomorrow I have an audition for a web animation pilot with Dan Meth.

The only question is, just how aristocratic an accent are they after? I can do clipped and clear Queen's English no problem, after a cup of tea and a rich tea biscuit to purge myself of any untoward American influences, but when it gets really posh I need to think things through.

John Hurt's rather evil member of the House of Lords in 'King Ralph' is what Krissa and I always use to make each other laugh...say 'cyellebraited hice' (go on....no, really....) and you have the almost obscenely toffish pronunciation of 'celebrated house'. Not sure I could wheel that out without thinking it through beforehand...but hey!

This could be fun.

So the run of the play came to an end this evening in an art gallery in Red Hook. The Red Hook show is a little out of keeping with the other three. Bed-Stuy, Bushwick and Sunset Park (maybe) aren't areas that would normally get free public arts performances, whereas the Red Hook show is inside a gallery at the Brooklyn Working Artists' Coalition. It was just as far away from most of the subways, though.

It was only four public performances, and yesterday's was stopped halfway through as storm clouds gathered and thunder rolled out across Bed-Stuy. But I won't quickly forget Josh's vibrant and lively 'Seven Ages Of Man' monologue declared passionately against the creeping patter of the rain, the few rapt faces hunched under umbrellas, and the slowly growing gloss of water on the grey painted concrete stage.

The rehearsal schedule was pretty tight, but I loved it, and the show was so much fun. Intense experiences are strange things.
The experiences are intense because they are short, so the letdown reflex is inevitable, mirrors the enjoyment of the intensity but makes little sense. Making it last longer would have changed it into something else, something less frantic, less of a challenge, less of a victory over time and the task.

After the show was over I went downstairs to the toilets and while I was waiting a woman with a Dutch accent came up to me.

(Friday morning I switched a few spare office hours around and took part in a severely truncated version of the play with all of the actors who could make it, for a group of children on an arts-related summer program.)

"That was very good," she said. "Such energy."
"Oh, thank you," I said.
"My daughter saw your little show on Friday and she insisted we come today. She used to be scared of Shakespeare, and now she wants to read the plays and everything. It's wonderful."
"Oh, great! That's excellent."
"Yes, very lively, very...alive."
By this point I'm feeling a little awkward, even if she's being very nice. But still.
That's it, that was the point.

Just As You Like It

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Krissa has a flickr photoset from Saturday's show in Maria Hernandez.

Grace Without Pressure

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Let's be frank.

I am sweating.
A lot.
How my CRT-based iMac G3 is running, I have no idea, because most other appliances in the apartment either won't start, or flicker and shut down once turned on. I'm nodding at the surge protector it's plugged into, trying to ignore the fact that it can't actually generate power on its own.
Fox News' pre-show teaser ads irritate me at the best of times, but when I might not actually be ABLE TO TUNE IN AFTER THE BREAK TO FIND OUT WHAT THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT, they're fucking terrible.

Astoria, it seems, has had its supply voltage reduced.
Lights flicker - the TV is temperamental, and anything with a copper coil turned by a magnet simply doesn't have the oomph to get going. The fridge light works, but that's about it. I'm not opening the freezer. I don't want the heat to get in. The air conditioners lie idle.
The street lights on our block are flashing spasmodically, and the street itself is oddly silent for a summer night, the darkness in between the flashes adding to the sense of surreal businesses afoot. Normally the rush and pinking of air conditioners welcomes you as you turn into our street, but only darkness and silence lay there tonight.

What I want to know is, when most of Queens is low-rise two or three storey buildings, and Manhattan is all high-rise, why when I was at work today there wasn't so much as a flicker in supply.

The people behind the amps are directing them towards businesses and offices, and away from residential areas, and that pisses me off.
Utilities seem to be run a bit differently here than in the UK. The businesses are private, but have a sort of territory which is theirs by right. So Astoria has a compulsory phone company who you must connect to before choosing another provider, and you can't change your electric provider. I think. Educate me if I'm wrong, someone.

Whatever.
I pay for my electricity, just like all the businesses in Manhattan. The rates may differ, but the fact remains. Business is the engine of the country, whereas my evening entertainment and coolness is not. Which means that my block of residential electricity consumers is less of a priority for ConEdison than a business on Manhattan, and both of us paying customers.

In a democracy the power belongs to the people, but when the companies have the power to give money to political parties to sway the people, then it's very clear where the power lies.

Goddamn it. The heat is making me pontificate even more than usual.

21st Century Problem Solving

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I saw the smoke first, and went 'wow' under my breath. Then the people shouting at cars and bikes to keep away.
It was the ConEd manhole just outside an Italian restuarant on the back side of our block and thick black smoke was pumping out. As I got closer there were loud bursts of a harsh buzzing, as if the manhole was trapping a bee the size of a truck, and it was trying to get out, over and over. A mushroom of black smoke pouffed upwards.

So I did what I think a lot of other New Yorkers would have done. I pulled out my phone and called 311. This is a sort of non-emergency city contact line, for complaining about your neighbour's party at 3am, finding out what time City Park tennis courts are supposed to close when you wander up at 5.30 in the afternoon and the attendant has locked up and is playing toy cars with her son, asking who is responsible for snow ploughs because one is wedged in your car, and things like that.

"Thank you for calling 311. If this is an emergency, please hang up and dial 911."
One of the waiters from the restaurant yells at a bewildered delivery boy on a bike, who wobbles to a halt on the sidewalk. Smoke keeps pouring out, but no one is in danger as such.
Hmm, nah, I think.
"If you are a victim of domestic violence, press 1."
Uh-oh, think I. Please don't let this be a fifty-item speed-dial list.
"Please hold."
Vivaldi begins to chirp in my ear. A motorist sees the smoke and decides that the best course of action is to speed through it at 60mph.
"Hello?"
"Hello, I'd like to report an underground electrical fire in Astoria, Queens. Probably a transformer."
"Hang on one moment."
I hang on.
"I will shortly connect you with an expert to help you with your problem."
"Thank you."
"While you're on the line, is there anything else I can help you with?"
"Er, no, thank you. I'm fine."
More Vivaldi.
Cars pull u-turns left and right.
More Vivaldi. A short burst of ringing, more Vivaldi. I start to pace nonchalantly up and down the sidewalk. The buzzing stops, but the smoke doesn't. I try and figure out which of the Four Seasons I'm currently listening to. Probably 'Spring'. It's always 'Spring'.
An NYPD car pulls up and two cops get out and immediately stand in the middle of the street blocking the traffic.
"What's going on?" asks a cop to the waiter standing by the restaurant.
"I don't know! Smoke!"
"Flames?"
Yes yes, gestures a casual pedestrian observer.
Da-da-da-da-dadadaaaam! Da-da-da-da-dadadaaaam!
"What kind of manhole is that?" asks the cop.
"No one knows!" says the waiter.
Dum-DUM-dum-dum, dum-DUM-dum-dum!
"We thank you for your patience," says the recorded lady. "We will shortly connect you with an operator who can help you."
I hang up and walk home.
Fire trucks periodically cruise past our house for the rest of the evening.

Plastiscenery

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The two performances of 'As You Like It' this past weekend went brilliantly.

Saturday's show at Maria Hernandez Park in Bushwick was part of a larger and rather louder park-wide event, and as we were setting up thumping music beat out across the square, doing battle with the heavily amplified religious fervour of a speaker on the little platform in the centre that was our stage last year. The Parks Foundation provided us with a small wooden stage backed with black cloth and thirty or so lawn chairs for an audience. The final scene, otherwise known as 'Everyone get out there and explain what the hell is going on' was a little cramped, but by then there were people sitting on benches at the sides, on blankets and leaning through the fence around the park, and the chairs were full.

Sunday was even better. Sunset Park (near Park Slope) was busy and beautiful - views across Brooklyn to downtown Manhattan, towering chestnut trees, a busy public swimming pool, softball pitches, and tables with groups of animated men playing dominoes in the shade. As we walked into the park Krissa and I saw a huge lorry parked aside the path with 'PARKS DEPARTMENT' emblazoned on the side. It transformed into a huge stage, facing a gentle bank under the shade of trees and rows of white chairs, and the audience grew steadily bigger over the course of the play.
I'm not sure what happened before we started that affected me so much - it was very hot, everyone was drinking gallons of water, fanning themselves, and waiting until the last minute to change into costume, so after the five-minute call the tent was dangerously packed with people wobbling around pulling on shoes and boots.

I think, and I shudder to recount this (maybe it'll counterbalance what I'll say in a minute) that the feeling came from an embarrassing moment in a bodega about half an hour before the show.

I was trying to use an ATM and the owner walked past and said 'No trabajo.' and without thinking I said, 'Oh, gracias.' Krissa and I walked outside, scanned the street and I stuck my head back inside the bodega and said, in badly accented schoolboy Spanish, 'Hay otra ATM cerca de aqui?' and the owner got me to repeat myself three times before he pointed across the street and bluntly said 'Over there.' I wanted to run and hide - it was a gut-wrenching clanger of a moment begging quick flight and a hasty forgetting. After getting money, that same bodega was the only place we could see that did sandwiches, so I was forced to go back in. The guy smirked at me when I came in and continued to half-laugh for the next ten minutes as he sold beer, cigarettes and cockroach poison in between bursts of making our sandwiches. The squirm in my guts, so pronounced when we first walked back in, died down and I started getting excited about the show and looking around the store, even joking with the guy who had been laughing at me.

Maybe it was the mortification. Maybe I'd already touched on the answer to the unthought question, 'What's the worst that could happen?'. Maybe I'd already flexed my embarrassment muscles.
I felt absolutely electric going out on stage. It was a crackling feeling, like...like...it's difficult to explain. It was a high of anticipation, enthusiasm and confidence, and in the little gaps between scenes when I had to shift quickly between characters, I still felt sparks, all gung-ho and excited. As the good duke, I hopped on stage with a little Robin Hood pose before trying to pep up the merry men. I might have looked like a prat, but that character IS a prat. It felt great. As the bad duke my growling was gravelly and vicious, and I felt angry and exasperated. My voice, which hasn't done too well switching between loud throaty roars and chipper entreaties (and both at stage volume) over the last few weeks, held out, and I got louder and was able to accentuate a bit at volume rather than just shouting.
I don't want to descend into what is starting to feel like bragging, and I've no idea if how I felt affected how I came over or if I acted differently on Sunday compared to a rehearsal after a 9-hour working day, and really I don't care. That bolt-from-the-blue feeling gave me a kick, a huge kick, and it felt good. My performance could have been good or bad, but giving it felt bloody awesome.

Maybe there were traces of cockroach poison in the sandwiches.

So that's nice.

I had a full week of rehearsals last week, and last night it was wonderful to spend the evening with Krissa. We ate dinner, relaxed, laughed, talked and watched Buffy. These past weeks I've missed evenings at home with Krissa, and while there's been a delicious sort of intensity to them I've felt the lack of time with her keenly. I am madly in love with that woman.

It's not the first time that it's struck me, these past few months - I can stand in the middle of my life and, turning around through the different spheres of activity, effort, hope, and love, I can see good things, great things, everywhere. I am a dizzyingly lucky man.

Steriffic

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Hi to all those arriving from Feedster, where for some reason I am feed of the day.

I've been blogging for nearly four years, and of course I'm flattered, but seriously, it's not like I've been posting cult viral videos or anything.

Oh, but SPEAKING OF WHICH.
Infinitely better with the sound on.
(possibly not work safe. via Biscuit.)

Taking Chances

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If there were any vagaries in my mind over the difference between my two main life pursuits at the moment, they were blown out of the water this week. Yesterday I spent a grand total of forty-five minutes conscious in the apartment; half an hour to get ready and leave for work, and fifteen minutes to swap news with Krissa and fall asleep, fourteen hours later.

Three life pursuits then; sleep, then the play and my job. In no order whatsoever.

Monday 5.30pm: Meeting. Calculators out. Sketches left, right and centre. Frowns. Gesturing, working things out, floating ideas, panning ideas. More sketches. Slight feelings of inadequacy, quickly quelled, as it dawns on me that I am a more proficient doodler than technical sketcher. "Can't route that through there. I've got a series of twelve inch beams supporting that deck." "What spacing?" "Every seven and a half feet." "We might be able to branch off here..."

Monday 7pm: Circle of actors, huddled next to stacked tables and jumbled aluminium light rigging backstage. Lyric sheets cast aside. Odd hand gestures of counting and rhythm. Intense frowns of concentration. Gesturing, working things out, getting the hang of the fast-repeated "Take a chance-take a chance-take-a-chick-a-chan-chance, take a chance-take a chance-take-a-chick-a-chan-chance. key change! Take a chance..."

My life seems to be utterly insane at the moment. I'm leaving the house at 8am, returning at 11.45pm or so, and being two - no, four people in between. There's the work me, the evening me, and the two Dukes.

The scenes I mentioned - where I have the last line as one character in one scene and the first line as another character in the next scene? The character changes take place on stage. There's also some wardrobe rearrangement (hopefully not failure) the precise details of which I'll find out tonight. So far in rehearsals I've gone from the good duke (whose character has drifted from Lt. George of Blackadder IV to something closer to Mr. Brittas of The Brittas Empire) to the bad duke with the addition of a Dr. Evil-style jacket, and it makes the transition a lot easier.
The sudden change between the obnoxiously chipper Duke Senior and growly Duke Frederick is easier because of the addition of the jacket, and much easier than simply walking out on stage as one or the other.

I need a jacket for the transition between work and rehearsal, too, but a different one, so I'm not constantly barking at everyone.

I won't lie - I'm really tired, but it's brilliant.
I think it was a memory of this sort of period of rehearsals from last year that made me go for auditions even though Krissa decided not to. I have rehearsals every night this week, rolling right up to the first shows this weekend, and it's now, when we've started to subconsciously mouth the words to other peoples' scenes, and we're honing and tweaking, that things start to shine through.
People are invigorating scenes that were good before but are now suddenly great, and even though we've seen the words said ten or fifteen times before, everyone offstage, everyone sitting reading in the auditorium or pacing back and forth between the rows of seats running their lines in their heads, everyone stops to watch.

Work isn't what I'd call light at the moment, but that's part of the enjoyment - if I was marking time at work waiting for rehearsal, it wouldn't be as much fun. Instead, I walk into the theatre knowing I just gave my all at one thing, and here's another thing to have a crack at. And I get a kick out of that.

Again, here are the show times and locations, cast list and bios and oh yeah! Buy my book. It's printed on bark.*



*Book not actually printed on bark.

I used to love doing drama at school. Just remember your lines, remember where to stand, and deliver the words in as booming and penetrating a voice as you can manage at the age of twelve. Squint your eyes up a lot so people think you're really serious. Emphasise the frowning brow. Don't let your bedsheet toga fall off, or worry about two scheming Roman Senators wearing bright red football socks instead of sandals.
Really don't forget your lines.
One time during an ambitiously grandiose Nativity set inside the inn, I was the innkeeper/ringmaster (there really really really wasn't any room, what with the wind band, the dancers, poem reciters, choir and a smattering of dubiously shaped cardboard Bethlehemian props) and I forgot to usher in a girl called Catherine for her flute solo.

She would have nothing to do with me until I jokingly apologised for the omission ten years later when we were both drunk in a nightclub and I thought things had gone on for long enough. I've even had one of life's memorable moments on stage.

Anyway. I'm in a play at the moment, and rehearsals are a real eye-opener. Last summer Krissa and I were a part of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and my part was small enough to get away with my early-teen acting technique - while the rest of the cast reeled off staggering performances, I merely said my lines and did a bit of staggering. But this year there is no escape - I have to learn.

Communicable Arts, just as last year, has a great cast (list and photographic goodness here), and because my part is larger I have more rehearsals, which means that I've seen these guys (and girls) try on their characters like clothes...change them, flip them, try new things, experiment with the people they're becoming through the words. It's incredible.
And slowly, from the steady and automatic office body language I walk in with at 6.30, I've started doing it myself, or trying to.
I'm always unsure if I'm pulling something off, or, if I do something that works once (laughs from the scattered seats around the auditorium are a good indicator) I go nuts trying to remember just what it was I did for the next time.

It's difficult - the consistency, anyway.
'Getting into character' is a cliched phrase, but I think, once the actions for scenes and the canter of the lines works, those are the characters, that's the dynamic, right there, and it's like a flavour, or a colour, that sits on the words in the script over and above their dry meanings. It's an extra dimension to the already evocative vista of Shakespeare; the difference between the mental images of reading and the spectacle of acting.

So I play two dukes. One, the younger of the two, is a right bastard, one of the villains of the piece - in the best theatrical tradition played by the only Brit on the cast. He has taken the title from his elder brother and banished him. In some ways growling my way through the lines as a bastard is easier than the flip side: I also play the elder exiled brother, who hangs out in the forest and thinks that a poor forester's life, with the absence of warmth, plumbing and politics, is jolly marvellous.
At the moment my 'characters' are:

Bad Duke Fred: A coarsely cobbled and poorly executed amalgam of every growling villain from the Sheriff of Nottingham to my old music teacher on a bad day...hi Mr. Malia, how's the googling going?

Good/Dippy Duke Senior: Hugh Laurie's Lieutenant George from Blackadder Goes Forth, or as close as I can get while constantly using the word 'hadst'.
My lip wobble needs work.

What Are Friends For?

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Wow.
The worst that's happened to me when I've fallen asleep at a party is a lingering tendency for people to call me Grandpa Simpson.

Fuck.

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Penalties.

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Shite.

Oh man.

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