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Three score and ten or more

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Washington (state of) Experiences
Gas mask finished mask

Raw materials, copper wire, clothes line wire , tubing and elk hide,

Well, I arrived in Washougal and attended the rehearsals and managed to keep my mouth shut except when I was asked to open it. It was a bit of a challenge.

I have some reservations about children performing Shakespeare, only because the language is difficult and young people tend to get caught up in the melody and forget that words have limited function except to transfer meaning. Young actors tend to speak the longer Shakespearean lines as if they are notes on a page of music, losing the meaning. Preventing that, with young inexperienced people, takes very careful and innovative direction. This director didn’t, or couldn’t, really provide that, so that some characters with long lines were very difficult to follow. He had a very interesting concept, placing the play in an urban modern setting, and he has an interesting sense of how the pictures work on the stage, but only a few characters in this production really made clear sense of their words and emotions. To those who know Midsummer Night’s Dream, the pivotal characters of Demetrius, Helena, Lysander and Hermia were among the strongest in the play, and without that, it would have been a disaster. Bottom (Who just HAPPENS to be my grandson) and the other “rude Mechanicals” were quite good and made the end of the play very funny. I found myself somewhat pained that a cast with almost amazing potential considering that the age range of actors ranged from six to sixteen years old were not given the direction that would/ and could, have made this performance truly remarkable. I would like to have seen this cast with a director more conscious of how to get the most out of the youth, and I would like to have seen a production by this director utilizing actors with more maturity and experience.

I will say that the director provided a really interesting “pre-show” which clarified the use of language and and was very entertaining while basically providing the audience with the core of the plot. This really made the show much clearer and much more interesting for any member of the audience who were unfamiliar with Shakespeare and the Dream.

Now, having done my review I need to tell about my part in the play. For those who don’t know, the character Bottom, is changed by Puck into an Ass (the donkey kind). This is accomplished by giving him a head mask, and in some performances, hoof shaped gloves on his hands. On the day before final dress rehearsal, the mask disappeared. No one knew whether the actor mislaid it or a cast member swiped it or if a high school student attending class in the theatre (they use a high school auditiorium) had found it and kept it as a souvenir. At any rate, it disappeared, and calls to all nearby costume places failed to locate one. What would any sculptor/thingmaker/puppeteer do but volunteer to make one?

I did! (forethought has never been my forte). The obvious thing was to buy some one- half-inch foam (like rug padding) and just make a mask. Since I was starting this mask thing at about 10:30 P.M., a craft store wasn’t handy, so I plundered through my son’s garage to find some foam. (Plundered is the word, you should see his garage. I would have asked him, but he was in Japan on business at the time.) I found some foam but it was strange stuff, and after I did most all of one of these I could see that it wasn’t going to be satisfactory. My daughter came up with a gas mask (don’t ask), and we toyed with putting ears on a gas mask, but when she put it on the eye holes fogged up, I deemed it unworthy for the stage. I sat with a full elk hide on my lap for a few minutes (My son had purchased it for two dollars at a yard sale, he finds things at yard sales that are unbelievable.) , but I couldn’t figure out what I could do with it in the time allotted. Then, I tried working with a Halloween type donkey mask that had been purchased for rehearsals, but it was hopeless, so, without consulting the director, (it was the middle of the night) and since it was set in a “modern” urban environment, I decided that an art-deco mask would be interesting since I found some interesting looking clothes line wire (it was by then about two A.M., and my brain had slipped partly out of gear.) It was a little frail so I decided to do the same thing I was doing with the clothes line wire with some heavier copper wire if I could find some in the morning. I have pictures of some of these failures that I will post if blogger is kinder to me than it has been recently every time I try to post pictures

My next attempt was to insert the clothes line wire into ¼ “ plastic tubing, but for some mystic reason it didn’t work for me. The “final” decision was to insert number 8 copper ground wire into 3/8” polyethylene tubing, making something that looked a little like unlit neon tubing but which was strong.. I bent it and joined it into a shape that I liked, and even glued ears to it, but I couldn’t get it into a form that was comfortable on the head and that had stability, so I ended up fastening it to the crown of an old derby hat. It fit on the head and was stable and comfortable, but the felt hat broke up the “art deco/neon sign” lined of the wire and tubing so I draped in a lovely silver gray mesh fabric , fastened on the ears and eyes then covered all the mistakes with faux fur in black, white and grey. By this time, it was almost time for rehearsal, and it wasn’t till the thing was out of my hands that I realized that I had not place the eyes in the right place. (People have eyes in the front of the head, donkeys eyes are really on the sides, this masks eyes were in the front.)

As they left for rehearsal (I stayed behind, I wasn’t too thrilled with the look, and didn’t want to hear what the director had to say), Janet turned to me and said, “After all that work, I’ll bet that the original mask ‘shows up’ and that they use it after all.” She was right. When they arrived for rehearsal the original donkey head was lying on a seat in the auditorium. The director liked my mask (or didn’t want to offend me) enough that it is used in the “pre-show”, and my grandson, who is playing Bottom, will bring it home as a memento when the show is over. I will post this, then come back and try to insert picture using the edit function. I will have one more post from Washington. My daughter in law took Janet and me, along with our grandchildren to attend a tulip festival in Oregon. I took a lot of tulip pictures and will post them along with a minor travelogue.

To Patrick and those who live in Oregon, I spent two weeks reading the Portland Oregonian, and found my self severely temped to break my resolve not to get deep into Politics again. If the Oregonian is even close to the truth, Oregon is truly a STRANGE state with a political system that would make Machiavelli proud. I thought we had some weird things happen in Georgia, but we aren’t even in the same league with Oregon.
(blogger hates me, so I was not able to post the best (or enough) pictures)


At 5:54 AM, Blogger Ed Abbey said...

It sounds like you would have made an excellent farmer. We are called upon all the time to coble up something based off what is handy to get the job done. I once cobled up a harrow with a pair of jumper cables, a monkey wrench and a six inch piece of wire enough to finish the job and get it drug back almost all the way home. If finally fell apart in the driveway.

At 7:46 AM, Blogger Mental Meanderings said...

One of the things I learned while living in Washington state, was that as messed up as I thought southern politics were, the Northwest tops it for plain weirdness and often stupidity.

At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Kathleen said...

I think your effort was successful! Rather nice head for scraps!

The northwest has a political environment like no other. I think it could be because they had a major immigration from California of hippies in the 60s and 70s. ;o)

At 11:25 PM, Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

Richard, I read the Oregonian for a couple of months and stopped. It does reflect Portland but not the rest of Oregon and it is a rag. But, yes, the west coast is weird.

"...the language is difficult and young people tend to get caught up in the melody and forget that words have limited function except to transfer meaning. Young actors tend to speak the longer Shakespearean lines as if they are notes on a page of music, losing the meaning."

That describes half the British Shakespearean actors to me from Olivier to Brannagh...the one who came to Hollywood. Hams.


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