Thursday, November 29, 2012

When Purple Prosedy Attacks! (And How to Tame It...)

In 2009, I attended a theatre conference in NYC where, naturally, I was drawn to any workshop that breathed the words "Shakespeare"or "verse drama" or "iambic pentameter" in the title.  The workshops were all individually excellent, but I did notice one hilarious similarity between them:

Every bloody workshop, independent of each other (!), used the following speech from ROMEO AND JULIET in their presentations:
ROMEO.
Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
O any thing, of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness! serious vanity!
Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
In one workshop, we looked at this from a movement standpoint, from other we really delved into the words and expressing the antitheses, and in the last we explored the punctuation.

You'll notice, though, we didn't delve into the entire speech or its surrounding lines, which actually reads like this:
BENVOLIO.
Alas, that love, so gentle in his view,
Should be so tyrannous and rough in proof!
ROMEO.
Alas, that love, whose view is muffled still,
Should, without eyes, see pathways to his will!
Where shall we dine? O me! What fray was here?
Yet tell me not, for I have heard it all.
Here's much to do with hate, but more with love.
Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
O any thing, of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness! serious vanity!
Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
This love feel I, that feel no love in this.
Dost thou not laugh?
BENVOLIO.
                                     No, coz, I rather weep.
Why, you may ask, did each workshop cut off the parts surrounding those six lines?  The answer is simple: every other line is motivated.  And the parts in italics were the result of:

(Cue dramatic music.  In fact, cue this:)


Writing in Verse: Pretty Pitfalls

As a director, I sometimes wondered why Shakespeare would occasionally "just go off" into rhapsodies  of verse that stop the action cold.  I'm not talking about "To be or not to be," I'm talking precisely about what we see above.  But I'll give you a few other examples:

From HAMLET:
HORATIO.


A mote it is to trouble the mind's eye.
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets:
As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun; and the moist star
Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse:
And even the like precurse of fierce events,
As harbingers preceding still the fates
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
Unto our climatures and countrymen.--
But soft, behold! lo, where it comes again!
From A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM:
Titania's ready for ALL THE TALKING!
TITANIA.

These are the forgeries of jealousy:
And never, since the middle summer's spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
By paved fountain or by rushy brook,
Or in the beached margent of the sea,
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturb'd our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck'd up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.
Prospero's got STUFF TO SAY!
From THE TEMPEST:

PROSPERO.


Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves,
And ye that on the sands with printless foot
Do chase the ebbing Neptune and do fly him
When he comes back; you demi-puppets that
By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make,
Whereof the ewe not bites, and you whose pastime
Is to make midnight mushrooms, that rejoice
To hear the solemn curfew; by whose aid,
Weak masters though ye be, I have bedimm'd
The noontide sun, call'd forth the mutinous winds,
And 'twixt the green sea and the azured vault
Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire and rifted Jove's stout oak
With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory
Have I made shake and by the spurs pluck'd up
The pine and cedar: graves at my command
Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let 'em forth
By my so potent art. But this rough magic
I here abjure, and, when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book.
Now, as a director, I have to make a choice as to whether to cut out parts (typically, yes) or to leave them in.  The bits that I highlighted, while beautiful poetry, tend also to be repetitive poetry for an audience, that is, for those listening.  It can also be a little wearying for the actor to justify why s/he keeps speaking.  Although there may be better examples, let's keep with the four above.

1) Romeo and Juliet: Granted, the "O this, O that" are good poetry, granted too that Romeo is of a poetical disposition, and granted this part isn't easily cut because it's become so well known, regardless it stops the action cold.  Romeo was in the middle of finding out why Benvolio's got a cut or a weapon or there's a body lying on the ground or something.  The important philosophical idea is: "O brawling love!  O loving hate!"  The rest of it are just variations of a theme.  Variations that the actor has to work hard to convey as varied, interesting, and crucial to be said aloud, but which for the sake of clarity could have been cut.

2) Hamlet: Horatio's lines begin with a cause: he's reminding us that during times of national upheaval, even nature seems to reverse itself.  But then he goes on.  And on.  Poetically.  In this case, a director/actor may justify that Horatio is just spinning time out so that the Ghost's reappearance is a sudden shock...but we really don't need "extra bits" in a play that's already four hours long.  (See below for Blackadder's thoughts on that!)


3) Midsummer: Many scholars have tried to draw correlations between this speech and the natural goings-on in Shakespeare's day.  They may not be wrong.  But again, by continuing on and on and on and on, with variations and repetitions and florid example after florid example, the audience gets tired.  The actress may be brilliant...the audience is tired.  Midsummer doesn't suffer from being overlong, and the speech is fairly well known so that about half the actresses keep the whole intact, but in point of fact, we only need one or two examples of how the world's gone mad, and then cut right to the heart of why she's speaking which is, "This same progeny of evils comes from our debate, from our dissention, we are their parents and original."

4) Tempest: This show is actually chock full of loads of poetry with minimal (seeming) motivation.  This comes at the end of the show, and it's gorgeous poetry...but again, repetitious.  Especially at the end of a show, the action should be faster, quicker - we want to see all the resolutions fall into place.  So while directors may keep some of the list of spirits under Prospero's command, they may not need all of them listed.


Now, there are those folks who are going to bristle that I even criticized Shakespeare's poetry at all, but hear me out.  Or rather, hear out Sir Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie:



The Play (Not Your Poetry's) The Thing

So, what can we learn from five hundred years of folks struggling with Shakespeare?  Quite a lot, actually.  When writing verse drama, we need to keep in mind that while we're going to have a tendency to fly off into dizzying ecstasies of the English language, in fact, the audience just wants to know What Happens Next.

That's not to say that you couldn't or shouldn't go off with the Purple Prosedy Monster every once in a while - after all, what's the point of writing verse drama if you don't get to write verse drama?  But that poet-playwrights need to keep first and foremost in mind whether the poetry assists or impedes the forward momentum of the play.

To think of it another way, consider what the Rowan Atkinson character above would cut from your play...and consider cutting it now.

Some Tips to Keep in Mind

Before you cut, consider asking yourself these questions:

1) Does the poetry reveal something about the character?
2) Does it move the plot along?
3) Does it cover up some action (a length of time, etc.)?
4) Does it set a mood?
5) Can the actor and director easily motivate it?

If the answer is "yes," then keep the poetry as is (at least for the space of a reading!).  If, however, you find that:

1) The poetry doesn't sound like the character;
2) The forward motion is completely and unnecessarily stopped;
3) The poetry is repetitious and can be summed up in one or two examples;
4) The poetry is at odds with the mood you need to sustain;
5) The actor and/or director are asking you what the hell this means;

Then consider cutting or rewriting your verse.  It'll be painful to lose your good lines, but the best lines you can probably fit in somewhere else, or showcase them independent of an entire sonnet.

REMEMBER!

The audience is listening to your play for the first time!  They're getting the exciting experience of hearing words as if they've never heard language before.

No one's done thesis upon thesis on your poetry - it's raw, it's new - it needs to keep the drama going.

No one in the audience is reading your play, either.  It's one thing to read a line or two of verse, put it down, and consider it before picking up where you left off.  The audience doesn't get that leisure.  They're listening to fast rich language.

So keep it elegant, but simple!  And make friends with the Purple Prosedy Monster...or better yet, tame it.

See also: Writing in Iambic Pentameter and Where Have All The Iambic Pentameter Plays Gone?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Maternity Wardens

So, due to - y'know - moving to New York City, holding down a full-time job before that, and then directing/producing A Midsummer Night's Dream prior to that (phew!) all in the month of August, 31 Plays in 31 Days has gotten less attention from me.

Wall and Thisbe from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" 2012
However, I did manage to write a play based on something I saw on the NYC subway a few days ago.  There was this real Wall Street guy sitting across from me.  Handsome, but with a very stern face, like he was refusing to grant the world a smile.

However, next to him was this adorable little Oriental girl in a stroller.  She wasn't doing anything particularly noteworthy, just sitting there being four years old, but she caught the eye of Wall Street man.  And he started grinning at her.  A little duckling of a grin.

His eyes became softer.  One could almost see stars and pink roses and fluffy forest creatures emanating out of his gaze as he looked at her.  It was both beautiful and highly amusing how much Wall Street Man melted.

We came to a stop, and Wall Street man immediately put on his sour look again.  He caught my eye, and his face become more poker like.  Not trying to dissuade him, I glanced away - still keeping the guy in my periphery - and sure enough, as soon as the train started up again and everyone become pointedly anonymous, his gaze went right back to that little girl and his face expressed "Oh!  If only!"-ness.

A few stops later, Wall Street Man went off...and was immediately replaced by Wall Street Man #2.  This fellow was buffer, cooler looking.  He didn't look stern; his poker face read Bored, Now.

But sure enough - one look at that little girl in her stroller, and Buff Wall Street Man melted into daisies and candy canes and wistfulness and yearning as much as Dour Wall Street guy had.

Hence, this play.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Directors can be Playwrights, too!

Preach it, Jeffrey Sweet!

There's a saying that never, ever, ever under ANY circumstances should a playwright be allowed to direct their own works.  And while it's true that some of the pieces of mine I've directed I need a little bit more time and perhaps another pair of eyes to help out in round two, by and large, I find that I can playwright/revise better when I do it in the rehearsal room.  As Mr. Sweet put it:

Also it mustn't be forgotten that some people write in rehearsal as they direct.  Their writing process is to direct....Writers who are also directors may indeed face the problem of objectivity as they stage their own stuff, but many others have the discipline and professionalism to know how to adjust for this. That's what you have other collaborators for – the actors, the designers, the producer, and the rest of the people in the room who are presumably there because they know something about how to make theatre.  Directors with any sense will pay attention to and solicit advice from colleagues.
 Check out his entire article!  And then his blog. Good stuff!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Write What You Know...But Don't Post It

So, as many of you know, I've joined the 31 Plays in 31 Days group, which is basically NaNoWriMo for playwriting.

And as many of you also know, I think I can safely brag that I'm no slouch when it comes to writing new plays.

So imagine my surprise, then, when on the first day of writing...I found myself completely out of ideas.

Ladies and gentlemen, This. Simply. Does. Not. Happen.

Terry Pratchett, one of my favourite authors of All Time, writes several times in his novels (such as in Wyrd Sisters) that he believes the universe is full of ideas that just sleet down through the sky.  Most people may only be hit a few times in their lives - while there are some other (un)fortunate few who, like specially tuned magnets, are pummeled with this ideological sleet nearly every moment of their lives.

He then goes on to make fun of William Shakespeare and the musical Cats, which can only be to the good, but the idea of ideas sleeting from the sky has always seemed an apt metaphor.

Most authors lament that the first question anyone wants to ask them is: "How did you come up with that idea?!?"  Much like the actor's dreaded, "How did you memorize all those lines?!?!?" this question is both impractical and infuriating to answer.  How did I come up with that idea?  Why the idea has been there all along.  It lodged itself in me, and I've been trying to exorcise it from me ever since!  (Actors in this regard have it considerably easier, since they "merely" have to memorize someone else's ideas, which they can then keep or more usually discard as pleases them.  Lucky actors.)

So, again, imagine my surprise when on day one of writing, I sit down to my computer...and have nothing to say.

What surprised me, more, is that all the usual suspects bobbed to the surface, only to disappear soon after.  They were all too long; too involved for a day's worth of writing.  Too much for a page or five.

I stared at the screen.

It stared at me.

I waited for the universe to sleet down ideas.

The universe was silent.

And so I was forced to go to that well within me, and lo and behold, I ended up writing a very personal play.  That was followed by a completely useless Mr. Bean-lite, and another David Ivesian pursuit of verbal futility...and then another dangerously personal play.  And one more - a musical, this time, naturally.

As a result, I've absolutely nothing I'm going to show anyone right now!

What surprised me about the need to move inward was that I have long been a proponent of "Write What is True and Mask It."  Being a fan of fantasy, I enjoy a distancing device - be it poetry, or dance, or another country, or another time.  I enjoy style.  I find it stylish.  Nor do I think that there's dishonesty in those pieces I've written stylistically.  As Stephen Sondheim wrote, "Content Dictates Form."

But what style also allows for is presentation.  Should I post at least three of the five plays I've written so far, there are those who would recognize themselves (and myself) right away.  I was interested to see, as well, how much those three plays were done in silence (always saving the musical, where one can sing what one feels). 

I feel like it's been a while since I've really had a good silent scene (a la Hamlet about 6 min in, or Romeo and Juliet about 16 minutes in, or my most recent Macbeth in the silence after we killed all the Macduffs) - and silence is always more revealing.

We'll see what comes in the remainder of the month!  But what about you?  Do you draw primarily from within or are you pelted from without?  Sound off in the comments!  And if you have time, make sure you join up for this great playwriting adventure!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Are You Playwright Enough?

There's an exciting NaNoWriMo-like challenge starting tomorrow for all playwrights:

31 Plays in 31 Days is the challenge for playwrights to produce a play a day (one page minimum) during the month of August.

I'm terribly excited by the idea.  I've known a few other playwrights who've managed to do a play a day for a year...trying to make a month is about enough for me!

Today's the last day to sign up officially (I think) so make sure you send your info in!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Nothing's Gonna Change My World

I hate moving.

I hate it, I hate it, I hate it.

I hate packed bags; I hate packing bags.

And yet, curiously enough, I love travel, and adventure, and being on the go.

It's the expectation of movement that's the worst.  As Eliot puts it so succinctly in The Hollow Men:
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
I've made quite a few movements in my life.  It used to be that when people would ask me where I was from, I'd heave a sigh and explain that I was born in Amherst, Massachusetts - but don't remember it - and then moved to Worcester, MA - which I do remember - and then in Nursery School to Portsmouth, NH - which I loved very much - and then wrenched out of there mid-fourth grade under trying circumstances to the (initially) trying home of Pompton Lakes, NJ.

Jersey took four years or so to become home, once I made friends four years later in high school - but soon after it was off to Steubenville, OH for college, which was more home than home because in 1997, mid-college, my family moved from Jersey (where I'd finally felt rooted) back to Massachusetts (which I could barely remember)...the very summer before I went abroad for a semester to do nothing but travel - which was wonderful, and trying, and perilous, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

My body was in MA from summer 1997 on, but home was Ohio - and remained Ohio for a good year after graduating.  Hence, I didn't really live in Massachusetts until 2000, after I came back from a stint to England, and began teaching and - much to my surprise - put down tentative roots, fifteen years in the making.

And now, just as my roots are secure, I am moving again.

What makes this particular move more difficult is that I'm not going with family, as I did when a child, or with some particular goal, as I did when I went to college.  I'm not going with a set job (I'll be temping); nor roommate; nor even immediate goal.  Yet, I am going.  I am, to put it frankly, being sent.

I'm walking on water; I'm hoping there's a handy whale with a bad digestive system.  I'm speaking with Isaiah and Samuel's words, "Here I am, Lord!  Send me!"  I'm hoping His parable about the lilies of the field is accurate.

Yet, even as I look at the choppy waves, and the whale's enormous esophogas, and the fall of every sparrow, I'm reminded of a few things:

    • I was terrified of little things when I left everything at Hudson Catholic (and it forcibly left me) to pursue my Master's at Emerson College.  I remember, I worked up all this gumption to go on the silly train to and from Boston, and nearly freaked myself out over a trial-run a week before classes began to scope out the train, and the campus, and my classrooms and everything.  Yet, now these places are my stomping ground.  There was nothing frightful about the change, other than the possibility of having to share a seat on a crowded commute.  And that little change out of my comfort zone of six years back in Hudson is what first set the groundwork in me to realize I could make a living as an artist.  All it took was the gumption to get on a train.
    •  After I finished Hamlet, our first production of Gaudete Academy and the beginning of the end at HCH (although I didn't know it), I was in a state.  I was still deep in the world of Hamlet, I was feeling called to leave HCH, I couldn't believe that we'd actually pulled off Gaudete Academy, I was losing my first "theatrical child" - whom I'd directed in something like fourteen plays - to college, I was exhausted.  So naturally, my mother sent my sister and myself for a week to Ireland.  I didn't want to go - not that I didn't want to travel to Ireland, but rather we were leaving the day after the show closed, and I wanted time to collapse.
      A sign we saw in Dublin.
      The first few days were tough: Mum had arranged for us an itinerary of meeting distant cousins and staying in abandoned houses they owned (sleeping on the floor) or in nunneries, and drinking more tea than even my constitution could stand.  It would have been my Mother's dream trip - she's a genealogist - but it was tough going for us.  (As was driving on the wrong side of the road while jetlagged in the middle of the night on roads we didn't know to places we'd never been.)  
      However, when in Dublin we went off our itinerary.  We saw The Importance of Being Earnest by an all male-cast.  We visited the university.  We took taxis.  And at last we went the "wrong way" on the road, followed the mountains out of Dublin sans map, and found ourselves in perhaps the most beautiful part of Ireland I'd ever seen.  Which is to say, sometimes going under extreme pressure and choosing right or left by His whim lead one to the bits one ends up loving the best.
    • Not all adventures are successful: I shouldn't have gone to Paris alone (or at least, I shouldn't have spoken to strangers in Paris), and tromping off alone and attempting to scale cliffs while upset at the world and in tennis shoes with no traction while the ground is muddy wasn't my best idea.  
    However, going off alone in London to Hyde Park to practice Rosalind's speeches to a tree and then running into some legitimate Shakespearean actors who inquired of me information (which I was too young and fearful to pursue their friendship) was a good idea (it was also daylight!).  And saying, "Bollocks" to pretty much everyone who's ever said, "No," or "We're not sure," or "It can't be done," re: doing some piece of theatre and just doing it instead has nearly always panned out.

    Those times when I haven't hidden (such as at Emerson) have always been better than those times I have (such as in Hollywood).  Those times I've stuck to my guns have been better than those times I've caved.  Those times I've pursued friendship have been better than those times I haven't.  Those times I've jumped with God (such as when I grabbed my unpacked bags and ran off after the train to Italy) were better than those times I've fried my brain on TV (too often).  Those times I've walked with God are better than those times when I've moped on my own.
    • Last, but hardly least, I'll keep in mind my first day of first grade.  My mother dropped me off - herself weepy; myself as well.  Then, unbeknownst to me, Mum watched through the window to see if I was all right.  She saw me muttering to myself, and getting ready for the day.  Later that night, she asked me what I had been doing.  And I, ever precocious, looked her in the eye and said very gravely, "Well, I was scared.  So I thought to myself, 'I need a pep talk.'  So I gave one to myself.  And then everything was all right."
    What's also amusing is how encouraging everyone has been.  Amusing solely because it's the response of someone who's been There and Back Again, someone who knows there are dragons and they can be fought...and who also knows that the dragons are less numerous than the multitudinous other unexpected beauties along the way.  Having now sent off quite a few students to college, I've been that amused person more times than I care to admit: the person who's excited for the adventure my student is going towards, even as my student quakes with fear at the unknown.  So it is now; only I'm the student without a school this time.  I'm Bilbo, setting forth from the Shire, unaware of the adventure that lies before him.

    I'll end with the best pep talk my Dad ever gave me.  He's the sort of fellow who'll buy a birthday card and then put speech bubbles and captions all over it.  One birthday, he gave me a picture of the companions from the Wizard of Oz, and on the back he wrote this:
    And all the people said, "Ahhg! A Lion!"

    And the Lion turned around and cried, "Oh No! Where?"

    Remember: You are a Lion.

    Saturday, July 14, 2012

    On the Need for Martyrs

    I've always been a fan of martyrs.

    I think many Catholics are.  Martyrs have some of the best stories, some of the best one-liners (1), and frankly some of the most inspiring lives - no matter how cut off in their prime - of anyone who've ever lived.  Check it out:

    St. Cecelia
    The patron saint of music, St. Cecelia was a beautiful young Roman noblewoman who was forced by her pagan father to marry another nobleman, Valerianus (we'll call him Val), despite having sworn her virginity to God.

    Nevertheless, the marriage went through, and on her wedding night as Val entered the honeymoon suite, he was greeted by his new wife who informed him that she was terribly sorry, but she was a Christian, and - what's more - a consecrated virgin, and that incidentally if Val tried any hanky-panky, her angel would cut him down.

    "Go take a walk," Cecelia ordered Val.  "Think about it.  Come back and tell me what you think."

    Val went out for the walk, and when he came back, he saw Cecelia talking to her angel.  Val converted pretty much on the spot (and agreed to the no-sexy-times relationship).  Soon after that, Val's brother also converted.

    Unfortunately, the boys were caught early by the anti-Catholic government officials of Marcus Aurelius, who had the men put to death immediately.  Cecelia lived on a while longer, converting many, until she was finally caught, subjected to various tortures, and at last put to death by beheading.

    The rule at the time was that executioners only had three tries to cut off someone's head.  They tried three times...but failed...and so left St. Cecelia to bleed out.  She died and was buried in the catacombs, having arranged her fingers to show "three" and "one" on each hand - to indicate her belief in the Trinity.

    Several centuries later, her body was discovered in the catacombs - incorrupt.  Her body was moved across the Tiber and in the crypt of a new basilica, now known as the Basilica of St. Cecelia. (2)



    St. Maximilian Kolbe
    A humble Franciscan priest, taken into Auschwitz for opposing Hitler.  When someone stole some food out of desperation, the Commadant decided to put several of the prisoners at random into a starvation cell.  One man who was chosen, broke down and begged for his life: he was a family man.  St. Maximilian Kolbe, who had not been chosen to be starved, volunteered in the man's place.  While starving, St. Maximilian was heard not only offering spiritual counsel and confession to his fellow prisoners, but also leading them in songs and in jokes.  They did all eventually die of starvation.  The man whose place St. Maximilian took did survive, was reunited with his family, and testified on St. Maximilian's behalf at his beatification.

    St. Robert Southwell
    A distant cousin of Shakespeare, Southwell not only chose to become a Jesuit priest (the thorn in the side of the anti-Catholic English monarchy) but begged to go from the safety of France back to his native England, there to say mass, hear confessions, and minister to his persecuted countrymen.  For several years, he managed to live in England secretly, moved from Catholic house to Catholic house.

    During this time, Southwell, an accomplished poet himself, wrote a letter to Shakespeare - who was just beginning to write a few plays and poems and enjoy celebrity - saying, in effect, "Your work is very good.  You have much talent.  It's a pity you throw it away on writing trivial stuff.  Think of what great work you could do, were you to write about more than fluff."  (At this point, Shakespeare had written Comedy of Errors, Titus Andronicus, Love's Labour's Lost, and probably Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream.)

    Soon after, Southwell was found out by Queen Elizabeth's chief priest-hunter who imprisoned and tortured Southwell.  After enduring several years of this, Southwell was at last ordered to be executed by being drawn, hung, and quartered (3).  The day of his trial, the crown tried to publicize the execution of another criminal in order to keep people from viewing Southwell's death (since many had converted several years earlier at St. Edmund Campion's execution).

    However, when he was being hung, Lord Mountjoy and many of the other onlookers rushed forward and pulled on Southwell's body so that he would die in the hanging.  His lifeless body, therefore, was quartered, and not one person in the crowed called out the traditional "Traitor!"

    After Southwell's death, Shakespeare - who was very likely in the London crowd that day - began writing plays with richer significance and greater depth and glory.

    I could go on and on.  St. Joan of Arc, St. Thomas More, St. Edith Stein, St. Isaac Jogues...all those persecuted for being Catholic in the last century in Spain and in Mexico, or previously during the Reign of Terror in France...all the Catholics who to this day are persecuted and killed in China and Japan...all those Catholics who are, to this very hour, being murdered while at prayer in Muslim-held territories from Egypt throughout the Mideast.

    It's pretty staggering, when you think about it.

    Yet, in light of current events, I can't help but think that America is long overdue for her martyrs.

    I remember the day the news came out that the Supreme Court had acquiesced to Obamacare - just two weeks ago, now.  My entire household, as Catholics, held their breath regarding the ruling.  Would we be forced to fight for our religious rights?  Would we be forced to pay for the death of infants?  Would we be forced to shut down our relief services because of government command?  Would we, in effect, be persecuted thanks to a clever legal loophole?

    It's not an impossible thought.  Look at the martyrs listed above.

    They all faced the ruling forces and would not kneel.

    My mother held out hope that the entire bill would be struck down.

    But somehow I knew, I knew, as I sat at my job with the vein under my right eye twitching (a result of a high-stress job, not of the ruling), that the Supreme Court would bow to Obama.

    I knew, even as I said my rosary for the Fortnight of Freedom - sneaking in a decade here and there as I went to the bathroom or drove to and from lunch - that the Catholic Church would be made to fight.

    I knew, I knew, even as I fervently prayed that God would spare our country, that He was sparing our country.  He was doing it at this very moment.  He is pouring out His graces - but in the way that He always has:

    Through His blood we are healed.  Through His cross are we granted salvation.

    He didn't say, "I come to bring fluffy bunnies."  He said, "I come with a sword."

    He didn't say, "Pick up your remote control and follow me."  He said, "Pick up your cross."

    He didn't say, "Blessed are those who grow fat and comfortable and forget about their God while sprinkling themselves insensibly with holy water when they can be bothered."  He said, "Blessed are you when people insult you, and persecute you, and utter false things against you for My Name's sake.  Rejoice and be glad!  For your reward is great in Heaven."

    However, He also didn't say, "Run into buildings, take out a bunch of infidels with you, and follow me."  Christ didn't unleash His power upon His persecutors - He forgave them.  In fact, He even promised to bring the thief to Heaven that very day.

    Is it any wonder, then, that as in Egypt when God allowed His people to suffer under Pharoh, as in Soviet Poland from whence our late John Paul the Great came in opposition to persecution, that He would allow our human government once more to feel its full power and therefore to truly ask of us, "Who do you say I AM?"

    Is it any wonder when, like with the debaucheries of Rome, He saves us by allowing the world to truly witness (what "martyr" literally means) what their debaucheries were getting them: the circus, the death-matches, the Christian holocausts of the first centuries.

    The Church requires her martyrs.  By the blood of the martyrs - those brave fools, those men and women who would not bend even when the world was being trampled, those ordinary folks like you and I who said "I am God's servant, first, and my life is His," those glorious saints who are a bafflement to their peers, a scandalon in the soft shoe of the comfortable, a stumbling block to make men stop and look and think and believe.

    I do believe that we are heading towards a time of martyrdom - of bloody martyrdom.  I pray we are not.  But I fear that we have become too comfortable.  We must wake ourselves.

    We need those martyrs who stand up for the waking truth, even in the midst of a world gone mad with nightmares.  God, give us Your grace.  Amen!





    (1) Classic example: St. Lawrence, patron saint of saints, was being roasted alive by government officials who were furious that Lawrence wouldn't stomp on the crucifix. Lawrence, far from - you know, screaming - merely said: "Turn me over, boys! I'm done on this side!"

    (2) Back in 1997, I visited the catacombs where a statue of how St. Cecelia's body was found lo those many centuries ago.  Inspired by this, I diverged from my tour group one afternoon, dragging a classmate with me, to find the Basilica of St. Cecelia.
    Directions: from the Coliseum, go left towards St. Peter's/the Vatican.  Right before you'd go into St. Peter's, turn left, keeping the Tiber on your right.  Head down about half a mile until you could go left again and see that crazy round head thing from Roman Holiday which is supposed to cut off your hand if you tell a lie while your hand is in its mouth.  By the way, it doesn't work, but it freaks you out when you do it, anyway!  After you've had fun with the crazy round pagan lie-detector, go back right and over the Tiber via the closest bridge.  The Basilica is on your right, and they tie on fake roses to the bushes (at least in November).  It will look like a teeny villa, but don't be deceived!  It's her humble Basilica!
    When I got there, I was disappointed to find that the doors were locked.  Fortunately, a very pretty organist came up - one of those with a carefully careless beard, rosy cheeks under dusky skin, and brown curly hair falling into his eyes, head mostly bowed, music tucked under his arm, as he rushed up to the basilica muttering to himself, keys swinging from his pocket.  Very pretty.  I went up, batted my eyelashes, begged to be let in (in my broken Italianish), and was let in.  However, then pretty boy was trying to...flirt back?  And I was in full pilgrimage mode and didn't much believe that I was bait for gorgeous Italian men.

    Note to self: invent time travel and punch my former self in the windpipe.

    (3) For anyone who doesn't know, this form of death is particularly awful, and includes the following steps:
    • The victim is first drawn from his place of imprisonment to his place of execution by means of a sled, so that his back, head, and torso are dragged along the road and the filth.
    • Next, the victim is hung only to suffocation, not to death.
    • Then, the victim's torso is cut into in a cross form (light enough to keep him alive).  Then his arms and legs are tied to four separate horses, who are then sent off at a gallop in different directions, so that the prisoner is alive as his abused body is literally torn apart.
    Yeah.   Nnnngh.  The Tudor's favourite form of execution.

    Sunday, July 1, 2012

    Free Books? Yes, Please!

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    For this month, you can purchase Nachtsturm Castle at 50% off...

    While you can get Letters of Love & Deception...for FREE!

    So what are you waiting for?  Get to reading!

    Tuesday, June 26, 2012

    Dreaming of Midsummer

    One of the great pleasures I have in theatre is making posters for my plays.  What I've realized, though, is that no matter what one's "concept" for a show (particularly Shakespeare), at least the better known shows just want the Iconic Image.  Macbeth really ought to just be Mackers, some sharp instrument, considerable blood, and a crazy-hot wife.  Romeo and Juliet is just Romeo and Juliet.  If the Nurse is on the poster, there's a problem.

    Similarly, although our Midsummer's is beginning to explore questions not only of love, but also of trust.  There's all sorts of neat stuff happening in rehearsal.  However, for the purposes of the poster, people really want to see a fairy and a donkey.  Which is all right by me!  Hence, without further ado, the Facebook cover (make-up courtesy of my assistant stage manager, and former Katherina Minola).



    And now the official poster!

    Sunday, June 24, 2012

    Beer and Benediction: Or How CAUSE Began

    Today I'm guest blogging over at CAUSE's (Catholic Artists of the United States Effect) new blog!  Make sure you check out:

    Beer and Benediction

    And then leave your own story.  What do you as an artist really need?  How can CAUSE serve you?

    Thursday, May 17, 2012

    The Sweeper of Dreams

    A few days ago, my dear friend, Kristen, turned me on to this nifty contest that the English National Opera (ENO) is holding for Mini-Operas.  At the moment, the libretto portion is underway, which will be followed by composition and - rather intriguingly - film direction.

    One of the mentors is the fellow who's been bringing us the filmed versions of the Metropolitan Opera.  Several of the participants have also worked on the Met's The Enchanted Island which is a pastiche of Shakespeare's The Tempest...which I got to do with some rather talented folks at Hudson High School.  (See above.)

    To help out the librettists, three splendid folk gave "seed stories."  The one that intrigued me (quelle surprise) was Neil Gaiman's "The Sweeper of Dreams."  The good folks holding the competition have asked that each participant put their entry on their blog (which means that I've gotten to read several other sterling librettos for the same story - my favourite of which is here).

    So, without further ado, I present to you my libretto for The Sweeper of Dreams.  You can read it here.  Or press the fly out button in the embedded document below.  I'd really love to know what you think...so do feel free to leave a comment!  Enjoy!




    Wednesday, May 9, 2012

    Midsummer Night's Dream Character Descriptions


    A Midsummer Night’s Dream
    Character Descriptions


    Fairy Court

    Oberon           King of the Fairies, an element of earth and animals, Oberon is a jealous force of nature, who—despite his own previous infidelities to his wife—nevertheless longs for reconciliation with her.  His actions throughout the play, while manipulative, are not malicious.  He pities Helena, seeing in her plight something of his own argument with Titania, and attempts to put things right for the mortal lovers.  As for the trick he plays on Titania, having her fall in love with “something vile,” although harsh, he is attempting to show Titania how her love of the Indian boy (in our case, a man-child) is asinine.  Oberon is constantly thwarted by Puck, whose pranks he tolerates but on whom he keeps a tight reign. 

    Titania           Queen of the Fairies, an element of wind and fire, whose servants far outnumber Oberon’s and are drawn from water and plantlife.  To spite Oberon, Titania has taken up with an Indian boy (remember, the fairies are immortal, so a “boy” for them is a “young man” for us!) whom she refuses to give up…and even flaunts in front of her husband.  When she is unrepentant, she is tricked into falling in love with an ass—which makes her realize the pettiness of her dispute with Oberon.  Titania may be best thought of as a thunderstorm.

    Puck               Oberon’s lieutenant, Puck is a mischief-maker, using willfull ignorance and the letter of the law to subvert the commands he’s given.  A satyr, Puck is half man, half goat…but unlike his Grecian predecessors, he’s only chases nymphs recreationally.  He’s less interested in sexytimes than in causing chaos.  As a fairy, he’s amoral—that is, he is neither good nor bad, but rather reveals people for who they truly are.  No matter how extreme his pranks, however, he is always reeled back by Oberon.  Preferably played by a man.

    Dewdrop        Titania’s lieutenant, and chief among all of Titania’s fairies, Dewdrop is blindingly loyal to her mistress.  She assists Titania in keeping the Indian Boy in thrall—and in fact, she makes no judgement at all at any of Titania’s paramours.  Even the ones who are complete jackasses.  However, her head can be easily turned by Puck, with whom she’s enjoyed an eternity of competitive flirting.

    Indian Boy     Titania’s protégée…and possibly something more…the Indian Boy was given to Titania to raise, much like how Aphrodite raised Adonis.  But just like that Greek myth, Titania now dotes unreasonably on the Indian Boy, keeping him infantilized, even though he’s clearly a man.  This character can go either the way of Kronk from Emperor’s New Groove, or a sort of Ken doll (a himbo), or any Will Ferrell character.  (Will double with Theseus.)
      
    Human Court

    Theseus          The Duke of Athens, known as the “unifying king,” Theseus has recently returned from his voyages where variously journeyed through the underworld, defeated the labyrinth and the Minotaur, and most recently captured the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta to be his bride.  A warrior and philosopher, Theseus uses both actions and words to his advantage.  Like the fairies, he is not known for his fidelity to women: having left Ariadne after she helped him through the labyrinth; stealing off Helen before Paris got the idea; abducting Hippolyta and—after these course of events—ditching the Queen of the Amazons for Phaedra (who went crazy and ruined everybody’s lives).  Like the fairies, he could really use a lesson in fidelity!  (Will double with the Indian Boy.)

    Hippolyta      The Queen of the Amazons, newly abducted by Theseus, Hippolyta’s a warrior in her own right.  The Amazons were known to capture men and sleep with them, only in order to procreate, at which point they would kill their captive mates.  Male children were exiled from their island, which was populated only by women.  The Amazons were excellent archers (some say they cut of one breast, the better to shoot), and—except for Hippolyta—none of them ever married.  Some myths say that Theseus carried off Hippolyta’s sister, Antiope, whom Oberon is said by Titania to have seduced.  Certainly, Theseus “met” Hippolyta when he journeyed with Hercules to get the Queen’s girdle of Ares, god of war and her father, from her.  Whomever Theseus abducted, legend say that shortly thereafter, the Amazons attacked the city, but were unsuccessful in regaining their countrywoman.

    Philostrate   This role depends entirely on whether a male or female plays the part.  However, if a woman wants to play the part comically (as in the male interpretation) she is welcome to show this at auditions!

                            MALE.  Philostrate is the servant of Theseus, a slightly stuffy butler who has great disdain for anyone lower class (such as the Rude Mechanicals).  Mostly a comic role. 

                            FEMALE. Philostrate is another captured Amazon with Hippolyta, who works as best she can to protect Hippolyta from Theseus’ dubious advances.  She is less comical and more warrior-like.

    Egeus           In Shakespeare’s play, Egeus is the angry father of Hermia, who dislikes her current boyfriend, Lysander, and has instead given his blessing to Demetrius to marry his daughter.  Egeus is presumptuous and demanding, the sort of fellow who’s argument to everything is: “I’m a tax-payer!” or “I have rights.”  This part may be played by either a man or a woman (a father or a mother respectively).  If a woman, she should definitely have “cougar” instincts, and be interested in Demetrius for herself, as well.  An interesting side-note: in mythology, Theseus’ father is Aegeus who made several poor decisions in marrying himself (such as marrying Medea after she went crazy and killed her own sons!)  It’s possible to play a Hermia & Theseus as step-siblings, then! 

    Four Lovers

    Hermia           The “Barbie” of the play, Hermia is that pretty, spoiled girl whom every guy wants to be with and every girl wants to be like.  Her only insecurities are her height (she’s shorter than Helena) and Lysander’s fidelity.  Although she seems shallow, she does appear to be sincerely in love with Lysander (and firmly determined to remain chaste before marriage!).  And although she and Helena snipe at each other, they do have a deep bond of sisterly friendship.

    Helena           Always the best friend, never the Barbie, Helena is the sort of girl that’s kissed all the boys and made them cry.  Somewhat taller and less glamorous than Hermia, as well as having lost first Lysander and then Demetrius to her best friend, Helena has become understandably despondent and jealous.  However, she’s also very determined, and pursues her goals no matter the cost.

    Lysander       Hermia’s current boyfriend, Lysander is the town jock who’s always got a girl on his arm (or his lips).  In the past, he not-dated Helena for a day, and now is attached to Hermia—who is being frustratingly chaste.  Lysander and Demetrius are life-long frenemies, always competing for the same thing.

    Demetrius      Where Lysander tends to just demand what he wants, Demetrius plans.  Understanding that Egeus is the one with real power—and Demetrius loves power—he weaselled his way into Egeus’ favour in order to secure the hand of Hermia.  Demetrius has an on-again/off-again relationship with Helena, but while Helena believes this love to be genuine, Demetrius has always viewed Helena as a convenience with benefits.  When he doesn’t get what he wants, he can be quite violent.

    Rude Mechanicals

    Piper Quince  Although written as a man, Piper Quince will be played by a woman.  The director of the Rude Mechanicals, and presumably one of the playwrights for Pyramus and Thisbe.  Bottom’s antics drive her up a wall—but she secretly admires him, harboring a bookish and over-eager romance for this less-than-impressive actor.  If possible, she should have a slight lisp, especially on the word “Ninus’s.”  (May double with Wall.)

    Bottom/Pyramus The divo of the player’s group, Bottom has no end of love for himself.  A fellow playwright for Pyramus and Thisbe, he’d make it a one-man show if he could.  Everything a lead actor shouldn’t do…he does…and does loudly…and over and over.  His middle name could be “Upstage.”  So in love with himself, he does not notice the feelings of others, and presumes that everyone is as in love with him as he is.  Thus, when the Queen of the Fairies falls for him, he’s completely unsurprised!

    Flute/Thisbe The youngest member of the acting troupe, he’s a talented up and comer.  Which is why Bottom convinces Quince (off-stage) to make him be the woman.  Unfortunately, Flute is unable to talk anyone out of it, and the more he tries to do a good job playing a woman, the more people seem to laugh at and make fun of him.  If possible, he should be bearded or at least have stubble.  Ultimately, he’s saved from further embarrassment by one of the other players.

    Wall              A “solid” company player who doesn’t deal very well with verse drama, and yet still soldiers on. 

    Moonshine     A stutterer who’s nervously taking her first foray into the world of theatre.  She may have a crush on Flute.

    Lion                The slacker actor who is part of the company almost by accident.  She is a very gentle soul, fixated on some activity (such as a yoyo, or cat’s cradle, or video game, or whatnot), rather than on her lines.