Whenever I attend an award ceremony, and let me tell you the frequency is running at once a year since this time last year, I think of the following poem:
It works best if you can image a rich, insistent Welsh baritone. Richard Burton maybe, Sir Harry Secombe perhaps …
In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.
Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art
Or maybe the author himself, Dylan Thomas.
And he would have known all about it, having finally moved off the mortal coil aged 39 after taking in an immoderate number of whiskeys down at The White Horse Tavern in New York City.
Sort of thing Rylance might recite when called to the podium … maybe?
It was the 1st of April in 1973 that I spent one night in a French jail.
On the 31st of March 2014 I flew to West Palm Beach and drove to The Broward Center for the Performing Arts to attend the 38th Carbonell Award Ceremony. That is the South Florida theatre awards jamboree, and a Carbonell, as you see below, looks a bit like something Henry Moore would have made if he’d worked with miniatures. It’s a golden ovoid with a hole in the middle.
I went because I was up for an award. There were five nominees in each category.
How one perceives an award ceremony in which one is nominated depends upon many things. A few spring to mind:
The state of your Buddhist practice
How many Vodkas you had beforehand
Whether you trip over your frock as you go to make your speech
I had a speech prepared, but as the ceremony got going and I watched acceptances, I began editing in my head. You get about 90 seconds to thank everyone from your agent to your mother, the various directors, designers, producers … and let’s not forget that these days it’s etiquette to mention your fellow nominees and say how amazing they are … it’s a lot to cram in, especially if you are nervous and/or want to be witty/cool/humble …
As I watched, my indifference as to whether I won or not, gave way to the weakest part of the actor’s psyche. It’s the part that, when you’re offered a job (any job), responds “They want me? Me, they want me!”
And then there’s the whole concept of awards and can something as intangible as quality in stage work be treated in the same way as a 100 yard sprint? And does it make sense to be competitive about theatrical endeavor? And what about celebrity obsession, and what about the function of art? And many such ands … Internally I re-wrote my speech and gave it a new beginning. “I’d like to thank all sentient beings in the known universe …”
And all the time I knew the date would turn at midnight and it would be the April 1st.
The 1st of April always tickles me. Here’s how that night in jail happened: Jean was my girlfriend back then and we set off hitch-hiking from Calais, and the first lift we got took us to Beaune. About half way to the French Riviera, a fantastic place to get to on day one of an adventure that lasted six months. We arrived at about 9pm. The town was closed.
We thought there would be a youth hostel or a cheap auberge, one within our close to zero budget, but no. After a couple of hours traipsing around we went to the police station to ask advice. The sergeant on duty said, ‘Well, you could stay here if you like.’ We accepted gratefully. Two beds with firm mattresses, complete with a pillow, a rough blanket and an en suite bathroom. But the jail toilet had no seat, just like the ones you see in the movies.
I slept well. At 6am a new sergeant unlocked the cell, we were up and awake and pleased to have the door opened. The sergeant thought it was about the funniest thing he’d ever seen.
And we went for coffee and a brioche and to look at the town.
April Fool’s Day has connections to many festivals, the Roman hilaria, and the day of The Lord of Misrule. It’s the day when tradesmen send apprentices to get left-handed sky-hooks.
The Fool and The Actor have connections.
That’s Pamela Coleman Smith’s rendering. She was a set designer and her painting above, one of 78 she made, is featured in the world’s most popular Tarot deck. Sadly she got no royalties. Actors wander too, and as with The Fool, life works best when they are able to trust that the shale escarpment will rise to meet their feet as they step forward.
Maybe how you view award ceremonies depends upon whether you win or not. I can’t comment. I didn’t win. I never got to deliver my speech. The one that thanked everyone, said how nice it was to be connected to the South Florida theatre community, to see old friends, be an actor …
That’s me and Todd Allen Durkin, he’s a lovely actor. We were both nominated and he got the golden ovoid.
I admit to a momentary pang, a small twinge of strictly professional jealousy, but that passed as soon as I got myself outside the contents of a single bottle of Stella Artois, and soon after that it was April 1st once again.