Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dorothy L. Sayers, "They Did Away With God"

If this is dull, then what, in Heaven's name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore—on the contrary; they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him "meek and mild," and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.

To those who knew Him, however, He in no way suggested a milk-and-water person; they objected to Him as a dangerous firebrand. True, He was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers and humble before Heaven; but He insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites; He referred to King Herod as "that fox"; He went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a "gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners"; He assaulted indignant tradesmen and threw them and their belongings out of the Temple; He drove a coach-and-horses through a number of sacrosanct and hoary regulations; He cured diseases by any means that came handy, with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people's pigs and property; He showed no proper deference for wealth or social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, He displayed a paradoxical humour that affronted serious-minded people, and He retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb.

He was emphatically not a dull man in His human lifetime, and if He was God, there can be nothing dull about God either. But He had "a daily beauty in His life that made us ugly," and officialdom felt that the established order of things would be more secure without Him. So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness.

from The Greatest Drama Ever Staged

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Henry James, "The General Sum of Suffering"

She only wants not to suffer — she is immensely afraid of that. Therefore, she wishes to be universally tender — to mitigate the general sum of suffering, in the hope that she herself may come off easily. Poor thing! she doesn’t know that we can diminish the amount of suffering for others only by taking to ourselves a part of their share. The amount of that commodity in the world is always the same; it is only the distribution that varies. We all try to dodge our portion, and some of us succeed. I find the best way is not to think about it, and to make little water-colours.

from “The Impressions of a Cousin,” Henry James, 1884

Friday, March 19, 2010

Mark Van Doren, "As You Like It"

seems to balance like a bubble on a point of thin space;
yet space in its neighbourhood has not worn thin,
and the bubble is as tough as eternity,
it does not break.

from "Shakespeare,"
by Mark Van Doren

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Jeremy, "labyrinth"

a quick glimpse of our destination, to sustain us through the rest of this journey . . .

a frustrating back and forth meandering . . .

no way of knowing how close or how far I was to the start or the end of my journey . . .

I was tempted to simply step out of the labyrinth . . .

I chose then to abstain from ‘speed’ for the season of lent . . .

excerpts from a post at the lent project

Kirsty's Story

Shalyn McFaul, Jacqui Youm, Kirsty Provan
in Remnants: A Fable

So I have a confession to make. I love to cry. I cried watching Pam and Jim become new parents on the latest episode of “The Office”, I cried last week watching people reunite in the middle of the airport, I cried yesterday watching extreme home makeover, and yes, I even cried during the commercials- what can I say, Tim Hortons knows how to get you every time. Crying is, apparently, one of my favourite things to do in life. But I have never wept as much as I do every single time I experience the communion that goes on inside the theatre. I find myself sitting in that beautiful sacred space, my hands clutching that paper ticket to my chest automatically, as if they are still trying to be the 5 year old tiny version of themselves. My face will still twitch and scrunch to mimic those of the actors, which is normally when I catch an elderly lady staring at me in alarm as I scowl at her as if I am A Wild Thing, instead of a 22 year old thing. I am completely captivated. Time stops for me here. And sometimes, half way through the show, my cheeks will surprise themselves with the realization that they carry streams of tears, running gently and somehow comfortingly down my face.

When I was a little girl, maybe 5 or 6, I went through a phase where my mother would find me sleeping in my closet on a regular basis. I don’t think my parents ever thought twice about introducing their incredibly imaginative children to literature like CS Lewis at such a young age. I was so convinced that if Aslan knew that I was waiting for him every day and trying my darndest to be exactly like Lucy, that one day he would let me into Narnia. It wasn’t until about 17 years later that I realized that he already had.

When I am on stage, I breathe. Breath is such a funny thing. We spend our whole lives holding it, waiting for that once a year vacation where we let it out for a week. This is the past 3 years of theatre school talking now. What I’m trying to say is that this is where I come alive.

There is something so beautiful about the arts...the way in which they move us. At Pacific Theatre, I grieved in Grace, I was humbled by the Prodigal Son, I experienced a beautiful love in Shadowlands, I found shocking redemption in the Woodsman, and I found my calling in a Bright Particular Star. I have found a new form of worshipping my heavenly father, and every night I am here in this space, this holy of holies, I am baptized on stage.

I am overjoyed just to witness. But to be able to participate....that truly is the greatest gift of all.

A lot of people really love their Sunday morning church service. I love the fact that I come home from work every day and feel as if i've just had one of the most intimate sessions with my Jesus.

I have had a glimpse of Narnia, and it is a beautiful place.

Kirsty Provan, Pacific Theatre apprentice 2006-2007

Christopher Durang, "Tinkerbelle"

When I was eight years old, someone brought me to a theatre with lots of other children. We had come to see a production of Peter Pan. And I remember something seemed wrong with the whole production, odd things kept happening. Like when the children would fly, the ropes would keep breaking and the actors would come thumping to the ground and they'd have to be carried off by the stagehands. There seemed to be an unlimited supply of understudies to take the children's places, and then they'd fall to the ground.

And then the crocodile that chases capt hook seemed to be a real crocodile, it wasn't an actor, and at one point it fell off the stage, crushing several children in the front row. Several understudies came and took the children's places in the audience and from scene to scene wendy seemed to get fatter and fatter until finally by the second act she was immobile and had to be moved with a cart.

You remember how in the second act Tinkerbell drinks some poison that Peters about to drink, in order to save him? And then Peter turns to the audience and he says that Tinkerbell's going to die because not enough people believe in faeries, but if everybody in the audience claps real hard to show that they do believe in faeries, then maybe Tinkerbell won't die. And so then all the children started to clap. We clapped very hard and very long. My palms hurt and even started to bleed I clapped so hard. Then suddenly the actress playing Peter Pan turned to the audience and she said, “That wasn't enough. You didn't clap hard enough. Tinkerbell's dead.” Uh... well, and... and then everyone started to cry. The actress stalked off stage and refused to continue with the play, and they finally had to bring down the curtain. No one could see anything through all the tears, and the ushers had to come help the children up the aisles and out in to the street.

I don't think any of us were every the same after that experience. Well it certainly turned me against theatre; but more damagingly, I think it's warped my sense of life. You know – nothing seems worth trying if Tinkerbell's just going to die.

from 'Dentity Crisis, by Christoper Durang

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Swallower

I swallow swords. Swords, knives and snakes. They call me in the profession a Sallementro, and that is what I term myself, though perhaps it’s easier to say I’m a “swallower”.

It was a mate of mine that I was with, that first put me up to sword-and-snake swallowing. I copied off him, and it took me about three months to learn it. I see him, and I said, oh, well, I shall set up master for myself, and practice until I can do it.

I started with a sword. At first it turned me, putting it down my throat, past my swallow – right down – about eighteen inches. It made my swallow sore – very sore – and I used lemon and sugar to cure it. It was tight at first, and I kept pushing it down further and further: there’s one thing, you mustn’t cough; and until you’re used to it, you want to, very bad, and then you must pull it up again.

My sword was about three-quarters of an inch wide. At first, I didn’t know the trick of doing it, but I found it out this way. You see, the trick is, you must oil the sword – the best sweet oil, it’s fourteen pence a pint – and you put it on with a sponge. Then, you understand, if the sword scratches your swallow, it don’t make it sore, because the oil heals it up again.

I was only the second one ever that swallowed a snake, after this chap. I was about seventeen or eighteen years old when I learnt it. The snakes I use are about eighteen inches long and you must first cut the stingers out, because they might hurt you.

I always keep two or three by me for performances. I keep them warm, but the winter kills them. I give them nothing to eat but worms and gentles. I generally keep them in flannel, or hay, in a box. I’ve three at home now.

When I first began swallowing snakes, they tasted queer like. They drawed the roof of the mouth a bit. It’s a roughish taste, the scales rough you a bit when you draw them up. You see, a snake will go into ever such a little hole, but they’re only smooth one way.

When I exhibit, I first holds the snake up in the air and pinches the tail, to make it curl about and twist round my arm to show them he’s alive. Then I holds it above my mouth, and as soon as he sees the hole – in he goes. I always hold my breath while he’s in my swallow; when he moves it tickles a little, but it don’t make you want to retch. In my opinion, he’s more glad to come up than to go down; it seems to be a bit hot for him. But I keep him down about two minutes on a good day.

I think there’s artfulness in some of those big snakes, they seem to know which of us is the master. I was at Wombwell’s Menagerie of Wild Beasts for three months, and I had the care of a big snake, as thick as my arm. I wouldn’t attempt to put that one down my throat, I can tell you, I might easier have gone down his. It was a foreign snake, all over spots, called a Boa Constructor. It never injured me, though I’m told it is uncommon powerful, and can squeeze a man up like a sheet of paper, and crack his bones as easy as a lark’s. I’m tremendous courageous, nothing frightens me; indeed, I don’t know what it is to be afraid.

from "Behind Our Scenes," Royal Shakespeare Company

Swedish Passion

The history of Sweden records a very extraordinary incident, which took place at the representation of the Mystery of the Passion, in the presence of King John II of Sweden, in 1513. The actor who performed the part of Longinus, the soldier who was to pierce the Christ on the cross in the side, was so transported with the spirit of the action that he really killed the man who impersonated Our Lord; who, falling suddenly and with great violence, overthrew the actress who represented the Holy Mother.

King John was so enraged against Longinus that at once he leaped on the stage, and struck off his head. The spectators, who had been delighted with the too-violent actor, became infuriated against their King, fell upon him in a throng, and killed him.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Arthur O'Shaughnessy, "We Are The Music Makers"

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ron Reed, "Mark Twain on Junius Brutus Booth"

Junius Brutus Booth. They say he left a tremendous theatrical legacy in this country prior to his triumphant return to the American stage. Fact is he fled to the States, at least that's how the story plays on my side of the pond. Traded his wife for Covent Garden flower girl, booked a pair of schooner tickets home to the United States of, and never looked back. Junius Brutus Booth and his offspring, the Booth boys, Edwin and John Wilkes, true blue native sons; braggarts, madmen, drunkards, and assassins – drunkards most of all. They do our nation proud.

Before his hasty departure from these sceptred shores, Junius toured England playing any theater that would have him, provided there was a pub within staggering distance of the stage door. Mr. Booth believed in the balanced life – excess in all things, including vanity and contempt for his audience. If he must interrupt his drinking to suffer the twin indignities of donning tights and a British accent, they were damn well going to listen, and he took it upon himself to do what ever he deemed necessary to encourage their rapt attention.

Do you know Manchester? Nothing but factories and, what was worse, factory workers – at least, that is how Booth saw it. Button factories. Booth was engaged to play the role of Hamlet as a visiting guest star for a Manchester company. At one particular performance it seems that Junius found the attentions of his working-class audience insufficient, to the point where, come the dueling scene, Mr. Booth saw fit to enliven the festivities for the enjoyment of his buccaneering spectators. He undertook to beat poor Laertes to a bloody pulp with his bare fists. The stunned audience fell silent. When at last the local actor laid bleeding and unconscious at his feet, Junius Brutus Booth turned to the crowd and said, "So what do you think of that, you bunch of damn button makers?"

Oh, the life of the theater.

deleted scene from “A Bright Particular Star,” the story of George MacDonald's daughter Lilia, who was an actress

Ron Reed, "Work the World Has Need Of"

CHARLIE. I am in awe of the work you are doing amongst the poor.

LILIA. I'm no Octavia Hill. I visit with people who look like they want to talk, that's all. Most often I have to be at home. It's no hardship to sing a song or recite a poem.

CHARLIE. Not for you.

LILIA. No. That's just how I'm made.

CHARLIE. I like how you're made.


LILIA. But this isn't all, you know, all I'm meant to do. I can feel it. The entertainments are fine, they drive dull care away for some people with all too many cares. But there must be more. I feel it when I play in Shakespeare. I feel it when I can do something for one of the tenants, something that actually makes a difference. I have work to do, work the world has need of. Only-- I am not doing it!

CHARLIE. Perhaps you are.

LILIA. I'm not! Otherwise, why this yearning? I'm made for something bigger, Charlie, something... Something I don't know.

CHARLIE. You need a larger stage, that's all. You could change the London theatre, I sincerely believe that.

LILIA. My parents would never stand for it.

CHARLIE. What? But they encourage it. You act out plays together.

LILIA. In our back yard. With father and mother close at hand. But if I were ever to do what Jenny has done--

CHARLIE. And you could!

LILIA. (Pause.) When my father speaks, people are enthralled. They say it is like listening to Jesus.

CHARLIE. You can sense it in his books.

LILIA. In Philadelphia, three thousand people crammed into a 2800 seat theatre to hear him speak, about "The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner" if you can believe it - and they said it was better than any sermon they had ever heard. That God spoke through him.

CHARLIE. I believe that.

LILIA. What if I have that in me? And I do nothing but babysit my brothers and read poems to the poor people.

CHARLIE. Those sacrifices may be of more account than you know.

LILIA. And they may be of less! I think it lives in me. Just as it does in my father. Sometimes it presses so hard inside me, I feel as it will begin to seep out through my skin if I don't find a way to let it out. That I will bleed from the eyes. (Silence) I'm sorry.


LILIA. I've never spoken of these things.


LILIA. Something takes hold when I am on a stage, inside a character. And it could transform people, somehow. (Beat) Why am I telling you all this? I don't even know you, and I pour my silly ideas in your ear. I feel embarassed.

(CHARLIE looks in her eyes, then leans over and kisses her tentatively on the cheek.)

LILIA. Oh my. Charlie. Now I feel embarassed.

from "A Bright Particular Star," the story of George MacDonald's daughter Lilia, who was an actress

Thursday, March 04, 2010

James Wood on Marx, money and the moral alienation of greed

In his 1844 manuscripts, Karl Marx writes about money as an agent of inversion. Once I have money, Marx says, I am no longer bound by my individuality: "I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness - its deterrent power - is nuyllified by money. I, in my character and as an individual, am lame, but money furnishes me with twenty-four feet. Therefore I am not lame. I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honored, and therefore so it ist possessor." In tone and rhythm, this is a cynical visiting of St. Paul's invocation of charity in I Corinthians, with money substituted for charity (a rewriting pefromed by George Orwell in his money-ridden novel "Keep the Aspidistra Flying"), and it culminates in Marx's most comprehensive reversal: "If money is the bond binding me to human life, binding society to me, binding me and nature and man, is not money the bond of all bonds? Can it not dissolve and bind all ties? Is it not, therefore, the universal agent of divorce?"

James Wood, "The Very Rich Hours"
The New Yorker, February 15 & 22, 2010