Tuesday, August 18, 2009

recap '09

Made it home again alive. I'm sure you would have to confirm this with the students, but I would have to say that this was a pretty smooth year. Considering everything we did, and the utter lack of disasters along the way, I'm pleased with it. And more than that, I had a lot of fun. This was a great group of people and I have some pretty specific, and entertaining, memories. A couple of details about the trip, more for me to remember than anyone else: 

The Group: Anna-Marie Johnson, Ashley Grant, Sarah Mann, Sara Preston, Emily Hill, Levi Brown, Sarah-Lucy Hill, Mette Nielson, Melissa Chung, Aubrey Warner, Mandy Lyons, Jason Sullivan, Hyrum Allred and, for one week, Lisa Valentine Clark.

I read: The Great Movies II, by Roger Ebert, London: The Biography, by Peter Ackroyd, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, by David Sedaris, Entertainment Weekly 

2009 playlist:
Washington - Clementine
Passion Pit - Sleepyhead
Roisin Murphy - Ruby Blue
Sara Bareilles - Gravity
Fleet Foxes - Ragged Wood
Radiohead - Cuttooth
Nitin Sawhney - Songbird
Phoenix - Girlfriend
Wilco - You and I
Koop - Koop Island Blues
Phoenix - Lisztomania
The Ting Tings - That's Not My Name
Passion Pit - The Reeling
Gregory Alan Isikoff - That Moon Song
Lady Gaga - Poker Face
Roisin Murphy - Ramalama (Bang Bang)
Phoenix - 1901
Grizzly Bear - Two Weeks
Passion Pit - Moth's Wings

People: the awkward married/flighting couple, Fedra Jones, Ethan Hawke, Rebecca Hall, the grouchy ASL lady, The Burma protesters, Adam & Loraine, Kekoa, Sara's scaffold boyfriend, Percy at the Hotel Ajiel, the mysterious french waiter in London, all the Parisian buskers who sang "Beso Me Mucho," young guy with the blind grandpa on the metro, the skating guy at the D'Orsay & the mimicking clown, the ticket saleslady at the Cinema Ecole, Samuel Beckett (RIP), the scary French guard lady at St. Paul's, Brian of Bloomsbury, Dreen and Paul, the scary Stratford coach driver, Mathew Robins, The old lady who met us on the "exciting" new woods walk, the teens from the Winter exhibit, Tony and Leslie Gunn, the good folks at Sweet, the Thai lady who accosted me, Cliff Phipps, Andra the ghost guide, the Australians on the ghost walk, the drunk guy on the hill, Ewan Spence, Our always zealous tattoo usher Anne

Quotes to remember: "GO!!!!!" "Hey! I like your matching!" "Burma sucks." "Fo Shiz!" "A Haaaandbaaaaaaaag?" "PRISM. WHERE. IS. THAT.......BABY?" "There's no cops here. You can go as fast as you like! (Shriek!)," "Jesus Wept!" "Gray is for standin,' blue for sittin.'" "You'll kill yourself if you miss Jumpers!" "Oh, piss off, Debbie." "P-p-p-Paris face, p-p-Paris face" "D-d-d-denture cream, d-d-denture cream" "Sir you will never make it. You are too old and fat." "I wonder if perhaps you'd like some tea, Major Courtney?" “Be mysterious. Be in love. And you will be happy.” “You don’t have to pay, monsieur. Eet eez on ze house.” "the bloody blog" "We're going to a cow party!" "I, Albert Narracott, do solemnly swear...." "If anyone presses the nuclear button, we're all in trouble."

My favorite shows: A Little Night Music, A Streetcar Named Desire, Waiting for Godot, Flyboy and the Haunted Horse

Thoroughly enjoyed: All's Well That Ends Well, The Importance of Being Ernest, My Life With the Dogs, The Red Room, War Horse, The Cherry Orchard, Troilus and Cressida, The 39 Steps, Oliver, Billy Elliot

Meh: Carrie's War, Fusion, Hamlet, Arcadia, Julius Caesar, Phedre

Avoid at all costs: Romeo and Juliet

Movies I watched: JFK, Floating Weeds, M, Public Enemies, The Ladykillers, I Love You Man, Two Lovers, The Soloist

TV I watched, via the internet: So You Think You Can Dance

I think this completes my account. This was a wonderful trip. If you would like to come with us next year, please consider it. I would love to talk to you more about coming. You can contact me at clarkch@uvu.edu.

Until next summer, Cheerio!

Friday, August 14, 2009

bonny scot

Our final day in Edinburgh, and our final day on this study abroad. How did it come so quickly? 

I try not to do "last day" things, because then I'm just sentimental and I don't get anything done. But throughout the day I try to take in as much as I can, so when I'm home I don't feel like I blew through my time here. There is always the thought that I'll be back next summer, but there's never any guarantee of that. I suspect I'll be back, I hope I'll be back, but a lot can happen in a year. Or not happen, which could prevent my return as well. So I'm trying to enjoy it while I got it.

My day started strangely, though that was by choice. I went to a dance theatre piece of Edgar Allen Poe's The Red Room. It was all done, obviously, through dance, but it was very modern. It was really Sonja/Mia, if they went through a disturbing phase where everyone twitched and gave birth and wore creepy white clown costumes. I actually liked it a lot. I couldn't always follow the story, but who cares? It was cool dancing, and was one of the most visually arresting things I've ever watched. I enjoyed it. 

We did one last bout of advertisement on the Royal Mile. I was proud of us. We made a lot of noise. By the end of it my voice was hoarse, but I tried to have some fun with it. I made less and less sense as the hour progressed, but it was all for the sake of art. We did not double our audience as we had hoped, but we still gave a wonderful show to the little crowd that did come. Sadly, our four star review is published tomorrow - the day after we leave the country! I guess them's the breaks. All the same, it was a wonderful experience and the students will always be able to say they performed at the world's largest fringe festival. That's pretty awesome.

Kekoa came to the performance and took me out for the "world's best curry" afterward. We also had these sweet little donut things, but they were only semi-delicious. We ate this curry in the park where a drunk guy tried to kick us last year. This year we were left undisturbed. Kekoa was trying to trick me into going to see The Ladyboys of Bangkok show, but you will be happy to know that instead we hiked to the top of Arthur's Seat. It's the largest hill in Edinburgh, and is basically an old volcano. The views from the top are spectacular. Here are a few:

And, a 360!

We spotted a cute little teenage couple and we spied on them. They were cozy. But no kissing.

Tonight we attended the Military Tattoo. This was my second time at the Tattoo, though we were sitting in a completely different section of the audience this year, so I got a whole new experience. It's always very rousing. It's like a big Stadium of Fire for Scotland, just less fireworks and no Miley Cyrus. Lots of marching bands in kilts, and LOTS of bagpipes, and the castle lights up in different colors, and you have to touch your neighbor at one part.

The best part about the show tonight was probably Anne, who was our usher. Anne LOVES the tattoo. She kept making us clap and sing along, and she winked at me when I sang the chorus of "Hey, Jude" super loud. Another time we all had to hold hands and sing "Auld Lang Syne" and Anne grabbed Aubrey and rocked her back and forth. Aubrey was shocked, though a good sport, and we laughed pretty hard at that. Later I had to take a leak, and I saw a bunch of blue and gray portapotties outside of the venue. I assumed the blue and gray meant ladies and mens, and so I asked Anne which one was which. She told me, in her awesome accent, "Gray is for standin', blue is for sittin.'" Here is a picture of Anne. She's probably singing something really loud.

The crowd was packed and it was a tight squeeze getting out of the venue. Though it did warm us up. Tomorrow we head out at 8:30. I'll recap all of that when I'm back in Zion! 

Thursday, August 13, 2009

here's looking at edinburgh

Woke up to blue skies and seagulls screeching out of my window. This was encouraging, but I was also suspicious: Edinburgh is known for having four seasons in one day, and my suspicions were confirmed by a downpour around 11:30. The rest of the day was fantastic, and the afternoon was actually hot. If I lived in Edinburgh I would never know how to dress myself. You are either shivering or sweating. But at least you get to live in Edinburgh.

We did more street performing today, and it seems like we are getting more coverage. A few of the students were interviewed by the British AP Service, which is great. A lot of professional photographers took pictures of our street performance. We also had a podcast interview, which you can hear here. (The interview happens about halfway through, and you can hear me say "It's so good!" in falsetto at the end.) And another guy who ran a festival website stopped by for a live chat. So we're getting the word out - a necessity since we only do one more performance. I was a little more involved in the performance today. Putting my big mouth to use I stood on some granite posts and preached the gospel of Jumpers to the good people of Scotland. The students continued to stretch their fabric and spook people with the masks. We drummed up a lot of attention for the show. And it somewhat paid off with our audience of.....wait for it.....TEN people. You know it! We more than doubled our audience. Ha. So here's hoping that tomorrow we bust over the 20 person mark. That would actually fill half of our little theatre. Keep your fingers crossed!

After the show we walked down the mile to Holyrood Castle, the former home of Mary, Queen of Scots and her son, James VI. The current queen stays at Holyrood when she is in Edinburgh. It's a beautiful old castle, and we enjoyed the audio guides. We played "5,4,3,2,1 PLAY" so that we were all together in the audio guide, to some comical results. My favorite part of the tour - surprise, was the room where Lord Bothall murdered David Rizzio with 56 stabs in front of Queen Mary. Bothall was Mary's husband, and was positive she and Rizzio were having an affair, when, in fact, he was just her secretary and thus obligated to be around her a lot. So anyway, you can see where Bothall left the body and there are red blood marks on the floor which, inexplicably, can not be scrubbed out......you know I love this stuff, right?

And then we sat in the old abbey ruins for some time. The light was perfect for taking pics and it was very quiet and serene. There was no audio guide, so we actually looked around on our own and soaked it all in.

At 5:30 I attended a performance of My Life With the Dogs. I have been looking forward to this production because it's had great reviews here at the festival. It did not disappoint. I thought it was so sweet and funny. Only an hour long. It's a true story about a 4 year old Russian boy with an alcoholic, abusive mother, who leaves home and lives on the streets for a year with three dogs. I thought it was interesting how it dealt with some really dark and disturbing subjects with a sweetness and innocence. The guy who played the 4 year old was probably in his 40's, but you forgot about that. He was incredibly committed and convincing, and reminded me of Hugh. And I loved the three actors who played the dogs. They loved sausage!

Tonight Ashley, Sara, Emily and I went on one of those infamous ghost tours. It was a riot. We met with the group on the Royal Mile and headed into New Town. We learned the following things:

1. The New Town bridge collapsed when it was first built, and hundreds of people died.
2. If you are attacked by a little old man wearing a red cap, yell a Bible verse or he'll eat your innards out.
3. Cannibalism and Vampirism are still an important part of Edinburgh

We learned other things as well, but I have to keep something for myself. Actually, the scariest parts were when we had to walk down some creepy old stairs and almost died, and when an old drunk man jumped out of some bushes and scared us, and I yelled "Jesus Wept!" (Bible verse) and then he got angry and started to swear at me. But we saw some beautiful shooting stars at the top of Calton Hill, and the night was beautiful. Here are some great pics:

This is a haunted tombstone we encountered. Can you see the angry face?

There is a Parthenon at the top of Calton Hill. Back in the 1700's they wanted Edinburgh to be a mini-Athens, but they ran out of money. So there is 1/5 of a Parthenon:

Our tour guide told us to take pictures in the cemetary and then look for orbs. They are little circles of light which indicate supernatural activity, and they show up in photographs. Did I mention that I love this stuff? I found two orbs in my pics! Here's one:
Can you see it? On the door? I promise there was not a circle there on that door in real life. So, basically IT'S A GHOST.

We ended the evening at the pub, because the tour included a free drink. We had our Pepsis, warmed up, and listened to some traditional Scottish music, mixed in with "Do-Re-Me."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

for all the saints

Another drizzly day today, and pretty windy. Surprisingly, though, not that cold. Just a thickness of wet. So there's your weather report. We started the day with more street performing/contacting, and the group was as dynamic and interesting as they were the day before, just slightly more damp. We aren't the only group advertising on the Royal Mile, but I can guarantee you we are one of the most eye-catching. That's got to count for something! Today was our first performance, and we needed to get an audience.

And kind of did! We had an audience of four people, not counting the director, the writer, the producer, and the techies. Of course we had hoped for more, but considering the odds we were happy to get that. The show went fine. The audience (4) seemed to really enjoy it. One woman scribbled on a pad the entire time. A reviewer, I assumed. I tried to talk to her after the show but she stalked out pretty quickly. If she was, indeed, a reviewer, we felt that we had done a good show - despite a few technical glitches. Who knows? After the show Mette and I furiously spray painted some tables. We had run out of time before the show. And spray painting tables under drippy trees? Try it!

To clear our heads of Jumpers we headed up to the Edinburgh Castle. It's a steep climb, lots of steps, but you can't beat the views along the way:

The air was clear and the city looked amazing as we ascended. Finally we got there, and were able to skip the lines thanks to our Great British Heritage Passes (a must for any UK traveller.) Peter was our tour guide, and he was great. He thought Utah was somewhere in the great plains, but we forgave that. Peter had lots of funny jokes about the castle, which I'm sure he has to tell 26 times per day. I feel bad for that. I also feel for any man who wears a skirt in windy weather. Once we got to the top he turned us loose. We looked through the King James rooms and the War Memorial, and we found these really strange dungeons where people murdered each other if they saw severed bulls heads.

My favorite part of the castle is the lookout from St. Margaret's Chapel, and not just because it's a chapel dedicated to the world's cutest fat face, Margaret Valentine Clark. It's just a panoramic view of Edinburgh from almost 360 degrees.

Oh, look! There's St. Margaret now, with her impressive pig tails:

This completed we continued to splinter into groups, and Jason and I had a sandwich in the castle cafe and we pretended to fill out the comment cards in awkward and confusing ways. "How would you rate your response to the castle? DISAPPOINTED." "Will you be returning to the castle? ABSOLUTELY!" You had to be there. We also walked through an interactive prisoner exhibition that celebrated the heroism of my ancestor, John Paul Jones! I was very proud.

I had dinner tonight with an old friend, Cliff Phipps. Cliff is married to Melanee Phipps, a popular lass I used to toil with back at Barnes & Noble. So I've known Cliff a few years, and my fondest remembrance of him is when he showed up at our Halloween party dressed like the murdered body of Sid Vicious. He's in Edinburgh building missiles and rockets, and I'm not making that up. We had a good chat at the famous Edinburgh City Restaurant where I also bumped into Kekoa, continuing our tradition of randomly bumping into each other in international capitol cities.

While at the cafe I got a call from the Sweet Heart Box Office, where we perform Jumpers. They were calling with congratulations. Apparently the woman who came to the show today was indeed a reviewer, and she had given the show four stars! She was so excited about it that she walked directly to the box office and told the staff they needed to see it. What I had interpreted as annoyance was actually a determination to spread the word. This is fantastic news; it raises our profile in a festival with hundreds of offerings. We are one of the few shows to get 4 stars!

To celebrate I took the students to the Frankenstein Pub, and we all sat and had drinks together. And by drinks I mean lots of orange Juices, flavored waters, and Diet Cokes, so relax, max. I'm sure it was the strangest round of drinks the barrista had ever pulled together, but we were too happy to worry about that. I'm proud of them and their work. They deserve a little pub water!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

och, aye!

Did I mention that we were leaving for Edinburgh at 3:30 a.m.? Did you miss that part? Yeah, well, it’s true. I have to hand it to the students, most of them were on steps and ready to go right at 3:30, which is a good thing since we were on a tight schedule. I tried to go to sleep last night at 10, but my body was not into it. I turned on some boring music, but that didn’t work. I turned on Liz Fuller and the Quiz Call show, but I just stayed awake guessing answers. So I didn’t get an awesome sleep. But I knew I could sleep on the bus, then sleep on the plane.

Our taxis dropped us off at the Victoria Coach Station, but unfortunately at the wrong terminal. So I sprinted up and down Victoria Street until I found the right bus and got fourteen people on it. The bus driver was grouchy and told me that we were making everyone late, but then he told every passenger who got on that. The bus ride to Luton airport was uneventful. I listened to Bon Iver and felt sweaty and disoriented.

Plane was fine – there were issues with baggage, but we solved them. And I had some Krispy Kremes. A smooth flight, a short flight, and flight attendants with Scottish accents!

Edinburgh felt a little drizzly when we landed, but then it always does. When you close your eyes and imagine Edinburgh, even if you've never been there, especially if you’ve never been there, doesn’t it seem sort of drizzly? It wasn’t a downpour by any stretch. Nothing like that day in Oxford. Eventually we checked in to the Smart City Hostels, which feels very crowded and very international this year. Everyone is talking something else. It’s like the Tower of Babel. I’m on the top floor this year, though, and this is my view:

We met the very kind people at Sweet Venues, where our show is performing. This year we are doing a play called Jumpers: The Golden Gates. It’s a show that explores suicide at the Golden Gate bridge through mask, movement, and monologue. You guessed it: it’s hilarious! Just kidding. But it’s not that tragic, either. Tony Gunn, a good friend from BYU, is directing. His wife Leslie wrote the script, and it’s really good. I finally saw the show in its entirely today at our tech rehearsal, and it’s the sort of thing I really like. Lots of neutral masks and stretchy fabric and storytelling through Radiohead and movement. Tony and Leslie have done a fantastic job. I think the students are proud of it, and we’re looking forward to having an audience tomorrow.

But therein lays the challenge. The typical audience for a show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is two people. There are hundreds of events happening at any given time – so you are competing for audience. Luckily I have a wonderful group of students who are willing to put on costumes and masks and do street performing to drum up an audience for tomorrow. It’s actually a lot of fun. They perform in the middle of the Royal Mile and hundreds of people stop and take pictures. Then Sarah and Emily, both RM’s and adept at the street contact, pummel them with fliers and invitations to come see the show. It was great. Solid exposure and advertisement for Jumpers. Here are some great pics of them in action:

After this everyone earned a break, so we took a walk around the castle. The weather was great, and, like Oxford, my students always seem to fall in love with Edinburgh. For me it’s a little rough, but I can appreciate that everything feels old and Hogwarts-y. It’s certainly beautiful when it’s lit up at night, and the bagpipes from the Military Tattoo carry down the hills.

sunday in the park with albert

Our last day in Kensington. I’m going to miss it. I always do. I woke this morning to the chapel bells of St. Stephen’s, and I laid in bed in thought about everything I needed to do versus everything I wanted to do on my last day in London. I made a plan in my head – and did a fairly good job sticking to it. It helped that the weather was perfect. Literally, a perfect day in London.

I invited whoever would like to go with me to tea at the Kensington Orangery. Wouldn’t you know it, the boys all slept in and the girls all showed up dressed to the nines. So I went to tea, joined by my giant harem. We had a nice time. I had some chicken. Others had cakes. I think Melissa was the only one who actually had tea. It’s nice to have a sit-down meal after so many Tesco sandwiches. And I always love the Orangery, even though I had a really awkward experience there few years ago that I cannot recount on my blog.

When I am a rich man, like a multimillionaire, I’m going to fix up the Provo Theatre Company. With the money I have left over, I’m going to buy the Hyde Park Ward an air conditioner. Because SERIOUSLY. The programs shouldn’t have to double as fans! And there should be no mid-sacrament meeting back sweat happening. Stifling. All the same, I enjoyed the talks. Oddly, they went along with the topic we discussed on our way to church; the decision to be happy. So many people want to be happy, but they don’t realize that it’s a choice. You can’t expect things to make you happy. They won’t. Other people probably won’t either. Nothing can make you happy except you. And you have to decide that you are happy. No matter what you are dealing with. It’s odd how much happiness you attract when you make that decision.

After church we went to the Serpentine Gallery to see what tricks awaited us. Every year the Serpentine, a little art house in the middle of Hyde Park, invites a famous architect to design a structure around the gallery. This year it was Kazuyo Sejima. And while architects in the past have created something surprising and conspicuous, she did the opposite. Using glass, vegetation, and gently sloping steel, she created something that almost disappears. I took about a billion pictures. I thought it was intriguing. Much more so than the Jeff Koons exhibit inside the gallery, which was just a bunch of blow-up pool toys and stackable plastic chairs.

We stopped to park our regards to big golden Albert:

I felt like I wanted to do one more solid walk on my last day. So when the students split for shopping, I headed back into Kensington, and wound my way to Holland Park. While there in the vicinity I saw:

The home of Kenneth Grahame, who wrote one of my favorite books: The Wind in the Willows.

Sticky Fingers, which is owned by Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones

Holland Park, which is one of the most beautiful, albeit smallest, parks in London

Some amazing Victorian neighborhoods

The home of Michael Powell, who directed The Red Shoes, and one of my favorites: Peeping Tom

I also stopped by the homes of some old friends:

Virginia Woolf, who was a writer

Winston Churchill, who was a prime minister

Enid Bagnold, who was a playwright

Lord Baden Powell, who was a good boy scout

Benny Hill, who was not

And thus concluded my stay in London. The weather held out all day. I was grateful to finish my time here doing what I love best. We leave for Edinburgh at 3:30 a.m.!