Saturday, June 10, 2006

More From the Room of Clerks - Lasting Impressions

The older woman is back at her station in the back of the room. The younger woman sits at the front of the room and often speaks of politics and feminism and racism. She types and words fly about what it is like to be dark skinned and thin, how she's volunteered for various "get out the vote" groups. The latest effort is for a bill on the ballot that would increase funding to one of the community college districts.

As she regales the clerks with stories about how she spent election day, she says the older woman's name. "My boyfriend made a rude remark about Busby," she says. "I called him a sexist and told him that if you had been around you would have ripped him a new one."

Unseen by the younger woman, the older woman's eyebrows raise in surprise. Her fingers don't falter as she keeps working but her thoughts whirl around wondering what it is the younger ones think of her. Ripping people new ones isn't her style, unless it's absolutely necessary. Nor is she "super feminist."

She is middle aged and becoming more willing to speak up when she sees or hears things that are wrong. She is driven by the knowledge that there are girls in her extended family who need as many positive role models as they can get. Role models who can show them the world is full of possibilities, including the possibility of equality between the genders.

She tries to show by example. Show that one doesn't need a man to be a whole person, that you are born whole and remain that way your entire life. Show that it's never too early or too late to pursue your dreams, even if others think differently. Show that love exists, unconditionally and proudly, expressing itself at every turn. Sometimes she falters and sometimes she is lonely, wishing for more companionship, but she does her best and keeps the next generation in her heart praying fervently they will progress past where hers seems to have stalled.

It bothers her that the impressions gathered by her co-workers are what they are and sits in contemplation wondering if it really matters. If she has inspired one to call sexism what it is and another to learn the power of speaking up, does it matter what they think? After all, they're not entirely right but they're not necessarily wrong either.


Final scene: Excerpts from the father's closing speech:

(played by Spencer Tracy in the original)

After some preliminary guessing games, at which I was never very good…

it was explained to me by my daughter…

that she intended to get married.

And that her intended, whom I had never met, was a young woman…

who happened a lesbian.

I think it’s fair to say that I responded to this news in the same manner any normal father would respond to it…

unless, of course, the father at the very same moment found out his daughter happened to be a lesbian too.

In a word, I was flabbergasted. And while I was still being flabbergasted…

I was informed by my daughter—a very determined young woman, much like her mother—that the marriage was on…

no matter what her mother and I might feel about it.


And the mother of this young woman says that like her husband I'm a burned-out old shell of a man…

who cannot even remember what it's like to love a woman the way her daughter loves my daughter.

And strange as it seems, that's the first statement made to me all day with which I am prepared to take issue...

because I think you're wrong, you're as wrong as you can be.

I admit that I hadn't considered it, hadn't even thought about it, but I know exactly how she feels about her.

And there is nothing, absolutely nothing that your daughter feels for my daughter that I didn't feel for Christina.

Old—yes. Burned-out—certainly, but I can tell you the memories are still there—

clear, intact, indestructible, and they'll be there if I live to be 110.

Where Joanna made her mistake I think was in attaching so much importance to what her mother and I might think...

because in the final analysis it doesn't matter a damn what we think.

The only thing that matters is what they feel, and how much they feel, for each other.

And if it's half of what we felt—that's everything.

As for you two and the problems you're going to have, they seem almost unimaginable, but you'll have no problem with me, and I think when Christina and I and your mother have some time to work on him you'll have no problem with your father, Joanna.

But you do know, I'm sure you know, what you're up against. There'll be 150 million people right here in this country who will be shocked and offended and appalled and the two of you will just have to ride that out, maybe every day for the rest of your lives.

You could try to ignore those people, or you could feel sorry for them and for their prejudice and their bigotry and their blind hatred and stupid fears, but where necessary you'll just have to cling tight to each other and say "screw all those people"!

Anybody could make a case, a hell of a good case, against your getting married. The arguments are so obvious that nobody has to make them.

But you're two wonderful people who happened to fall in love and happened to be the same sex, and I think that now, no matter what kind of a case some bastard could make against your getting married, there would be only one thing worse:

And that would be if—knowing what you two are and knowing what you two have and knowing what you two feel—you didn't get married.

Now, when the hell are we gonna get some dinner?

Violent Delights ~ Endgame

There was the inevitable moment on the Thames Embankment this afternoon when, suddenly, it was all over. Just after the last performance, as the girls & Matt put the masks back in the red bag & bound the sticks together with duct tape & I lashed the ghetto blaster to the trolley, I stopped being a teacher. My actors were ready to disperse & I was ready to take the 5 minutes walk over to the Hayward Gallery to join Emma’s Art party for the journey back to Letchworth. There were hugs all round & off they went – Ania, Poppy & Maudie to their respective homes to pack for the school trip to Kosovo; Isa to Singapore on holiday; Aletia & Matt back to family & TV. I watched them go – my last student charges - & then headed off to find the others…

It had been a good day – a cloudless sky & temperatures in the upper 20s & the best for the performances themselves. The Embankment leading east away from the London Eye is a very broad pedestrian boulevard. A line of mature maple trees runs down the centre of the walkway, each one positioned at about 8 yard intervals. We chose a spot equidistant between a motionless gold-clad angel & a guitarist &, once again, we fired up, presenting the piece four times with 10 minute intervals, netting small but appreciative audiences. By now the fights were very slick. In fact, knowing that with two spare sticks available & no more performances after today there was nothing to lose, they really laid into each other &, although practice had honed the routines to a high point of precision, there was a real sense of danger. And as I watched that last presentation of Violent Delights, I listened to the sounds of post 7/7 Central London – ambulances & police vehicles shrieking along the Strand & the chatter of helicopters hovering overhead. A small but telling irony, a group of 16-year-olds presenting a 15-minute reflection on the phenomenon of male violence against that distant aural backdrop.

So now I’m a civilian & I must find my way in the world again. There are few real regrets, but of those that prevail the sharpest must be the loss of the company of young people. It’s been a privilege to share time & space over the years with students working on endeavours with an energy, commitment & overall passion that, all too often, have long since burned out in adults. Just before we parted company there on the Embankment, I told this little group, so representative of that excellence, that I couldn’t have wished for a better way of bringing to a close nearly four decades of teaching.

This account was originally posted to Dick Jones’ Patteran Pages between July 1st & 13th, 2005. Since then, somewhat to his surprise, Dick Jones has taken up a post as Head of Drama at St Francis’ College, just around the corner from St Christopher School.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Violent Delights ~ Part Four

Back to Cambridge today. So far our casualties comprise Ania’s nose, everyone’s fingers & two sticks, but these are seen as the inevitable & appropriate consequences of battle & spirits were high. (In the minibus, Maudie wryly suggests that the cast is falling vicitm to the very attitudes & tendencies it seeks to expose.!)

We performed first on the edge of the meadow opposite Scudamore’s famous rental punts, all bobbing up & down on the Cam. We were watched solemnly by a large group of Spanish students who, like a flock of starlings, turned & wheeled away just before the end of the piece. We moved to our old spot by the market & had a lot more success, with members of the audience approaching us afterwards with praise & questions.

Sadly, we also drew the brief attention of some local pondlife & had to cope with rather primitive barracking. This is, of course, part of the territory for any kind of performance that seeks to engage the attention of passers-by & turn them into an audience. At one point, however, I had to employ the full range of my powers of concise repartee & I was pleased when the hecklers did indeed fuck off as requested.

Tomorrow we head for London by train for our last set of performances. We’re accompanying Emma’s Art group, who have an appointment at the Hayward Gallery for a guided tour of the Rebecca Horne exhibition. The general vote amongst the Art people seems to have been that the journey between King’s Cross & South Bank should be made by bus rather than London Underground. My lot were contemptuous & opted for the tube. Decisions tomorrow.

Ghost writer wanted... write an anonymous blog from POV of the First Lady.

Requirements are only these two: An abundance of compassion & excellent writing ability. No compromising on these two attributes.

Any applicant with more than a passing familiarity with Dostoyevsky's, The Brothers Karamazov, would be given special consideration.

In the meantime, in Baghdad Burning...

Riverbend writes-- so eloquently that it hurts both your mind & your heart-- about what it really is like to be in Baghdad, but not in the Green Zone, waiting & wondering if/when/what/who/how/why...

Go to the beginning and read her early posts, and you'll find another view of GWB's "history" and his legacy and you won't have to wait until we're all dead.

Do you suppose Laura Bush has ever read her blog?

Do you ever wonder if Laura Bush has her own blog and we just don't know about it? I wonder what she would write...

Perhaps Thursday was showing just a little too much restraint...

...considering that there are other-- much stronger-- opinions of Ann Coulter that would most certainly not meet with Judith Martin's approval either?

Still, we shall present none of those highly-charged & rude opinions here, but simply allow Ms. Coulter's own words to represent her. If you wish to see what else has been written on her most recent moue du jour, you must find it on your own. As for the card suit and rank... at least she's not depicted as the Queen of Spades, and she should be grateful for such small favors, although the creators are guilty of mixing their metaphors. For which they should be soundly reprimanded. Especially for completely missing the whole "Red Queen-off-with-their-heads" thing that her rhetoric should have suggested to them.

Of course, when one actually girds one's loins-- and one's stomach-- long enough to read some of Ms. Coulter's most outrageous & oft-quoted attacks, one wonders how & where she fits into the administration's plan to win the minds and hearts of the Iraqis, not to mention the rest of the middle-east?

Queen of Clubs from: Deck of Republican Chickenhawks

Not For the Squeamish

[Warning: this post contains grownup language, proceed at your own risk. You have been warned.]

I am going to say this only once, Ann Coulter is a bitch. Cold-hearted, mean and nasty. She should be ashamed of herself.

In the latest round of "any publicity is good publicity," Coulter's new book takes aim at the widows of 9/11 victims. Specifically, the 4 widows from New Jersey who have been pushing for the investigation of governmental failures before that attacks and changes in how the government prepares for future attacks. [1]

Coulter calls them "The Witches of East Brunswick" and says things like:
I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much.

Both Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and the wives themselves have quite publicly lambasted her for her mean-spirited diatribes. If anyone deserved a shunning, this person is a ripe candidate.

[1]CBS News - Hillary Lashes Out at Ann Coulter

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Violent Delights ~ Part Three

The Rhythms of the World festival seemed the ideal venue for the debut of Violent Delights. Although the emphasis was on music, & largely music from outside Europe, we felt that crowds bathed in culture (& Mediterranean sunshine) would be amenable to a bit of high energy Shakespeare laced with mega-violence. As it turned out, it was not the perfect environment. Hitchin was heaving with potential audience, but not only had they filled up every available bit of space, most of them were in transit between events. Eventually we seized a piece of pathway alongside the river right in front of the beautiful St Mary the Virgin Church & - suddenly feeling very exposed – the cast swung into action.

Poppy & Maudie were responsible for reeling in an audience. The whole piece begins with Mercutio’s goading of Benvolio, attributing to his steady, balanced, even-tempered friend all of the febrile excitability & hot temper that so identify himself. From the start both girls went at it with a will, bringing voices up to a level of projection & clarity appropriate to the surroundings (in this case, splash-over from the acoustic stage in the churchyard). Apart from a chav-ette on a mobile phone bawling so loudly as to render the instrument largely redundant, we had an attentive audience. Two more performances increased confidence sufficiently for Ania to break two sticks in succession & pick up an heroic nosebleed from a collision with Matt’s knee during the wrestling sequence. We returned home, delighted that the piece worked & that the passages of dialogue that top & tail it weren’t out of equilibrium with the two sustained fights.

This morning we took the train into Cambridge & made our way to the marketplace. It’s set on a square island surrounded by a road & overlooked by shops, a couple of banks & the town hall. Because the road serves only the Market & has no direct access to any of the surrounding streets, there was no traffic. We set up the ghetto blaster (a brand new CD/cassette player that would have difficulty blasting all four corners of a broom cupboard), checked with the stallholders & then began to perform.

The three performances here were much more successful. We picked up a fair-sized audience for two of them & the rapt attention & subsequent applause raised the ante of the performances significantly. At the conclusion of the final one we were approached by a guy in his 20s who was anxious to know which of the drama colleges the performers attended. He turned out to be a photographer who was contracted to several of them & was keen on photographing our piece in action. Partially on the strength of that offer, we decided to return to Cambridge tomorrow instead of going down to London, which we’ll do on Wednesday, the last day of our week’s run.

I’m very pleased with the progress we’ve made. Violent Delights has been mounted virtually from scratch in two days. Now we must maintain momentum & not allow familiarity with words & action take the edge off the performances. And, as the fighting becomes more audacious with practice (& there are some genuinely hair-raising moments), we must preserve the safety of both limbs & sticks for just two more days.

A Woman's Place is in the House....

...of Representatives!

Salon is running a feature story today about Francine Busby, who is running to fill the seat recently vacated by Randy "Duke" Cunningham. James Verini begins his story with the debate between Busby and Republican Brian Bilbray, and includes this quote:
"I'm running to restore honesty and integrity to the representation of this district and in this country," said Busby, 55, a school-board official and local professor of women's studies."
I don't know about anyone else, but I'm pretty excited by the possibility of a women's studies professor raising a ruckus in the House of Representatives.

Photo by AP/Lenny Ignelzi

Monday, June 05, 2006


Those who oppose gay marriage say that legal and sacerdotal recognition of the abiding love between a man and a man or a woman and a woman somehow degrades marriage between a man and a woman, and even threatens the social order.

I think love is outside and above the social order. If there is a higher law, love is that law.

I think denying gay people the sacrament of marriage degrades heterosexual marriage. I think that the refusal and the legal legitimization of the refusal to recognize the union between two people of the same sex degrades any claim we have to being a free society, and threatens the institutions that protect all our freedoms. There’s nothing "civil" about it.

I am married and my wife and I enjoy all the rights and benefits of any married couple. I have never thought that my marriage would be in any way diminished by the legal recognition of the union of two people who happen to be the same sex. In fact, I think all citizens having the right to legally consumate their intimate partnerships without regard to sex enhances the institution of marriage, strengthens the commonweal of our society, and promotes and protects families.

Banning gay marriage makes a mock of God’s love, and a mockery of the idea that we are all God’s children. It is an attempt to outlaw love. It is an attack on families that protect and nuture love in a dangerous world. Abraham Lincoln said, "Those who would deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves." I say those who would deny family to others don't deserve it for themselves. Denying marriage and family rights to some is no defense of the freedoms we so proudly, and loudly, proclaim. People who propose such a ban should be ashamed.

You cannot outlaw love. As St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, love never fails. Love is greater than faith and outlasts hope. Love abides, as Paul says, when tongues and prophesies fail. Love will prevail.

In the meantime the senators will have their dog and pony show. The red meat is in the doggie dish for the God-loving fag and lesbo haters. I would be offended if I were them, to be appeased and used so transparently by guys who are otherwise busily engaged in rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg.

Read Mr. Bush's diversionary hate speech on the "marriage protection" amendment here. See if it pisses you off as much as does me.

Violent Delights ~ Part Two

We’ve done two days of intensive preparation & rehearsal, working solidly from early morning & into late afternoon with only the shortest of breaks. The piece is now very roughly finished. Both fight sequences have been carefully structured so as to accommodate that fascinating paradox of theatre - apparent spontaneity achieved only through the application of rigorous planning.

The first battle – principally between Tybalt & Mercutio, but also incorporating Benvolio, Romeo & Tybalt’s two henchmen – is a whirlwind of flying sticks. Each fighting pair has a routine worked out comprising a sequence of specific set pieces based on broadsword or quarterstaff techniques. These are embellished with various elements unique to each pair – swings at the head or feet, sticks locked together, one stick trapping the other on the ground, lunges, swipes, parries & blocks. The flurry of activity is accompanied by all sorts of Wimbledon centre court grunts & gasps & a brutal musical soundtrack. When Romeo suddenly steps between Mercutio & Tybalt to stop the fighting the vigorous action ceases instantly & the mortal wounding of Mercutio is done in dreamlike slo-mo.

The second fight – between Tybalt & Romeo – starts with a stick routine & then, with the loss of both sticks, breaks into wrestling. The technique used here is called ‘sticky bodies’. It’s based on a simple principle whereby the combatants have to ensure that their bodies are always touching at some point. So arm will stick to arm & then back will attach to back, head to head, leg to leg & so on. It’s remarkably effective because there is created a sense of wild, flailing fighting without any need for grips, holds or blows. At a signal Tybalt trips Romeo & seizes a stick from the edge of the circle. Romeo scrambles up & grabs one from the opposite side & there is a blur of quarterstaff combat (the sticks held in the centre with the hands a couple of feet apart & pushed towards each other at alternating angles) the ends clashing together in a very rapid criss-cross routine. After six of these sallies, Romeo’s stick hooks Tybalt’s away from his body, tips over & stabs Tybalt in the side.

We have the fight sequences more or less organised now & on Sunday we shall tidy up a couple of the dialogue sections & then bolt the entire piece together. I’m enormously impressed at the actors’ feel for the language. I’ve had to do very little basic comprehension explanation; I’ve been able to work on interpretation of text from the start. And their appetite for the fighting is almost frightening. Given that the piece is implicitly a female commentary on male violence, it’s been fascinating to watch the five girls throwing themselves into the physicality of the routines with such gusto! Most of all, I’m impressed with (even a little alarmed by) the girls’ acuteness of perception & focused analysis of the way in which appetite feeds inclination in respect of male violence. Shakespeare provides it in the text, of course, but the girls’ work is underpinned by a consciousness that is all their own.

On Sunday afternoon, if we complete performance rehearsal during the 4-hour morning session, we’ll take Violent Delights into Hitchin to road test it. It’s the Rhythms of the World weekend – an annual free world music festival - & the town will be full of willing audience material. On Monday we’ll go to Cambridge to perform in the market square & on Tuesday & Wednesday – train services permitting – we’ll go down to London & present Violent Delights on the Thames Embankment, just under the London Eye. We’ve discussed the unintended relevance of the themes of the piece in the light of the events of yesterday & are sure that their dark irony won’t be lost on whatever audiences we may attract so relatively close to the sites of the bombings.

It’s a good way to wind up the entire career carnival – working on a small production with a group of dedicated kids, free of all distractions, with unimpeded access to both theatre & studio from 9.00 to 5.00.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Violent Delights ~ Part One

In July of last year I posted a series of diary entries tracking the progress of what was to be my last drama production – a small-scale physical theatre piece - on which I was working just prior to my retirement from teaching. Because of its essentially feminist theme & treatment, Karen thought that it might be of some interest to Lyssa Strada readers. I shall post the records in chronological order over the next few days.

I am rehearsing intensively with a group of six 15 & 16-year-olds on a street theatre project. We start with a 5-hour orientation session tomorrow & some 2-hour sessions at the beginning of next week. And then, from the Thursday we begin a series of five 8-hour rehearsals for a piece called Violent Delights. It’s a 15 – 20 minute treatment of the first part of Act III of Romeo & Juliet – essentially the combat sequences involving Tybalt & Mercutio leading to the latter’s death, & the subsequent fight between Romeo & Tybalt in which Tybalt dies.

Although there is only a brief span of two weeks between being a working stiff & pipe & slippers by the fire, I have this one last project to undertake. I’m pleased to be going out with a final performance project, even if the school will never get to see the fruits of the week’s work. I’m working with six excellent students & I can’t think of a more fitting or rewarding way to wind it all up. For me it’s always been about working with kids outside the standard structures & protocols that obtain within school. It’s worthless unless you stand to learn as much as the people with whom you’re working; & it’s a soulless & arid experience unless you have the sense that there’s an equality of endeavour & achievement. And with this small company – Poppy, Maudie, Isa, Aletia, Ania & Matt – I’m looking forward to that synthesis for one last time.

Here’s how it works. In the final week of the Summer Term at my school, all class work ceases & a range of widely varied activities begins. This miscellany that absorbs the entire school is called the Late Summer Programme, or LSP. This year groups are off on expeditions to Switzerland, Kosovo, our own South Coast & the Lake District. Many other students are involved in work placements; others are taking part in a large-scale Art project; one group is remaining at the school to redecorate to their own specifications the 6th Form Common Room.

Violent Delights was devised originally for, & performed by, an all-female cast for an LSP a few years previously. This time around a cast of five girls is joined by one boy. We are delighted to have Matt with us, but it should be pointed out that a significant component in the thematic character of Violent Delights is female commentary on the masculine drive towards violence – on the joy taken by men - or boys - in both the preparatory threat & actual implementation of physical conflict. Although the almost entirely female cast will physicalise & vocalise as men (& this will be major direction focus of the enterprise), the simple fact of the parts being played by females conscious of the thematic processes they are setting out to illustrate will inform the nature of their performances. Because Tybalt as a a character represents the undistilled essence of the male appetite for conflict, the piece accommodates comfortably a male actor in the role without significantly compromising or diluting the original intentions.

The immediate preamble to the encounter between Mercutio & Benvolio & Tybalt is uncut: the speeches & action run much as they would in a full production of the play. As soon as battle is joined we switch first to a massively edited version of the script containing only key lines & words followed swiftly by pure physical action – a melee involving combat with sticks. The sticks are 5’ long broomsticks, especially robust ones made for industrial brooms, & the fighting with them has to be full-on – blows are real blows, dealt with real force, stick on stick. Obviously all of this is organised within specific techniques of stage combat & health & safety considerations are paramount. But the conflict must appear to be absolutely real & punches can’t be pulled. Any kind of physical theatre carries an element of risk; that is a necessary part of its dynamic in respect of its impact upon an audience & the students are fully aware of both the performance requirements & the preparatory processes.

After the very intensive rehearsal period in the Theatre (conducted exactly as if we were a professional company, working as we will be without diversion or distraction), we shall load up our sticks, our rudimentary costumes – different coloured tops for Capulets & Montagues & black jeans/jogging pants - & our ghetto blaster (for the accompanying music) & head off to perform in the streets. On Monday we’ll go to Cambridge, which is only 24 mile north of Letchworth, where we’ll set up & perform around the marketplace. And on Tuesday & Wednesday the plan is to present Violent Delights on the walkway of the Thames Embankment just below the London Eye.