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Forget the World

What in the room are you doing!?

Forget the world —

What is going on right here,

Before your eyes?

Your ears are listening — to what?

Not the world, I am sure.

You heard me come in last night.

You are not deaf to the room.

 

Do not listen to the world.

Forget the world; it will not

Be heard. Listen

To the slow steps across creaky floorboards.

Forget the world; hear the room.

The flush of a toilet, the crackle

Of the fire — watch!

The simple movement around you:

The fly beating wings in desperation

Against the windowpane.

 

That window — and that fly —

(forget the world!)

Are more important than that into which it tries

To escape. The window, after all,

Keeps the fly in the room.

 

Your mind is not the world.

Your mind is not the room.

There is more in the room than your mind.

There is more in the room than the world.

There is more than your mind in the room.

 

Your mind is the fly,

Beating against barriers invisible

And impermeable: the warped windows

Of our current social something, forming,

You hope, at least, a lens, through which you might

Observe the world. But look!

Fly into the room —

 

There is much to learn

When you forget the world.

Perhaps

If it is

Then it must once have been

Or it must at least once have wanted to be

Before it knew

The consequences of wanting

And being

Such as it is.

 

Maybe

(Or perhaps)

In other words, and in a different manner

With different pairs of lovers

Grasping for different pairs

Of socks or forks or hands or

Imported significance,

It realized, nay, discovered

Nay, became, yay

 

Its essence

Central and centered

Essential, before it

Was. And then

 

Went.

Great American Playwright Undone By Adaptation

Any work that claims to take its inspiration from Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth has a lot to live up to. It should not come as a surprise, then, that Till Someone Sneezes, performed by the Berlin International Youth Theatre at the English Theatre of Berlin this past weekend, falls flat.

Much like Wilder’s original, the play centers on a family—I won’t call them archetypes—who continually and mundanely face problems which reek more of routine than catastrophe. Till Someone Sneezes has retained the structure of The Skin of Our Teeth while cramming Wilder’s three acts into one. Indeed so much of Wilder’s work has crept into that of the BIYT that I am left wondering why they claim it uses The Skin of Our Teeth “as inspiration” rather than call their work what it is: an adaptation.

Of course, not all is the same: While Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus keep a dinosaur and a mammoth as pets in Wilder’s play, the family in this version have a dog (and, we later learn, a guinea pig). As far as catastrophe’s go, only the flood has been retained from Wilder’s version; ice age and world war are replaced by food shortage and alien invasion, respectively. The messenger boy is replaced by a poetic pizza man, inconsequentially in love with the daughter of the family.

Although Till Someone Sneezes succeeds in bringing Wilder’s text to a younger and more modern audience—I was thrilled to see the house at the English Theatre fuller than I ever have—its modern quips and references fail to convey not only the depth and subtlety of Wilder’s text but also the core of his message. In The Skin of Our Teeth I see a desperate family, like all the other desperate families, striving to pool what little resources they have and get along despite their differences in order to survive. The snappy teens and the deaf parents in Till Someone Sneezes set up some of the problems within the family, but we never get the payoff: I never see them come together and put each other or some common goal above their own interests.

The only instance that could possibly be seen as a counter example would be the daughter’s return home after running away on an impulse to become an actress. One could look at her return as a final recognition of the importance of her family in life, and how lost she is without them. To do so, though, is to ignore that her change of faith is prompted by the view of the clouds in the sky and the impending doom they symbolize rather than by a love of her family. And how does the family respond in her absence? The father collapses on the couch in despair. The mother returns to drinking. The dog runs off to the pizza man, on the off chance that he can help. (He can’t.) Nothing, not even a lost daughter, is enough to pull this family together. If nothing matters to the family, how can this family matter to me? The unity that lacks in the family therefore lacks in the play.

It also lacks in the cast. Don’t get me wrong: the young whipper-snappers in this production seem to be getting along great and having a whale of a time. They’re even supported by hordes of companions in the audience. But like Wilder’s original, this knock-off features a cast that cannot understand the play they’ve been asked to perform, and, just as Wilder conceived it, they break character with increasing frequency to appeal to the audience about the meaninglessness of their surroundings or the pointlessness of a line or how much they hate the director (who, we are told, has fled town). Conspicuously missing, though, is the role of Sabina, the maid, who leads the cast of The Skin of Our Teeth in her defiant and open distaste for the play, but is also the first to jump in and sacrifice herself or her comfort for the good of family (so long as they keep her around and give her a plate of ice cream now and then).

Without a Sabina to lead the protest, the complaints of the cast feel unfounded and whiny. They complain about the absent director, claiming that they can now do the show on their own, but then beg the stage manager to stay when she threatens to quit. Wilder’s parallel of a cast scrambling to tell a story under increasingly dire circumstances, even as the family they represent struggles to survive, is lost in the new version.

While nothing seems to be able to bring this family together, there is also nothing to drive it apart. Henry, the son in The Skin of Our Teeth, becomes the face of sheer irreconcilable anger and hatred, refusing his family and pledging to destroy the whole world in spite of everything Antrobus has built until now. He threatens not only an irreparable rift in the family, but also world war. Here, Till Someone Sneezes offers no parallel. The third-act alien invasion yields little more than cheap laughs and deus-ex-machina absurdism. What can be said for it is that it is in keeping with the rest of the play: heartless and inconsequential. Nothing challenges the status quo of a family quietly content in its discontentment.

And it doesn’t stop there: despite the title, there is never a mention of anyone sneezing, nor does anyone sneeze or even almost sneeze. The pizza man declares his love for the daughter, she rejects him, and life goes back to normal. The scientists (based loosely on Wilder’s refugees) discover a brain-eating virus inside of a cauliflower which somehow stops the famine—I don’t quite get it either, but perhaps we don’t need to—and life goes back to normal. The guinea pig escapes, the parents go out on a date, the children protest that the guinea pig is gone, no one seems worried, the parents go out anyway, and…nothing happens. The guinea pig never returns. Life goes back to normal. Nothing challenges the status quo. We’re on one note for nearly eighty minutes.

But it must be said: despite the shortcomings of the storyline and the inability to live up to Thornton Wilder, this production is not a train wreck. The kids know their lines, as well as their exits and entrances. The lighting works. The set design works too, though I would have liked to see more creative uses of it, especially during the dinner scenes when everyone gets trapped at the table and I lose sight of the upstage chairs. On the whole, though, it is admirable that such a large and ambitious production can be pulled off so well (I count nearly 20 in the cast).

It is the potential of this piece that makes it so disappointing in the end: BIYT, combining resources with the English Theatre of Berlin, has all the resources it needs to create not only an educational experience but a powerful work of art. The kids are talented, engaged, and up to the task. The theatre is well-equipped, and, as demonstrated this weekend, capable enough to create a piece that is technically sound, which is notable for children’s theatre.

And there’s work to be done: a work as rich as The Skin of Our Teeth leaves lots to be explored, reimagined, and adapted. I’m all for it. But in order to be justified, a modernization or adaptation has to ask what is missing from the original, or what aspect of the original is being dug up, expanded, or criticized? What are we trying to say through or beyond the work of the original writer? These questions were never asked, let alone answered, and it shows: we are left with a timid, lukewarm retelling with a smattering of new jokes which never amount to anything. You’d be better off picking up a copy of Wilder’s text.

Zweisprachliche Tra-la-la

On the filmset at work with Otto the other day, kam Robert, der Kameramann, zu mir und bat mich nach einem Föhn zu suchen.

“Ein was?” fragte ich. Das Wort kannte ich nicht.

“Ein Föhn,” meinte er. Und dann mit seinem starken deutschen Akzent fügte er “a hairdryer” hinzu.

“A hairdryer,” I said, learning the word. “Ein Föhn.” I set out to find one.

After poking around the drawers of the bathroom with no success, I saw the guy who ran the studio space and who had helped us set up come shuffling by. I had never learned his name, but he spoke no German and had a distinct Western accent.

“Do you happen to have a hairdryer we could use?” I asked him.

“You mean a blowdryer?” he answered.

“A blowdryer, of course!” I felt like smacking myself in the head.

Na toll, I thought. Nun kann ich weder Englisch noch Deutsch.

Aside

I feel stuck, which I suppose is a frequent feeling with me, but right now in particular I feel that the rest of my life will begin in August when I’m in Oregon with Reid, and then it will continue in September and October when I am with the Art Monks and working with Steve Henderson.

In the meantime, though, I have applied for jobs and not gotten them because I know I’ll be in the states in July and no one wants to hire me for less than a year. My only hope is that Fat Tires would hire me to start in February or March, but by that time I might want to be studying and anyway Dana and I have talked about living in Great Barrington for a year or so together after she graduates, which sounds good too.

In November I’ll be in NYC for a couple reasons: first, it’ll be so near to the holiday season that it doesn’t make sense for me to leave again for Berlin where I have no family to celebrate with, and second, I can stay in NY with my parents rent-free. Additional benefits to this plan: I get to see old friends like Mia and a bunch of NTI people and try to reconnect with some of the people I worked on Adam with and see what they’re all up to. It also provides an opportunity to work with Nica on An Iliad, and I can practice auditioning and maybe even get acting work, while also working at cafes or bars.

After nearly a year of being here, I know that I want to be in Berlin. I want to live and work here long-term, or at least in Europe. I like Germany, and I like European cities, and I like the experiences I am having here and the friends I am meeting.

And yet…

Something feels easier now about being in New York. I suppose this stems, partially, from the success that Allen has had in such a short time—which he owes entirely to his parents pushing him out the door in the mornings, which is not something that I look forward to subjecting myself to. But it also stems from the knowledge that I know people there, I know how to audition—just need the practice—and I’ve been dealt a good hand in terms of the kinds of roles that will be available to me.

And still, I am not excited about the prospect of living in NYC, where everything is pushed and rushed, where I can’t find people like Joriam and Felipe, where people don’t have time to sit and enjoy a coffee or a beer on a Sunday afternoon. I do not look forward to living in New York. I look forward to living in Berlin.

But then again, it is hard in Berlin. I’ve been here over 8 months and not found a decent job, nor any acting or assisting gigs. (Although, when I’m honest, haven’t done everything I could have toward those goals.)

If I had my druthers, I’d be back in Berlin in January or February. But again, I don’t look forward to hunting for a place to live. Starting over in Berlin, again, will be easier than it was the first time, in some ways, but also just difficult.

A further complication is that Dana will graduate in May, and she will probably stay in Great Barrington for at least half a year, more likely a full year or two. There is work for me in Great Barrington—a little bit; more so than in Ashfield—but I don’t want to tie myself there. But if I make it to February in NYC, May will feel right around the corner, and I’m worried I won’t have the wherewithal to put myself in a situation that is best for me, i.e. in Berlin.

I suppose being in New York for a little while will be good for me, at least to demystify it, to discover what there is to love about it, and to gather more information for my intuition.

And all this New York-Berlin-Great Barrington wiffle-waffling isn’t even the problem. The problem is feeling like I’m doing useful things in the meantime until I get there. That’s what’s got me knickers in a twist. How do I convince myself that what I’m doing right now is and can be worthwhile, if I already know where I’m going to be in July?

Of uncertainty and pretension

No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.

— Robert Frost

I find that my best work comes when I let go; when I write from a deep, physical place of need, rather than from my intellect. I know my intellect can write, if you only give it time to find quotes and sort out which way is up and make another pot of tea and talk it through first and understand everything, knowing the end before finding the beginning. Which is to say that my intellect can’t write. Reading and writing and the intellectualism that follows them seem to want us to believe that writing happens in the mind, that whatever we’re writing about can be understood, and once we’ve understood it, we will have some profound revelation that emerges from our understanding, which we can then slowly and fashionably articulate—with big words, please—into sentences and paragraphs and arguments, which can in turn be deconstructed and reconstructed and understood (or not) by the next readers who come along. Modern academia would have us believe that writing is cold, mechanical, methodical, intellectual. But it’s not. It is alive and passionate and emotional and fiery. It is a physical act, supported by the brain behind it, and not the other way around. Only after I have found an emotional, visceral attachment to the words on the page can I produce anything.

It is no surprise, then, that my best writing comes out of the moments in my life when I am uncertain of myself, of my next step. My least confident moments yield my strongest writing. I should be as unsure of my next sentence in the paragraph as I am of what I will be doing next week. The intellectual, controlling, “knowing” part of me that wants me to have a secure routine also wants me to have an academic structure for this piece of writing. And it kills spontaneity, freedom, surprise.

I am convinced that it is also this part that is responsible for pretension: fluffy language, big words, elevated demeanor to subtly communicate the message that I’m better than you (nothing personal). I’ve been guilty of such pretension, perhaps not so much in my lifestyle, but certainly in my writing, and especially on this very blog. And this is the reason that long ago—no, that’s an Edgar Allan Poe poem (see, this is what I mean about the pretension)—that is the reason that I am now encouraging myself to begin writing for the sake of writing, without knowing or caring where I’m going to end up, and to publish once I’ve finished a writing session, without worrying too much about what the end result looks like, trusting that I’ll have another go the next time, and that agonizing over it now won’t actually bring me worthwhile returns on my invested time.

Now; Again

Hi again. It’s been a while, huh?

Remember how four years ago I said I’d be writing daily, and posting weekly? Cute. Clearly that hasn’t happened.

My last looooooong post (if you care to recall) was written about how I hadn’t been writing as much as I’d wanted to be, about how I felt that I was at risk of wasting the summer, and about how I wanted to use this blog to keep myself on track in terms of writing as much as I wanted to be.

So Theo, isn’t a pattern emerging here? Aren’t all your posts about how you wish you were posting more? Is this gonna be just another one of those, and then in two years or five years or ten years you’ll look back and say, “oh my, I still didn’t do that, did I”?

Maybe. I can’t say that this won’t be the last post for a long time to come, but I do know that it is the also the first post in a long time. And for what it’s worth, I find it worthwhile. It’s better than squandering time on Facebook and Youtube, even just in this moment.

My first post on this blog, all the way back in 2013, when I was naught but a know-nothing freshman at Simon’s Rock, was called “Here and Now,” in which I stated that, at least as far as my career path is concerned, all I have to go on is now. So must it be with my writing: I must write from the moment. Goals of writing every day or every week impose “shoulds,” thereby forming yet another block. “I didn’t last week; what happens this week?” All that matters, all that can matter, is the present moment and the task at hand. (A theme seems to be emerging in these blog posts; I must not be very good at practicing what I preach.)

And here we are, again, eternally starting over. Even four years later.

If when I think about myself tomorrow I must acknowledge yesterday’s triumphs, let me then also note my shortcomings today.

Living with Shakespeare & Company

Life at Shakespeare & Company is surreal. When I walk along the long white hallways and then down two flights of stairs twice a day to get to the kitchen, I pass a door with an innocent paper sign that reads, “Office of Founding Artistic Director TINA PACKER.” When I stroll across the campus I see young Elizabethan ladies and gentleman laughing and giggling at each other in twenty-first century dialect as they pour out of the Costume Shop. Over my right shoulder, just past the crest of the gentle hill up to the road, next to the wooden park bench shaded by a single Maple tree, a pair of actors scream at each other in Shakespeare’s poetic tongue, and then the fist fight begins. No sooner has it begun, then a third, whom I haven’t noticed in the shade, leaps up and interrupts them, asking them to take it again from the top. Now doubt two others are about to fall in love somewhere else. Behind me, a woman’s voice rises in song, practicing for one show or another as she walks purposefully between the residence hall and the administrative offices. I have disappeared. I am the invisible man, silently observing a world that is not quite Shakespearean, but also not subject to the limitations of normalcy. Everything is heightened, exciting, theatrical.

An Old Blog; A New Opportunity

I haven’t written a blog post in more time than I’m proud of. One can say that I was busy with end-of-the-school-year papers, projects, and performances, and though this excuse is true enough, it only carries me through Thursday, May 16th. It is now June 5th. Given the goal of writing a new post every week, this should be the third since I got out for the summer. It is the first. My excuses for the other two? Slept late. Had too many things to do. Didn’t have any ideas. In the end, I just didn’t seem to feel like it. Didn’t want it enough. But I did want it—or so I thought. I wanted it enough to be thinking about it a lot—about how many posts I’d missed; about how I really ought to be writing more; about how I couldn’t let this summer go to waste. I wanted it enough to put “Blog Post This Monday” on one of my To-Do Lists about a week ago. I wanted it enough that I’m trying to figure out what has been more important these past few weeks than blogging. I wanted it enough that it’s hard for me to sit down and admit that I don’t have any new material. But I didn’t want it enough to ever once in the past few weeks force myself to place my butt in my chair and produce something.

When I created this blog, I was very clear with myself that I did not want it to be a diary. “Today I woke up very early because the fire alarm in my dorm went off, and we all had to shuffle outside in the cold morning; confused, tired, and barefoot.” That kind of writing is easy, but it holds no spark for me; it’s not satisfying because it doesn’t lead me anywhere or help me to discover and define what I believe. I want to write about conversations that I’ve had (or, more often, imagined), ideas that spark my interest and lead me into the uncharted backwaters of my mind, early memories that come back much later in my life with new connections to current experiences that I may or may not understand. To me, these are the things worth thinking about, worth writing about, and worth sharing somewhere on the web. The challenge is to hold oneself to a fixed schedule (a new post every week) while dealing with spontaneous ideas that, like butterflies, come and go as they please at the most inconvenient times, right when you don’t have the camera with you.

What I’ve been struggling with most is the (perhaps ridiculous) notion that the thoughts that I record here in this blog have to be new and fresh in my mind: the first post on this blog (Here and Now) is based on an idea—the idea that a current perspective or state of mind is represented by physical location—which didn’t rest in my head for more than twenty-four hours before I wrote it down. But that is often inefficient, and it can be hard to sustain. Just recently I was going through my Hard Drive and I found an old piece that I wrote a long time ago called About Shoes—I started writing it in September 2010, I think—and I really enjoyed reading it. It was fun to see how my thoughts have changed along with my writing style and subject matter. The comparison between old and new might well have made an interesting blog post. I am also reminded almost daily of things I used to say or believe—many of which I still stand by—but they never make it here because some part of me firmly believes that I should not be recycling old material in a new blog. The blog should concern itself only with current meanderings of the mind.

Another issue that has come up for me lately and seems to restrict the flow of ideas from brain to blog is that of length, density, or complexity. This is one of my longer posts, of course, but often little story sparks, snippets, or memorable lines come to me, and I think they might make a good entry or two, but they never do because I find myself thinking that they’re not long or well-rounded or thought-through enough. I’d like to eventually get to the point where I am comfortable enough to post something even though it is unfinished or not yet developed or not glistening with brilliance. I’m not there yet. Right now I can’t help but want what others see of my work to be good—if not brilliant or deeply relevant, at least polished and refined. If I can overcome that perfectionism I’m sure that my writing sessions, and consequently my blog posts, will begin to flow more frequently and more naturally.

Phew! I wrote all that on June 5, 2013, and did not post it. It is now August 7th. Why didn’t I post it before?

Well, it lacks a conclusion; it’s a bit gloomy for this blog; it’s too long (and not getting any shorter as I write this); and it’s not brilliant, well-rounded, or thought-through. It’s certainly not polished, or refined.

So why am I posting it now?

Well, that’s a more difficult question. I am posting it now because I want to practice what I preach. I want to post something—anything—and get this blog rolling again. I want to show my readers and the world (and myself) that I haven’t given up on this blog; that it wasn’t just a failed experiment. No sir; the experiment lives on, and I haven’t gathered enough data yet to know whether it can be a success. And with that, we’ve come to:

The Newsy Part of The Post!

Yesterday at about 1:00 in the afternoon, I arrived at Shakespeare & Company, in Lenox. I will be living here until August 19th, rehearsing for Leap Year, which will be performed at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington. You can find more information about the production here: http://www.shakespeare.org/performances/all-performances/leap-year/. In the evening I met the director and the rest of the cast for the first time, and we had our first read-through. It was the kind of experience that needs to be written down, remembered. In fact, I’ve been thinking that it would be great to have a record of the entire process. So, for the next few weeks, this blog will become home to a daily journal about this artistic adventure.

Stay tuned!

84 Productions

A New Home for Art

Theodor Gabriel

actor | producer | dramaturg

The Little Things

blog • journal • diary

namastaynamago

Notes from India

The Llama Ledger

The Student-Run Newspaper at Bard College at Simon's Rock