Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Reading

A live reading of a script can be a painful thing. A reading of a screenplay can be excruciating. When it starts off poorly and there’s no clear route to the exit all you can do is watch the pages flip, one a minute, like sands in an hour glass. As the actors fold each page over the brad you watch your life tick by. You’ve lost control. You can be present and listen to the tripe passing for art. You can inspect the performers clothing, wondering if they made the choice for their character or if they’re just lazy. You can listen to their voices – eliminating the words from your mind to hear the music of the tone and cadence of their speech – essentially throwing a “Different Trains” filter on it, but then you realize it’s not music as is, it must indeed be manipulated and that Steve Reich really did compose “Different Trains” - morphing plain spoken phrases of train conductors and Holocaust survivors into a riveting string quartet about his childhood. What I’m saying is that when a man can transmogrify the mundane announcement “From Chicago to New York” into an ecstatic mantra, you know you’re listening to a master. It made me want to ring out “Columbus! Columbus! Columbus, Ohio!!!” until I went hoarse (that’s for the 3 fans out there who know that little ditty of mine about fried fish filets). In fact, if you’ve never heard a Steve Reich piece, go online right now and download something. I don’t care if it’s “Drumming” or “Different Trains” or the mesmerizing “Desert Music”, but you shouldn’t continue living any longer without having experienced the divine, peace inducing joy of his music. Really. Go now. I’ll be here when you come back.

Welcome Back! Doesn’t Reich kick ass? The best is listening to “Desert Music” while you’re buzzing through the empty Mojave at 80mph. You elevate.

Now. Where were we? Uhhhhhh. Right!

Instead of enduring the crap masquerading as drama lingering before you, you can focus on something other than what’s being presented to keep you interested and sane.

You can attempt to meditate, but good luck, because, after that attempt, at best you’re still only Half-Way though! and you keep Losing Focus because those People In Front of you keep Talking TALKing TALKING! Finally though, at least there’s less to come than you’ve endured. You listen in again to see if it’s gotten any more Interesting, but aesthetically it’s still aiming to be little more than a 9/11 anti-anti-immigration movie of the week. And it’s not even reaching that Low Bar it’s set for itself. And now you can immerse yourself in General Outrage. THIS guy won those awards listed in his bio? He has support from WHAT organizations? He’s being produced WHERE? You can ponder the inequities of the world, indulge in a little Jobian cursing of Jehovah. Or my personal favorite pastime is to imagine the climactic moment from my ECSTATIC JOURNEY aria “It’s Been Quite a Day (and I could use a drink)” manifest in this very space. I see a pterodactyl-like metal-taloned robotic Bird of Prey carrying Our Protagonist and her Spirit Guide mouse through a deserted desert underworld and then they CRASH through the brick wall of the rear of the space in which I’m bodily present like the fucking Cool-Aid Man. You know that big glass jug from the 70s commercials? WHAM! Right through the wall. Now that would be some drama worth attending. Bricks falling all around. Blood and dust on your lip. The imaginary smell of copper in the air – a trick of the adrenaline rushing through your veins driven by an explosion that wakes you from your constant slumber. My head throbs with the spare Bb duad as I slide in a 9th and pound the F ‘til it goes up to a G and I can almost hear Margaret (backed by Christine and myself) blaring like a Walkurie as she recalls her journey of transformation into an unwilling shaman.

I lost myself for a few minutes more wondering why I stopped composing and we’re near the end.

It’s the last few pages that are the worst. It looks like a skinny bit of tree to leaf through, but it keeps going – in league with the reaper, stealing a bit more of your life away. I should bolt. But I’ve waited so long, I can stay for the oh so climactic ending, right? Actually, I’d rather listen to a chorus of Chinese peasants exclaim “Pig!” 100 times (see Act 2, Scene I “Nixon in China” – much fun! OK. I’ve actually been listening to “Nixon” while writing this whole entry and if you ever want to wake yourself up, throw on “Nixon” to Act II, Scene II - "Oh what a day I thought I'd die!". It doesn’t matter that the Sanford Sylvan has the enunciation of a gorilla. That scene is John Adams throwing it down, pounding you relentlessly like Rinde Eckert in Ravenshead, schooling Wagner and Danny Elfman in the House of BRASS. Talk about balls Mr. Colbert. Adams could take any punker any day of the week - in volume alone. If you EVER have the chance to see “Nixon in China” in person. GO. “Drive a long way if you have to.” As my favorite anti-green quote goes.)

Then…we’re almost…just a few more…the last page…And…DONE! Done, right? YES! We’re DONE! Do we have to applaud? Sure. I’m thrilled to be released. I praise God for the opportunity to leave. Wait. They’re not doing a Q&A are they? Please Lord. Spare us. The writer stands. He comes down toward the stage….

No. No! NOOOOO!!!!!

No. He just wanted to soak up the adulation. Enjoy. Just let me go.



In truth there were bright spots to this otherwise dim evening.

One, I saw a star. A recently former TV star, but still, I could have touched her curly hair if I’d reached out for it. I don’t know why this is exciting, but it is. I only remembered after I left the theatre when she was following me by a mere 10 paces that I knew someone who was friends with her and I’m buddies with another writer whose film she was in just last year. I almost turned to say hi from them, but now that we were in the parking lot, I thought that might be creepy, and what if they’d worked together but weren’t friendly? So, I continued on to the parking lot where I got charged an extra buck because I was 1 minute over my allotted time there. Hate that.

The other lovely surprises were a lively performance and dare I say, nuanced performance by a young actress I plan to keep my eye on. One shouldn’t have to ask for this, but she wasn’t just reading, she was not only making clear and appropriate choices throughout, but she was even reacting when she didn’t have lines. She took a thin, unremarkable part and breathed some real life into it. After googling her, I realized I’d seen her in one TV show previously and apparently she was a singer/songwriter who had the 99th best-selling single of 2005. Go figure. I went online and saw why. In person I was guessing she was 25 and unremarkably attractive. In her music video (Yeah, they still make those! Who knew?) she’s a freakin’ jailbait siren. Check out Brie. If I could find that place she works, I’d eat fast food daily. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9065XaSmnG0

Lastly, and bestly (It’s MY blog, I can use non-words if I want to), I saw an old buddy and colleague I hadn’t seen in years. He was the narrator, which is a taxing and thankless job in any reading, but a vital one indeed. A poor performance in this role can easily kill a script instantly. He’s a former actor turned writer/director and he has a delightful countenace. His speaking voice is mellifluous and his singing voice is baritone honey. So let’s call him HoneyBear.

In an odd coincidence, this morning my roommate wasn’t around, so I sang in the shower like I rarely ever do. But I didn’t just sing, I blasted. And I went start to finish on a little 9-minute aria I wrote 10 years ago called “God Made America” for the show “WARNING!: eXplicit Material”. Originally I’d hoped to sing it myself as I was one of three narrators who regularly took on different roles throughout the show. It was a juicy bit and it felt good in my voice. But when I put together workshops of it back in 2000 and again in 2001, it was so taxing to be producing, performing, making changes, etc., that I realized it would be a far better idea to give it to HoneyBear. He sang it quite beautifully, and at the time better than I could. I’d recently begun to disassemble my voice with a new opera teacher and it would be another 2 years before I was not only back in form, but better than I’d ever been by orders of magnitude. I was so taken with the piece and realized that as a large cast show WARNING! might never again see the light of day I decided to repackage the aria in the new context of a monologue about hitchhiking and perform it myself for “Monks & Sluts and Statesmen (Oh, My!)” when it had it’s brief moment in the sun. While I still loved HoneyBear’s performance, I realized when I sang it that I love writing for characters on the edge. You should feel that this character could really commit murder at any moment. And HoneyBear exudes such warmth it’s hard to believe that in his interpretation. That and he has a more lyric voice and I have a more dramatic tenor. Tonight while watching him read the stage directions I thought to myself that when I’ve performed it I add a level of crazy born out of desperation that I don’t think he’s felt in his adult years in the same way. It’s not that I believe his life’s been a bed of roses (it wasn’t his screenplay that was being read! ☺) But, he has a beautiful wife of many years in addition to two lovely boys, 5&7. Maybe he had hardship early in his life that I have no concept of that he could tap into and he simply chose a different path for this character, but this Jeremiah is in the depths of profound his loneliness and for some reason, I feel like I have a good line into all that.

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