Friday, August 12, 2011

thistle do nicely

Our final day in Scotland was a decent mix of relaxation and panic. Relaxation, because the rain was incessant and we stayed inside, and panic, because we are all leaving tomorrow. I always feel a sense of urgency; like I need to do something that will make me feel like I've truly enjoyed Edinburgh. And I have enjoyed it, but I have to remind myself that I can enjoy it from my dry hotel room and not feel like I have to be out in it.

We had our final performance of What the Moon Saw today, and I was so proud of the students. They did a beautiful job with a really creative and inventive piece. They seemed proud of their work, and I could tell that the audiences loved and appreciated it as well. They quickly dismantled the set and we were out of the space in fifteen minutes. Amazing how much work goes into something that comes apart in just a quarter of an hour. I guess that's the way theatre works. Part of the magic, I suppose.

There wasn't much action on the Royal Mile today. The rain had sort of driven everyone indoors. But I was approached by a guy wearing a poncho, desperate to give me a flier advertising his sketch comedy show. I politely said "no thanks," and he replied "But it's free! Lunchtime comedy! Please! I'm wearin' a bag!"

I saw a production of Steven Berkoff's Oedipus today. Steven himself was supposed to be in it, but he was "indisposed," so we got an understudy. Steven Berkoff is a big name in theatre - he's sort of a revolutionary. I saw his production of On the Waterfront a year or two ago. I liked it. He's very into physical movement and storytelling. This production followed those same lines. There was an all male chorus, and they were sort of dressed like 1920's hobos. They did a lot of slo-mo stuff, and created theatrical shapes and pictures, which they impressively held for a long time. I thought that was great. But the show was really long. I don't really love Greco-Roman theatre, to be honest. So much talking, and always about the same dumb story. Yes, you killed your father! Yes, you married your mother! Get on with it. I'm always leery of shows without intermissions, too, especially if they are over 90 minutes. It sometimes means the producers are afraid people will leave at intermission. I probably would have. The show was artfully done, just kind of boring. And the curtain call went on forever. The people who seemed to enjoy the performance the most were the cast. So this one didn't do much for me.

More interesting, however, was the Royal Military Tattoo, which we all saw tonight! This is my fourth time at the Tattoo, but it's different every year. So it's fun to track that. This year I had to sit by complete strangers, which was an adventure in itself. The old lady next to me took the Tattoo VERY SERIOUSLY and she did not like the Spanish people behind us who kept talking. Also, she sang all the songs with the marching bands. And she held my hands and sang "Auld Lang Syne" right into my face at the end of the show.

The Tattoo is always really special, and I mean that honestly and also facetiously. There were some really weird elements this year. For one thing, they did this odd pirate segment. They were trying to show how the Scottish military combats pirates in the Indian Ocean, and they did this demonstration. But the pirates were just girls in denim jackets with bandannas over their faces. And then some Jack Sparrow-type pirates came out as well. And then these fake helicopters showed up and a bunch of security guys popped out of the audience with guns.

Another weird moment was when the Bavarian Military band came out, wearing what looked like green Nazi uniforms and following a banner with a giant gold eagle on it. And they were doing goosesteps. It felt weird to me. And then some guys in lederhosen came out and chopped at a giant log.

Also, some Scottish girls came out and did a fish dance. Some guys tried to catch them with a big green net, but they got away! And then they danced around with big plastic crates of dead fish.

I did like this part, when some Naval officers had a race to see how quickly they could assemble a canon:

I always like the marching bagpipes:

And best of all, the return of Anne - my very special usher from two years ago! It was fun to watch her again. She really, really loves the Tattoo. Even more than the old lady next to me, AND THAT'S SAYING A LOT. Here is a clip of Anne singing along to some Scottish song that only she knows. Pardon the froggy throat!

And with the signal of the lone bagpipe, high on the castle walls, the Tattoo was over. But the lone bagpipe has come to mean more than that to me. It's also the end of our studies abroad. I always feel a little melancholy. So excited to go home, but always a little sad to leave this great experience.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

by the sea

Well, they weren't kidding about that storm. It blew in sometime last night and I could hear rain pummelling off of the roof of the church outside my window. It's one of those storms that settles in and sits, and the sky is just a giant pale blank. It's Edinburgh, though, and you have to expect that. It just means you need an umbrella and a plucky attitude. I've got an umbrella! It also means that nobody's going to the theatre, especially at 10:30 am, so our numbers were fewer today for the show. But still we had an audience - so that's great. Nice of them to brave the tempest.

I bypassed touring the Edinburgh Castle today, even though I love visiting there. I've just been a few times and I wanted to see something new. So I walked down to the Haymarket and had some lunch down there while I waited the storm out a little. It was nice to read some more Treasure Island and relax inside where it was warm. I did this throughout the day. I also spent the day reminding myself that, yes, it's truly August 10th. People are wearing parkas! Of course, we're at roughly the same latitude as Anchorage, so it shouldn't be a surprise. I'm just glad I brought sweaters.

I did a little hat shopping. Not for myself. I was scouting some hats for My Fair Lady, which I'm directing at Hale West Valley this Fall (plug) and they asked me to find a couple of Trilby hats for Henry Higgins. Normally I wouldn't be caught dead in a shop called "Fabhatrix" but I was on an errand. I found a few - but so expensive! I also browsed for some in Armstrong & Sons, and that place is always wacky. I contemplated buying a kilt (I didn't.)

I spent a little time in the National Museum of Scotland, but probably not enough. I wanted to go in because the architecture is really cool. But it was full of kids and really noisy and people taking pictures of everything, so I got out of there. I needed a break from the city. So I walked to the train station, and went to North Berwick.

North Berwick is about 30 minutes east of Edinburgh, perched on a coast overlooking the North Sea. I had read about it somewhere - on the tube in London, actually - and vowed that I would get out there at some point. It was fantastic for clearing my head. The train ride was smooth and there was so much to see out the window. I walked along the beach and listened to my music. It wasn't beach weather - it was gray and foggy, but it was what you would hope a Scottish beach would look like. Rocky islands and bobbing boats. I threw some rocks and watched some birds. Then I went into town. I ducked into a little cafe for dinner and had some sacrelicious mushroom soup. And then the rain hit again, dang it, so I was forced to stay inside the diner and read about 10 chapters of Treasure Island! Poor me, I know. When the rain let up I headed back to the train station and had a quiet, smooth trip back into Edinburgh. The whole trip was really nice. And I have a feeling that when I'm home and faced with work and rehearsals and school again, North Berwick - and the quality alone time I had there - might be something I'll look back and miss.

I saw a late show tonight called The Boy James. It was produced by the Belt Up theatre company - they are famous for taking literary characters and exploring new and different facets of their stories. The Boy James was basically Peter Pan. It was really, really cool. You sat on couches and pillows in this attic space that had been decorated like a Kensington Nursery. An actor acted like a little boy, and he had us play tag and make fart sounds and do silly things. Then older James, who we eventually realize is J.M. Barrie, comes in and tells Little James it's time to grow up. It's actually a really sad ending. But throughout there are flashes of Peter Pan: Indian Dances, ticking clocks, flying, and even a Wendy character who bosses Little James around. I thought it was really clever and touching.

The only awkward thing, and it was kind of funny, happened at the end. Little James was crying and he hugged an audience member and, whispering in her ear, asked her if she would organize the audience into a single file and take them out of the theatre. But she was German and had no idea what he was saying. And none of us knew what he had whispered to her. So we sat there for like five minutes while Little James cried and this German lady sat there panicking. It was kind of funny. Eventually we all just got up and walked out.

view from the top

Thanks to good word of mouth and a lot of flirting to converting, we had the biggest audience ever for a UVU Fringe show this morning. It was fun to see the show in a theatre full of families and patrons of all ages. It's tricky for us in many ways; most shows here at the festival play for 2-3 weeks. We're here for four days. So we have to build audiences fast. But word of mouth also helps and that, I think, was another element of today's success. I hope, anyway. They've worked hard on this show, and it needs to be seen.

We had been warned several times that today would be the end of the good weather in Edinburgh. Somehow everyone knows that a terrible storm is coming, and it's all anybody talks about. Riots, shmiots. There's a storm a-brewin'! I assume they all watch the weather on the news, unlike Lisa and I, who just bleep-bloop through the weather when we watch the news on our DVR. So, the point of all this is that we needed to be outside today. The students spent time busking on the Royal Mile again - and it was literally packed:

It gets to the point where you can barely manage to walk up it. You get pretty well pamphletized and bullied and forcibly entertained. I often pretend I'm on my cell phone so that nobody sells me their show. But that's because I'm cranky and old. And I'm also learning to use side streets to get around Edinburgh. However the vibe of the festival, despite my grouchypants, is creative and electric.

I went with several of the students to see Anton's Uncles, a deconstruction of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya created by the LA company Theatre Movement Bazaar. It's been all the rage at UVU since my students saw it at KCACTF last year. I can see why they loved it; it's funny, it's thoughtful, it's original, and it's got great dancing. I couldn't help but feel it was a little tired - this cast has been performing since 2009 - so I can't blame them. And it's a little played out. I'd love to see what TMB can do with a new piece. But it's still incredibly fun and I laughed a lot. They even pulled Aubrie onstage and vied for her love. She handled it well. It was great to finally see this show.

Afterwards we had a quick pint of Diet Coke at Frankenstein's pub and then I hustled out to catch a performance of Orlando, performed by the Cryptic Theatre Company and based on Virginia Woolf's novel. It was a one woman show, and the actress played two genders and four time periods with lots of enthusiasm and commitment. From what I can remember. I was asleep in minutes. It wasn't her fault. It's just hard when it's 4 in the afternoon and you just had a baguette and they are playing cool but mellow music and this lady is literally rolling on the floor in slow motion. I am as artsy as the next guy, but I also, as you probably know, need my naps. So I apologize that I can't give much of a review to Orlando. I liked the lasers!

To take full advantage of the nice weather before Hurricane Macbeth blew in we decided to hike Arthur's Seat. I did this a few years ago with my friend Kekoa, but this was the first time I'd taken students up. It's steeper than it looks, but so worth the hike. Along the way we stopped at the remains of a castle, where an impromptu battle broke out:

The best part of that is when Greg throws the soda can and the wind blows it right back at him.

We pushed up, onward and upward until we reached the top. And it was pretty glorious. The wind was crazy, and picked up even more while we were up there, but there was something really amazing about seeing the city of Edinburgh stretched along a hill as the sun was going down. I lay on the grass and listened to some music and pondered the view. It was amazing from every angle. So glad we did this.

Afterwards we hiked down and into town and had dinner at The Tass pub. I had fish and chips for, believe it or not, the first time this entire trip. We had a great talk at dinner and played with the wax from the candle. In the background, a troupe of fiddlers played some Scottish tunes. We leave in two days, and this is the kind of stuff I'll miss.

Monday, August 08, 2011

what the moon saw

We were up early today to get to our technical rehearsal which the venue, St. Augustine's, graciously scheduled for us since we missed our tech rehearsal yesterday. Not that it was difficult to wake up. The Edinburgh seagulls have a habit of screaming in your window. You go to sleep to yelling drunks, awake to screaming gulls, and smell malt all day: it's the Edinburgh style! You sort of grow to like it.

Our first performance of What the Moon Saw went really well. This show was directed and adapted by Cherie Julander, who's on the trip with us. It's a Hans Christian Anderson story about how the moon inspires a melancholy painter by telling him stories of what she sees as she passes through the sky. It has a lot of beautiful mixed media that Jaron and Casey put together; the show is cool to look at and great for kids. One of the families in the audience today was Danish, but the Mom had gone to high school as a foreign exchange student at Olympus High School in SLC. It was fun to talk to her, and fun to have them there. I was proud of how everyone did, and excited to have a solid start to the run of our show at the festival.

Joe Fox and his wife Suzy were there to greet us this morning; Joe is here to help with the technical aspects of the show. Afterwards, Joe and Suzy and I went to lunch. It was great to catch up, and we had a lot to talk about. Joe and I have worked together at UVU for six years and he's become a good friend and colleague. I'm sad he won't be there in the Fall. I appreciate him and his creativity and his love and passion for working with students. I look at the students he's mentored and it inspires me to be a better mentor myself. The only problem I have with him is his love for Haggis, which is what he ordered at Deacon Brody's Tavern. Suzy and I stuck with chicken options. We opted out of the sheep innards.

I met up with the students next to do some busking. This is where you join 4,000 other people on the Royal Mile and try to build an audience for your show. You pass out fliers, you sign, you dance, you run around, and you - as I put it - "flirt to convert." Anything you can do to get butts in seats, you basically do. It's a little overwhelming and it's invigorating at the same time. There is so much noise and so much color and so much energy. I don't know how to describe the mayhem unless you've been here. But I will try by showing you:

an Asian gentleman dressed as a cigarette:

a mermaid with scary sharp teeth:

After the busking I went into St Giles Cathedral and read my kindle. I ran out of Peeta and I can't download any more books outside of the US. So luckily there was a free copy of Treasure Island already downloaded, which I read a few chapters of. I've never read that! I like books about old pirates and ominous figures with peg legs showing up in sea shanty public houses. Read that sentence twenty times, I dare you. Anyway, after that I visited the Edinburgh library, which was doing an exhibit on banned books. It was free, and you get what you pay for. There was nothing really revelatory there; Huck Finn was banned? Wha-wha-wha-WHAT? So I headed back to St. Giles and there met up with Joe and Suzy and a handful of the students. Joe gave us a wonderful tour of the cathedral, and took us into the Thistle Chapel, which is the chapel of The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Scotland's foremost Order of Chivalry - something I just cut and pasted directly from Wikipedia. Anyway, I thought it was fascinating.

Then we moved off the Royal Mile and went to the Scottish Portrait Gallery. I've been looking at a lot of museums lately, so I seem now to only focus on quirky and weird paintings. Otherwise, it's a blur. But I really liked:

Three Oncologists, by Ken Currie

The Twins Clara and Aelbert de Bray, by Salomon de Bray

The Reverend Robert Walker Skating, by Sir Henry Raeburn

Lady Agnew, by John Singer Sargent

After lots of portraiture and gallery gazing, we were hungry as a pack of monkeys. So we went to City Restaurant, my favorite little joint in town. Not so little anymore, however! They've added a second floor! This will be great news to any of you who have sweated it out in a tiny table next to the pizza oven, as I have many times. The second floor is spacious and roomy and looks out over the University and the Festival Theatre. We had a nice chat there, and it felt good to eat. As it generally does.

Tonight I went by myself to see Coal Head, Toadstool Mouth, and Other Stories. It's four actors who are basically marionettes. Of course it is, as you can tell from the description, strictly for drama nerds. They act out several different stories, and they play many different characters. It really grew on me. It felt too familiar at first. People as puppets? I've seen that. But they had some really cool and interesting forms of storytelling, and I always dig that.

On my way home tonight I stopped and had a chicken kebab. Does it seem like I'm always eating? You are right!!! I am constantly eating.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

how we got here

I'm not sure how to describe today accurately, except to say it turned out completely different than I expected and that I was, in the end, ok with that.

No doubt you've heard about the riots in London. If so, you probably know more than we did. In retrospect, the late taxis and the stalled trains were sort of a tip-off that something was up; but we live in Kensington, which is not really a hotbed for looting. I did see a giant group mob a Kensington KFC once, but they were my students. Just super hungry. Anyway, this rioting happened overnight. It started as a response to some police shooting following a soccer match, but that excuse lasted about 10 minutes and then it became about breaking into store windows to steal Wii systems and ipads. Pretty pathetic. And, like I say, we didn't see or hear any of it. So we're safe. Unfortunately, however, all of these delays added up, making us about 3 minutes late to check in for our flight to Edinburgh.

So that's a challenge. 15 people, flying as a group, stranded at Gatwick. Best laid plans, right? So here's what happened next:

1. The BA ticket agent was awesome. It took him an hour (literally) but he got us all new flights. The only problem is that they were...

2. In four separate travel groups

3. Flying out of a different airport (Heathrow)

4. Flying into Glasgow, not Edinburgh.

5. We got everyone back into riotous, burning London by the Gatwick Express, then to Heathrow terminal 5 by the Tube.

5.5 I'm exaggerating. We didn't see any riots or burning.

6. We split into four groups. Each group left about two hours after the last one.

7. Our plane to Glasgow was delayed two hours, but it gave me plenty of time to watch Donatella Versace clomp around the airport. (Yes, really her. TERRIFYING. I kept hoping it was Maya Rudolph.)

8. After landing, we took a bus to the Glasgow train station. We ate at Burger King there, which is punishment enough.

9. We took a train from Glasgow to Edinburgh. It was beautiful - lots of heather (the plant)

10. We took cabs from the station to the hotel in Edinburgh.

10.5 We crashed upon arrival.

This should have been incredibly stressful, and it started out that way, but this group of students are so positive and delightful that it actually turned out to be fun in some ways. They played games and joked and napped and I didn't hear a single complaint - NOT A SINGLE COMPLAINT - the entire day. I was impressed and so grateful. It's not easy moving a group from place to place, and whining never helps. When everyone stays chipper and works as a team, well, that's awesome. And now we're in Edinburgh for the week - even more awesome! I love this place. So excited to see our show at the Fringe Festival.

Side note, which isn't really a side note and may be the best thing that happened all day. Robbie Coltrane, who plays Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies, was on our flight. We thought he looked really grouchy, so nobody approached him. While waiting for luggage in Glasgow I could see him watching us interact and joke, and eventually he came over and stood right next to us. Then, he casually asked Josh if he could see his guitar. He told us he'd been taking lessons. Josh obliged, and then, at Robbie's request, sang him a song he wrote! It was such a thrill. Singing for Hagrid in the middle of the baggage claim. He couldn't have been friendlier.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

an end to the west end

There’s always a sense of slight anxiety for me on the last day in London. It’s not that I worry about the Scotland trip, necessarily, as much as I worry that I didn’t do everything I wanted to do in London; that I missed something I love to do, or that I forgot one thing I promised I would try this year. There were entire neighborhoods I didn’t even get to this summer, but of course it’s the same way every year. Each trip has it’s own flavor and personality, which are associated with the places we spent our time.

Anyway. A group of us got up early to snag play tickets. It’s a great day to finally see the stuff we’ve been hearing about, though that generally means that everyone else has heard how great these shows are as well. So you have to get up early. Dan and his cohort went to the Donmar to get tickets to Jude Law’s Anna Christie, while Cherie, Zoe, and I went to the National to get tickets to One Man, Two Guv’nors, which is the hot ticket there. When we got to the theatre there were already 25 people ahead of us, which shouldn’t have surprised me, but sort of did. A lot of them were old! We were all prepared to wait three hours. I got a little breakfast and then settled in for the duration.

Once the tickets were in hand, we went our ways. I headed up to Kensington High Street on bike, stopping at Hornets. Hornets is a "gentleman's shop" for English hunting jackets and hats and it's known for it's eccentric service. For example, the greeter is a dog. I liked all the tweed and twill hats and cuff links, though they were oddly both too fancy and too second-hand for me to seriously consider buying anything. I liked the feel of Hornets, though. It’s old England, it’s proper, and it’s sort of costumy. Nobody really dresses like that.

We had lunch at the Kensington Creperie, since that’s where we started our trip. I branched out and got a crepe that had one different ingredient than the crepe I usually get: potatoes. It was delicious! Aren’t you glad I wrote about that? Following this delicious potato crepe, I rode my bike back up to Hyde Park and snapped a few pictures of the Serpentine Gallery. Every year the Gallery brings in a different artist to recreate the pavilion. This year it was Peter Zumthor, who created something called Hortus Conclusus. It’s basically a giant black box that looks like this:

But on the inside….surprise! A flower garden!

One Man, Two Guv’nors was fantastic. It’s a modern telling of Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters, set in 1960’s England. Every scene break gets live music from an early Beatles-esque pop band in skinny suits , and the whole thing is really commedia. All of the stock characters are there, falling down stairs, switching genders, making fart jokes, and pulling people out of the audience to do horrible and embarrassing things. The lead actor, James Corden, was absolutely amazing. Comic timing better than anyone I’ve ever seen – every line was funny, and he found humor in everything. I could watch that show over and over and still learn more about comedy. It was an absolute blast. Another audience member who enjoyed it was Dustin Hoffman, who sat right in front of me. Tootsie’s looking old.

Then I had dinner again with Peter White, who I met up with last week. I would introduce Peter as Jenny Latimer’s boyfriend, but he’s really my friend now and I think we can leave Jenny out of it. We had some Indian food in Covent Garden, and it was delicious despite the fact that neither of us could understand our waitress and we didn’t know what we ordered. We resolved to eat whatever showed up. Risky, but worth it. And great to see Peter.

And tonight we got to see Jude Law in Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie. I’ve never seen the play, or read it, or knew much about it. But it’s basically about the immigrant fishing community in Boston with specific focus on Anna, who was abandoned by her father after her mothers’ death and has come looking for him. Jude didn’t show up until about 30 minutes into it, but he made up for lost time by ambling around without his shirt on and making all the men in the audience feel like giant blobs. Meanwhile, the ladies among us started to invoke, yet again, Surprise Party Sue (“I didn’t know this was gonna HAPPEN!”) But of course it’s demeaning to relegate a great actor to his abs, especially in this case, when the actor gives such an inspiring and daring performance. The whole show was engaging and beautiful and sad. And a perfect ending to three invigorating weeks on the West End.