Tuesday, October 18, 2011

connexions, specs, & familiar gestures

I have only recently met Mr. Fast Forward. I have enjoyed being in his presence for these early That Morning Thing rehearsals. I think it's fair to say that our interpersonal relationship was taken to the next level at the previous rehearsal when I, along with the other "men" in the cast, was given the task of mimicking and sampling Fast's physical movements in Act III. This can be rather intimate, trying another person's motions on. In public no less!

In the rehearsal, the lowest hanging fruit of Fast's movement vocabulary was, for me, his tendency to hold & look at his lines and his frequent adjusting of his eyeglasses - Fast is answering questions from the "women", so there's a certain limited range of motion within the realm of the expected. The paper didn't register much with me, but the glasses had a notable resonance. I've been trying to think about why. Here's why I'm writing tonight; a possibly meaningless-to-anyone-else reason that I feel is important:

I used to watch a lot of His Prime Minister's Question Hour on C-Span, circa 2004-5. We got a few cable channels for free. It was a Sunday night ritual with my roommates. We'd delight when a timid MP from West Shropshire West would stumblingly offer a question on juvenile delinquency (there was a great British euphemism for it I'm blanking on), we'd revel in the slouching body language of the cabinet & shadow cabinet, but most of all we'd squeal with delight whenever Tony Blair emphatically took off his glasses at the peak of his responses. Regardless of your politics, you have to admit there's something theatrically wonderful in this oft-repeated gesture (there's great lead up starting at 2:00 in this clip), a way of making one's point that I could never pull off and most people would never try. And the way the thing's edited, you never see him put them back on, he was just always ready to establish a rhetorical climax and whip off those specs.

Where's the connection? Mr. Blair hails from Durham (I've been trying to memorize all 48 ceremonial counties of England for a few years, I'm almost there). Fast Forward has an accent that to me is hard to place, but I hear both familiar English & Scottish cadences in it. I could be way off base, but it seems logical to me (and I've been thinking this for a few weeks now) that he must hail from Northern England, perhaps even Northeast, given this accent (I've known Northwesterners, they sound different). Frankly, it's none of my business, just idle thinking. Nonetheless, as soon as I watched him touch his glasses, even though I don't think he ever whipped them off, a connection was made between what he's doing in That Morning Thing and this treasured dramatic nugget from my catalog of gestures. He's not even going to wear the glasses in the show in November, but I'm really, really excited for this section now. A tenuous connection that it took me a week to figure out is how I want to say: I think this production is going to be aces.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Earlier Recording of "That Morning Thing"


I was surprised to find this archive (supposedly of a performance from 1969 at Mills) of a complete performance of "That Morning Thing" floating around out there.

My initial skepticism was undone when I heard the now familiar sounds of frogs (someone out there thinks they're ducks) and the Smithsonian Folkways narrator Charles M Bogert (http://www.folkways.si.edu/albumdetails.aspx?itemid=2421). Which is our cue to begin the process of Act 1 detailed near the beginning of this blog.

The "Other Minds" Archive which hosts this recording has this to say:
"A live recording of the complete experimental opera, “That Morning Thing” by Robert Ashley, possibly from the Dec. 8, 1969 performance at Mills College. Composed in 1967 this was Ashley’s second foray into the realm of avant-garde musical theater, and is a work for five principal voices, eight dancers, women's chorus and tape. The mainstream media’s reaction, as well as that of some in the audience, was notably mixed, however rather than being a commentary on the ultimate quality of the work it seems to be more an indication of the audience’s unfamiliarity with Ashley’s trademark mix of electronic and prerecorded sounds with the more traditional elements of opera. Certainly for anybody interested in avant-garde theater in general or Robert Ashley specifically, this historic recording of one of his earliest and perhaps lesser known works should be of immense interest and value."

Interested in where they got the information about the "mainstream media's" reaction to the piece, I found this site from the same archive which contains a review by Charles Shere, who defends the piece against "critical consternation."

He ends his review, which is quite a positive one, with "'That Morning Thing' will find its time and its audience or it will prove its own fears well-founded, and none of us will know the final result of our rejection of the life that has been put in our hands."

"That Morning Thing" has found its time and perhaps its audience as well, I am honored to be part of time, audience, and performance!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Reflections of an Amphibian

She comes and goes, but not in that regular way with enough of herself parked laterally towards meaning. She goes only askew and still then with not much force--as though my barking is a quiet compliment instead of the empty yell it is. And even then it is a conflicted response, and mine an equally so request. Who is following who?