When it comes to day jobs I have found it sensible to go alphabetically.
It’s the first time in quite a while that I have absolutely no idea of what work comes next. Oh sure, there’ve been gaps but I’ve nearly always had light at the end of the tunnel in the form of an (admittedly sometimes distant) job, and if occasionally that turned out to be an oncoming train, well even then, as Clark Gable says in The Misfits, “It’s better than working.”
But today the phones are quiet with the silence of mystery.
Acrobat, Aerialist, Ardvaark-wrangler … and now … Astrologer.
I mean it.
I’ve always known what I wanted to do in life. When I was three I wanted to be a train driver, then a milkman. Aged 5 I played the evil baron in the elementary school production of Swan Lake. It involved a lot of jumping around.
At 6 I began to be interested in the planets and the stars and learned some basic astronomy, the orbital periods of the planets in our solar system, the names of the moons of Mars, some of the speeds of planetary axial spin.
This fascination held for a few years until I got tangled up with the quest for the other kind of stardom. It became my intense wish to become an actor. I took a few serious detours in youth and nearly didn’t make it, but somehow got to the Central School aged 20.
To be an actor, as perhaps you’ve heard me mention before, is in no way sensible.
But then life isn’t. Is it? Sensible.
I’ve always had a push-me-pull-you relationship with the craft. Always keeping an eye out for something else. Knowing that it would never be lawyer or doctor or engineer, always kind of held in the theatre, never quite ever achieving the velocity to escape its gravitational pull … mostly fulfilled in its orbit.
But lately something has changed … so I’m starting a practice in which I offer readings in both Tarot and Astrology.
For the initial 90 days beginning mid February thru mid May 2016 I’m offering pay-what-you-like readings to readers of this blog.
When I was fifteen I played Tom in The Glass Menagerie. It was an experience that opened the door on poetic language for me.
When I was sixteen I saw A Streetcar Named Desire in the West End. Claire Bloom played a fragile Blanche, Martin Shaw was a virile Stanley, Joss Ackland a sympathetic Mitch, and Morag Hood a sisterly Stella. Doors on acting — and windows too — opened then.
In the second year of acting training at Central in London, it was American plays. Even though I was playing Harry Brock in Born Yesterday, I was still among those who would revisit Streetcar in empty rehearsal rooms and practice yelling ‘Stella!’, and then, ‘Stella… Steeee… eeee….elllaaaa!’
I heard a story once from Professor Charles McNulty about how, unable to get into a musical next door, he stumbled into the very first preview of The Glass Menagerie in Chicago, starring Laurette Taylor of luminous legend. He spoke of the stunned silence at the end. That first audience was small, but he had been so gripped by the play that he had ended up kneeling between the seats leaning forward, intent on not missing a word.
A student production of Camino Real, directed by Tony Falkingham, was a revelation. A kind of underworld answer to the transcendence of Our Town, or the poetic portraiture of Under Milkwood.
When the National Theatre in London did Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, I attached my old American friend, Jim Franz, who’d been to college on a sports scholarship, as football consultant to the production. Jim recorded his thoughts and insights on a tape and sent it over. When Ian Charleson as Brick, said “…all summer long we’d pass those long, high balls that couldn’t be intercepted by anything but time…” the speech was transformed.
As we all know the great trio of Menagerie, Streetcar and Cat are foundational in the canon of world 20th century drama.
And now here is Baby Doll at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey.
The movie of that name was derived from Williams’s one-act play Twenty Seven Wagons Full of Cotton. The movie starred Karl Malden and Eli Wallach, and Carol Baker in the title role, and is a dark not-so-funny tale of revenge.
Williams returned to the theme and the characters in more than one version including another one-act called, The Long Stay Cut Short or The Unsatisfactory Supper, experimenting with different perspectives on the story.
The production at the McCarter in a new version, developed by artistic director Emily Mann (who also directs) in partnership with French playwright Pierre Laville, elevates the nuance in the story, finds all the Williams elements of passion, desire, desperate tension and latent violence, and is played with pitch-perfect subtlety by its cast.
Full disclosure; Trish Conolly (Three Blanches, a Stella, one Maggie, a Laura, an Amanda, an Alexandra del Lago and an Esmeralda) plays Aunt Rose Comfort inhabiting a storyline that embodies one of Williams’s “… birdlike women without a nest…” —nibbling at — “… the crust of humility…” is a close personal friend of mine, sometime professional colleague, and er yes, also related to me by marriage.
The rest of the cast (who are all new to me, and to none of whom I am related) are: Bob Joy, who plays to the life an uncouth man of the reddest neck, Dylan McDermott who, poised and dangerous as the Sicilian, commands the stage, and Susannah Hoffman, who as Baby Doll gives us magnificent work in a detailed performance that should be seen everywhere.
Brian McCann playing the cameo policeman brings with him the danger of the 1950s Delta. And special mention must be made of the real live chicken who plays ‘Fussy’ in her stage debut.
From the set, which is both substantial and ghostly, to the evocations in the lighting, to the delicate underscoring of the soundscape, to authentic costumes and props which complete a production rare in its unity of accomplishment across all elements, we get as exciting an evening in the theatre as if Williams himself had finished this text yesterday.
I could say more about the acting from the entire cast, but I won’t, beyond that it is about as superb as I’ve seen. But here’s the thing. This play (as with all Williams) would be easy to do badly.
Even the finest actors benefit from inspired direction. Here, the play is impeccably directed. Rhythmically it finds variety, and quicksilver turns, in tone, pace and mood. Good direction leaves clues in standout performances. Great direction is scarcely visible because the ensemble takes precedence. Kudos to Emily Mann.
In the ephemera that is regional theatre who knows what happens to this play after the 11th of October 2015, but if you can get to Princeton before then and get a ticket, do yourself a favor.
It’s actually like seeing a new play by Tennessee Williams
It’s about the middle of my 58th year of life, and as, as we know, the orbital period of the planet Saturn is 29 years and change, I’m in the onset of the second Saturn return (lucky me).
I’ve embedded a video from youtube. If it’s just a single image, go ahead and play it, if you haven’t already seen it. Sometimes it shows up as four astronomical samples, the one in the upper left quadrant is an artistic graphic impression of solar motion. It illustrates what Kurt Vonnegut Jr. talked about in Slaughterhouse 5 and The Sirens of Titan, what Rodney Colin Smith had to say in Theory of Celestial Influence.
Simply put, every 29 and some years, the planet Saturn will be in the same position relative to the Earth and the Sun as it was when you were born. Bearing in mind that everything else will be in different places, what does this mean and why does it matter?
Time was when astrologers, alchemists, and seers were respected professionals. One thinks of people wandering about with phials of lead which they were trying to turn into gold, dressed like something in an episode of Wolf Hall.
Time was, on the other hand when actors were vagabonds.
When James the first of England (Sixth of Scotland) came to the throne, things took a rum turn for the metaphysicians (although it was still a good decade for language, theatre, and Shakespeare). In the following centuries though, there was a loss of public confidence in the arts of the signs and the planets, and the consequent rise of charlatans and quacks brought the business into disrepute.
Charlatans and quacks abide still, if you don’t believe me, go and order a report for $29.95 at random off the Internet, then stand back and watch as you get a zillion emails explaining that it’s just crucial that you order the full deluxe package because if you don’t you’ll miss your chance at greatness for another many several rounds of the Sun.
Although a natal chart is cast from a Terra-centric viewpoint giving a snapshot from earthly perspective … and although such a picture is the merest slice from the unique loaf each human life describes …
Because I once played the great physicist, Neils Bohr, I’m able to tell you that a sub-atomic particle can also be a field, and not that I knew Zoroaster, but I know people who knew people who did, and I think he got it right when he said: “As Above So Below.”
And because, as you see, the dance of the planets is a spiral one.
And because an approximation of the orbital period of the planet Uranus is 84 years, and there was a stock market crash in 1929 and subsequent trouble for quite a while, and the 2000s were ripe with global crises …
Maybe some of us will look to consultant astrologers again.
I did so myself recently.
I found a British lady and via the magic of Skype we chatted. I was impressed.
It’s not editorial policy to make commercial recommendations in these pages, but here’s an exception: http://www.claremartin.net
Shakespeare on the span of a human life:
“A breath thou art, servile to all the skyey influences …”
Or, for a more prosaic instance; I recently got into a minor altercation with a “hare-brained rudesby”. I was waiting in a checkout line and one of the six clerks appeared to be free. The Rudesby, two places behind suddenly shoved my elbow, while at the same time ordering me to go forward. When I explained that I had seen what he had not, namely, a previous customer returning with new items for payment, the Rudesby grunted, and muttered in a language I do not know. We had an exchange:
Me: And you know, Mercury isn’t even retrograde until the 18th?
The Rudesby: (Aggressively) What!? I don’t know what you’re talking about!
The Rudesby: (Proud of it) I don’t believe in any superstition.
Had he chosen to quote from King Lear, the Rudesby could have expressed himself more elegantly … “I should have been that I am had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardizing.”
What has all this got to do with acting?
Good question: I was wondering that myself …
Shakespeare knew of course (no surprise there):
“… that this huge stage presenteth nought but shows Whereon the stars in secret influence comment.”
It’s called The Writers Room and it’s on Broadway and Astor Place on the Washington Square/East Village border In New York City. It’s convenient as everywhere is in Manhattan to (among just about everything you could want in a city), subways, eateries, and hookah emporiums. It’s 2500 square feet of loft space, vacant as you see in this iPhone snap taken against the light, in the early morning. Once the writers arrive, the window spaces go first.
Before I was an actor I washed dishes in an ultra-chic French restaurant in Deauville, France; I planted Olive trees in Crete, Greece; and back in London, I waxed a limousine that once belonged to Idi Amin.
Seeking greater job security, I trained for the stage.
When I graduated I became an actor/something else. The something else was, in phases, painter, driver, barman, all the way to that most traditional of acting auxiliaries, waiter; later: actor/writer
The hyphen has flipped.
I have an interesting writing project, and am working as a writer for hire. So for now have now become writer/actor. I like it. Ready to become writer/somethingelse if necessary.
Creative and commercial considerations prevent me from going into detail. Seriously, I know that it’s not a good idea to let the steam out of the bottle before the soufflé has risen. Have you ever had an idea and you told someone and the next thing you knew there it was all over the Internet?
This is the distracting view from my favorite window at night. The Writers Room is a great place to work because where acting is agreeably social, writing is solitary. It’s good to see other people tapping at their keyboards. The rule of the room is silence and people are pretty scrupulous about it, but you can talk in the kitchen where there is coffee.
So does this mean these pages will no longer chronicle the jobbing actor experience? Possibly …
I believe the time is ripe for a slightly oversized — alright, moderately oversized, British/Australian detective on the telly. Precisely the category of work that all jobbing actors understand partakes of the jackpot. This could be where the New Year resolution to eat more Kale comes into play …
Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution and lost it soon after?
The end of January and the beginning of February is the Celtic festival of Imbolc. Sacred to Brigid, patroness of Poets, Bards and Smiths, it is a festival of new beginnings, of plans for the coming year, also of elevated states — inspiration. This may be where we have gone wrong. After a season of frolic and frivolity, and celebrating at the solar festival of Yule, it may be an idea to let the party spirit subside for 5 or 6 weeks until Imbolc — Easing into it, do you see?
Here are my predictions for 2015:
The bees will need protection.
Increasing numbers of people will want greener fuel.
Those put here to make Nostradamus look good will defend the indefensible.