Friday, May 13, 2016

"Who must drop his anchour, Aft' steared into bay, And master the maiden, Lands, claimed that he lay."

Now begins that unspoken ecstasy.  Of preparing an outrageous dreamscape of your own private making with the full assistance of others, student and professional.  And you are getting paid for it.  Wowie Zowie!  This is how Orson Welles felt at RKO on CITIZEN KANE.  "The greatest train set a kid can have," or words close to that.  Tati on MON ONCLE.  Gilliam on BRAZIL.  Kubrick on DR. STRANGELOVE.  Ed Wood on PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.  Guden on CASANOVA'S LIPS.

The class is Theatre Production.  I am Instructor.  That's what it says on the papers I was given.  With a list of names that were my students.  This really can't be right.  I must be joking.  Somebody must be kidding.  Those who enrolled will shortly realize the mistake they made.  I have never taught a class before.  And with my inbred resentment to the schooling Hell I had endured, it is safe to say my approach will come off a bit unorthodox.  I think I recall first addressing the class by saying, "Welcome to Theatre MADNESS 1-A" or close enough for Jazz.

There was the audition process to begin.  I gave everyone a questionnaire to fill out.  Basic information needed for casting, but also some insane questions, like a MAD MAGAZINE employment form parody.  I wanted to know what kind of sense of humour each student had.  This was the Seventies.  I couldn't get away with this approach today.  One of the non-serious questions was, "Would you be willing to expose your knees?"  I did seriously ask each student who their favourite comedians were.  Ice breakers.  And the hope to get this group on my side and on my wavelength.  Not sure, I succeeded there, but we DID put a play on.  A play like no other.  Not an X-Rated one like my VOID IN WISCONSIN (this WAS a class, and despite my lack of educational expertise, I WAS a professional and knew which lines not to cross and which ones to give a nudge.  Well, maybe).

My actors were really all good people.  The first thing I had to learn was that I was directing amateurs.  This wasn't the RSC.  This wasn't a film or major stage production where I had the luxury of casting the "perfect person for the perfect part."  This was a class of student--the majority fresh out of high school; the others older.  I learned that maybe the person who looked right for the part, was perhaps less equipped to deliver the performance, than the one who initially didn't seem fitted for the role.  If I had stayed in this one profession, I think I would have gotten it down.  I will return to the actors in a bit.

One person I'm sure I frustrated, if actually didn't piss off was the Scenic Designer.  The man was Charles Thomson Garey, and I have to say--if never actually to him--the man was fucking brilliant.  I went into production with nothing except the concept: basically two set pieces, interchangeable.  Madame Blavatsky's salon, and the Louvre, with some slight slight of hand changes, as the conclusion at top and bottom of the Tour d' Eiffel, and the narrator's stage left position (stage right to the audience) to fill the action in.  When I started rehearsals, I blocked action to nothing, which was frustrating to Mr. Garey.  I remember being a jerk and telling him if he gave me the set of his last production, I could fit my play around it.  I was being sloppy by being improvisational, sort of a Marlon Brando Method Acting Approach to set design.  I underestimated the man.  When I told him what I wanted, he delivered the most brilliant, functional set I had ever seen on the Little Theatre stage.  His blueprints were amazing, and I have kept them all these years to remind me of pure craftsmanship.  I don't think I ever thanked him and excellent crew at the time, but I thank him now.  His set design was an inspiration and I am thoroughly impressed.  And very grateful.

Talking set design, I want to mention one lovely detail, and private *giggle* inserted in the show: in one of the scenes set in the Louvre--prior to the theft of Casanova's lips by Le Chat and Quasi Modo--the Museum Guide (played by Art Hayes) conducting the tour which sets up the Frame Up of the Gaudy American Tourist Couple, comes upon a young boy scribbling on the wall under the portrait of the Desda-Mona Lisa (played in life size full frame by the beautiful Diane Clarke).  The boy, dressed in brown shorts, coat and beret (played by a young Steve Maxwell; brother to Joe Maxwell, who played the Inspector Clouseau character, Auguste Bedpan) is drawing a woman with two eyes on the side of her face.  He is the young Pablo Picasso, although identified only as Pablo.  He is drawing in chalk and is with his Mother (played by Ann Soderquist).  The Museum Guide busts the juvenile and throws him out.  "I want people to see my paintings!" shouts the young Pablo.  "Forget it little boy,"  says the Museum Guide.  "Only real artists have their works hung in the Louvre."

The tiny Picasso chalk scribble on the wall was done by my good artist friend David Fontana.  He also designed the theatre playbill or program, as well as the poster, and later the cover of the paperback adaptation of the play.  The mini pre-Banksy was brilliant.  It is one of my artistic regrets that this bit of graffiti was never photographed.  I have many photographs from the show, but as is usual in a production, I never get enough documentation of the production during production.  As always, my dear friend David Fontana shares the twisted and (hopefully) inspired wavelength I operate on, and the show would not have had the Magick I wished for, without his contributions.

I do have recordings of both opening and closing nights.  And the audience response tells me more than what some of the Powers To Be thought.

Let us see what is in Madame Blavatsky's deck of Tarot Cards...