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Dear Diary!

My middle-schoolers have been working on their monologs for tomorrow’s performance, using the concept of the “unreliable narrator,” as exemplified by Greg, the narrator of Jeff Kinney’s fun series The Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

The opening number, “Dear Diary,” is going to be adorable, you guys.  The kids have been pros at making the lyrics their own, and I think you should all show up at Newnan Theatre Company tomorrow, Friday, June 26, at 4:30, to see the results.

There have been changes, of course, since I first posted this last week.  I lowered the entire piece a whole step so my singers weren’t as uncomfortable (although they were quite capable to hitting the notes); I added a measure at the opening for choreography purposes; and I adapted the accompaniment at the end to give the cast a stronger cue for the ending.

Here you go: score [pdf] | mp3

As we worked on projection and focus, I gave my students someone to whom they could sing: Cthulhu.  The concept is that if you sing well, the mighty Cthulhu will eat you first when he arises, sparing you the ignominy and pain of the inevitable suffering accompanying his arising.

I’ve decided that next summer’s workshop will be “The Call of Cthulhu,” and we’ll adapt one of H. P. Lovecraft’s stories to a Story Theatre version, making all the sound effects and theatre effects with minimal props, ending with an enormous puppet of the Great Old One rising from the rear of the stage amidst fog and dreary lights.

Meanwhile, in the labyrinth…

 

Another cute one

So here’s a first draft completed of “Dear Diary: a song for hapless liars,” the opening number for the middle school theatre workshop I’m teaching next week.

The theme of the camp is Diary of a Wimpy Kid, playing off Jeff Kinney’s delightful book, but that’s just a hook.  The actual purpose of the workshop is character development, and as I said in the previous post we’ll be creating unreliable narrators who believe they’re telling us one thing but whom we see straight through.

“Dear Diary” | score (pdf) | mp3

Process thoughts…

Last summer I was asked to teach a middle school theatre workshop at Newnan Theatre Company.  The topic was character development, and its theme was “Villains.”  I don’t know what I was expected to do, but what I did was lead the kids through developing and writing their own villain monologues and scenes, which they performed before adoring relatives at the end of the week.

One of the really cool things that happened was that I came home from a meeting about the workshop and was inspired to write an opening number, “Not Really Bad,” which was a hit: the kids loved doing it and the audience went wild.

And so this summer, the workshop’s theme is “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”  We’re going to work on the concept of the unreliable narrator: in the books, the main character Greg tells his diary more or less what happens, but the reader sees that Greg is the main cause of all the troubles he gets into—and then others are punished for it!  Greg never shows the slightest remorse or even self-knowledge—that’s what we’re going to work on.

Of course I thought right away of writing another opening number, “My Diary,” and so yesterday I pulled out one of my trusty Field Notes notebooks and got to work.

Click to see the full-size image

I finished all but the D2 block yesterday and just ran out of brain.  But it all came together smoothly today.

Here’s what I wanted to talk about:

As I worked, I became aware that my brain was thinking along many pathways simultaneously, juggling as each came to the forefront of the problem-solving process.  For instance, I kept in mind that I’m writing for middle school voices and that the piece has to be learned in four days—and that everyone needs a share in the proceedings.  So I was structuring it so that it’s a collection of solo lines all contributing to the same idea, and the words flow smoothly and cleanly.  The eventual melody will be catchy and simple.

I also kept in mind that I’m trying to get across to the audience the theme of the performance: the characters they will be seeing are not to be trusted in their narratives.

Rhythms were constantly in my mind, mostly because the verse is severely metrical.  You’ll notice that I’ve notated some in the margins so I don’t forget the barely perceptible finished product that was floating in my mind when I wrote the words.

I also found myself playing with structural elements, starting with the “Dear Diary” refrain that recurs, plus sections of the singers repeating and overlapping “Dear Diary” at junctures in the piece.   There’s the opening (A), a steady sequence of phrases the last notes of which the singers will hold to build a chord—which then launches into an allegro ditty (B & C) in which our cast members step up and have their moment in the spotlight.  We then get the patter song middle part (D1 & D2), a love song to the Diary and  how much it means to the singer to have one friend who will never let him down.

Here’s a thing: right off the bat in the writing of D1, you’ll see the phrase “I can tell you all,” and I’ve notated a non-patter rhythm next to it.  I finished more of the verse, knowing that the break needed to come later.  In fact, while the photo shows it ending up after the first quatrain, it will actually go at the end of the second, after “…or my mother!”

So that element, the “I can tell you all” break, became a signpost for me as I tackled (D2), i.e., I needed two more quatrains, continuing to develop the self-serving nature of the narrator, yet building up to a phrase to rhyme with “I can tell you all.”  What this resulted in was breaking the patter rhythm for the end of the verse (“…calling out my name”) and leading to a secondary break which leads our focus back to the Diary, another -ame rhyme, and then the boffo repeat of the break and the rhyming phrase.

I will probably go back to the overlapping “Dear Diary” idea, and then lead us back to the chipper, chirping opening phrase (E)—oh yeah, I’m all about that da capo—which itself loops back through the layered “Dear Diary” motif to end with a big finish, “It’s not my fault!”

All of these things were circling in my head as I mapped out possible rhymes (you can see a list of -ault/aught rhymes in the margin) and forged ahead.

You can see some erasures on the page.  Most were revisions of meter and rhyme, but a couple were structural: the “Dear Diary” motif in (B, C & E) for example, replaced a simple iambic dimeter phrase—which then got shoved out to star in its own quatrain.

All in all, the thing grew organically on its own, practically, almost as smoothly and efficiently as “Not Really Bad” did last year.  No, I don’t have any real melody waiting in the wings here; it’s all I can do to keep from stealing “The Reckoning” from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

A meditation of sorts

You will be astonished to learn that in the two years since I left the job at GHP, I have at times been feeling adrift. No, really, it’s true.

Some of that stems from learning to deal with the fact that the job I thought I would retire from—and yes, I wanted a party—just vanished without warning. Life goes on and all that.

But there’s more to it than that, and a recent meditation along with my adventure at the Springer Opera House (State Theatre of Georgia)led me to a new understanding of why I sometimes have felt a bit on the lost side. Simply put, my life used to be governed by cycles, and now it’s as open-ended as you can get.

Before, I positioned my “self” according to where I was in the various cycles around me: the school year, NCTC’s season, shows within that season, the church calendar when I was a choir director, and most recently, the GHP nomination/interview/program cycle.

One thing ended, the next began, or began again. That’s what my entire professional life has been like, after all: school, theatre, GHP. That’s 40 years of knowing where I was going to be and what I was going to be doing a year (or more) in advance.

Now? I have no “profession,” no job, and that’s fine. My self-worth is certainly not contingent on where I’m working. But it also means that I don’t know where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing in the future. This is not a complaint, it’s just a statement of facts new to me.

This was driven home one night in Columbus when I was having a drink with Mike Accardo, the Equity actor from Chicago who was so brilliant as Harry Brock, and he commented about jobs coming up and possible jobs after that. He was always looking for the next job, he said; that’s what it meant to be a professional actor.

I allowed as how that was a major reason I never pursued acting as a career; I don’t have what it takes to always be on the hunt—or starve.

And yet that’s exactly where I am now, although without the nerve-wracking pressure of starving if I don’t get out there and hunt. For me, it’s been an existential matter. (Crisis is way too strong a term for my situation.) Before, I cocooned in the eternal circles of my life. Now, it’s a straight path and I am more responsible than not to know where I’m going and where I want to end up.

This situation is probably one reason I’ve started getting more involved in the Burner community here in Georgia: it gives me one cycle that I can depend on and help bring to fruition. I know where I’ll be the first weekend in October and the first weekend in May—and if I go completely nuts, the week before Labor Day, the second week in June, the third week of July, etc., etc.

Anyway, this was not meant to be a cri de coeur. Once it dawned on me the nature of the source of some of my (minor) anxiety, I adapted almost immediately by letting go that habitual expectation of some cycle or other coming to my rescue. It’s all on me now, and that’s a good thing to know.

New labyrinth project, pt. 2

So I went shopping for ideas for materials from which to make the symbols of the four elements on the surface of my new endpoints.

The first idea:

We could set glass beads into the concrete in either the circular or triangular patterns, or…

…since it’s unlikely we’re going to be able to see the colors at night anyway, just use black glass, or…

…just plain black stone.

Next idea:

A 7-inch mirror, which I’d trim to fit the top.  I’m thinking we’d want to use the surface to etch or otherwise attach the symbol, then pour…

…a clear resin on top.

If we want metal, we could use…

…aluminum channel.  It would hold its place and be weather resistant.  With this option, we’d be looking at the triangular symbols only, of course.  (If I chose to go to Hobby Lobby, I think they carry metal sheets; we could cut the symbols out of brass or copper.)

Next idea:

Oven-baked clay—we could make any of the shapes, any color we wanted, including…

…glow-in-the-dark!  There’s something weirdly appealing about making the symbols out of this stuff, then putting them on the mirror and covering them with a clear resin.

Next idea:

The simple, classic mosaic.

And finally for now:

This could be exciting.  This is the stuff that I used on my 3 Old Men staff for my lizard’s eyes, and there are many more options here than just that one product.  Have a look here.

More:

Clear resin, and…

…some other stuff.  Who even knows?

So if we used this, we could have several objects of interest embedded in the labyrinth itself.  Hm.

New labyrinth project, pt. 1

You would think after eight years I would be done with the basic structure of the labyrinth.  You are wrong, of course.  It’s never done.  The trick is not to overload the space.

You already know that the classic seven-circuit labyrinth is basically four lines, each of which curves its way around the center and then ends, forming a turn in the path.

Viz:

Until recently, I capped each endstone with a small wooden block that was painted to look like stone and which had a circle cut into it—I sometimes would place cans of Sterno in those endpoints as little lamps along the way.

However, people kept tripping over them, particularly the southeast one by the firepit, mainly because I had drilled holes in the stones and staked them to the ground with rebar.  So I got rid all of them earlier this year and life has gone on.

I kept thinking, though, that the endpoints needed to be more pleasing visually, and that’s what I’m working on now.

Basic idea: replace the square paving stone at the endpoint with a round paving stone.  Naturally, no one manufactures a round paving stone, at least not in the size that I needed, and so I am casting my own.

Here are my alternate designs:

Pro tip: in Pages, create a layout document, then a circle and a square with white fill.  You can control the size of the circle in the Inspector, and Pages is very helpful about showing you when you have things centered, both on the page and with each other.  Above you can see my templates for circles of 6″, 7″, 7.5″, and 8″.  I decided to go with the 7-inch circle.

Here’s what it looks like in situ:

And from another angle:

Just big enough to tie off the end without being too much big.

Now let me introduce you to a fabulous material:

RAM BOARD!  It’s rough, it’s tough, it’s a huge role of heavy duty cardboard for about $30.  I think builders use it to protect floors as they truck stuff in and out of a site.  I bought it to use in art projects.

Cut out the base of the mold:

Use your handy flexible ruler to measure the length of the arc:

Measure strips for the sides of the mold, remembering to add a one-inch tab at the end:

Use your painters tape to form the sides, then attach to the straight edge of the bottom:

Finished:

All four of them:

And here we pause.  It’s begun to rain, and I have some æsthetics to work on.

The simplest plan is simply to insert these into the ground and fill them with concrete.  The cardboard may or may not disintegrate—who cares?

But wouldn’t it be neat if I embedded something in the surface?  I’m thinking the symbols of the four classical elements: fire/water/earth/air, just like the sculptures at the four points of the compass are now.

Here are two versions of the symbols:

One choice to make is between the triangular and the circular versions.  The problem with the triangular ones is that they are reversible—the seeker would never be quite sure if the turn he is making is around fire or water. That is a problem, right?  The circular ones at least remain the same no matter which direction you’re approaching them from.

However, depending on what materials I find when I hit Jo-Ann’s, the triangular ones might be easier to make.  (My original thoughts were to use brass or some metal items.)

Also however too, it occurs to me that it might be the best thing ever if I were to make the circular ones out of resin of some kind, glass even, and let those be the absolute top of the endpoint stones, i.e., you wouldn’t see concrete, just the glass symbol.

Hm.

New ring!

You will recall that way back in January I lost my wedding ring.  It has never shown up.  We ordered a new one, the exact design, from our favorite jeweler, but a) it had to be special ordered; b) the company that makes them waits until there are enough orders to fill before filling them; and c) our favorite jeweler decided to retire.  So we canceled the order and went looking.

Specifically we went looking in Asheville, our favorite new destination for art, food, and fun times.  There was one artist whose jewelry I really liked the last time we were there, and so while we looked at All The Rings everywhere we went, I had a gut feeling that we’d find what we were looking for at this young woman’s studio.

Alas, when we went to Cotton Mill Studios on Saturday, Christie Calaycay was not there.  Her studio was locked.  I was truly bummed.

However, when we drove by later in the day, lights were on in the studio and I did a quick U-turn to go check.  She was in, and indeed, her work was what we were looking for.  I picked a squarish ring (like my old one), with a bark-like finish, in white gold.  (I had been wearing a replacement ring from Wal-mart—it was silver and I got used to the color.  Plus, it seemed appropriate to shift tonalities.)

It took about a month and a half for her to craft the ring and get it to us, and it is a thing of beauty:

Here it is on the newly sealed and polished center of the labyrinth:

It’s not as square as my old one, and I will always miss it, but this is a beautiful thing and I love it.  Thanks be to my lovely first wife!

For the record, I also bought a square earring with much the same finish while we were there.

I’m back!

Yes, I know—but I’ve been busy.  I spent five weeks in Columbus, GA, as a guest artist at the Springer Opera House in a very lovely production of Born Yesterday, playing the drunken lawyer Ed Devery with as much professionalism as I could scrape together.  The struggle was real, and that’s not the kind of thing I document in public.1  My fellow cast members were boffo, and I think in the end I acquitted myself well.

Sure, I could have blogged about my continuing work on A Christmas Carol—I have made it to the “Finale” and will have it finished by the middle of June—but that’s dull blogging.

I could have blogged about the continuing outrages on the rightward flank of American politics, but Wonkette does that so much funnierly than I do.

Oh well—apologies all round.

So I’m back, and for my first post I’m blogging about a new cocktail, as is my wont.

This is the Molly 22.A, concocted for a dinner party honoring the graduation and 22nd birthday of young Molly Honea, who is now the proud possessor of two useless degrees from the University of Georgia.  She has always demanded requested that I create a cocktail for special occasions, and by “special occasions” she means any get-together that she’s attending.

She likes gin—and we must applaud her perspicacity for acquiring such sophisticated taste in the mere one year she has been drinking alcohol—and citrus, so I started there.  It was fruitful research.

MOLLY 22.A

  • 1.5 oz gin
  • 1 oz yellow Chartreuse
  • .5 oz lemon juice
  • 1 dash lemon bitters
  • optional: .5 tsp grenadine (the real kind); a few drops kava extract

Throw the gin, Chartreuse, lemon juice, and bitters into the shaker.  Shake with ice, strain.

If you have real grenadine, drop that into the glass and let it sink to the bottom.  If you’re a dirty freaking hippie and have kava extract lying around, it’s fun to add that to the mix before you shake it.

Now the fun part:

MOLLY 22.B

Use vodka instead of gin.  It’s a smoother drink, needless to say, without the interest of gin.

MOLLY 22.A.1

Use green Chartreuse instead of yellow.  It’s less sweet and to my taste more layered.

So there you go.  I do have a series of topics I’ll be blogging about, so you can dust off your link to the blog now.

—————

1 To be clear, I have no problem documenting my struggles and failures, as longtime readers of this blog surely know.  However, I never want my struggles to appear to reflect poorly on others—theatre is a hurly-burly process, and to an outsider it might appear that I’m placing “blame” for my own problems on others in the process.  Nothing would have been farther from the truth.

Synchronicity

I’m pretty sure I’ve blogged about this before, but the bizarrely synchronous events in my life seem to me to be considerably above the proper average that statistics have laid down for our guidance.

For example, it’s a rare day when the New York Times crossword puzzle does not have an answer that reflects directly on something going on in my life, often a phrase, name, or word that pops up on the television show my lovely first wife is watching while I am working on that very clue.

Today in rehearsal during a break in the action, I was not involved in whatever was being discussed and idly opened one of the prop books on the table in front of me.  It was one of those bound volumes from Great Literature, and since I didn’t have my glasses on I could not read the text, but I could make out the headers on the left and right pages: CHARLES LYELL | GEOLOGIC EVOLUTION.

Well.

Flashback to teaching information skills to 3rd graders: one of my favorite activities to teach them how to use the dead-tree editions of the encyclopedia—because it was on the test that’s why shut up—was to have them look up their last name and see how close they could get.  I had an introductory presentation which demonstrated guide words blah blah and finally I would light on LYELL, CHARLES.  We’d scan the article and I’d show them how to extract the information they would need when they did their own name.  (I would also point out multiple times that I hadn’t found my exact last name so stop whining you little twerps.)

(We would also then turn around and use the online World Book and lo! almost every kid would find someone with their exact last name—and those that didn’t ventured over to Wikipedia.)

That was certainly worth a nostalgic chuckle, but then just now I was reading a Wonkette article on our next never-going-to-be-President, Rafael E. Cruz, and there in the comments was the following:

It turns out it wasn’t until the Alverez team published their findings about the KT Impact in 1981 that Mass Extinction was even talked about in the science community, all thanks to Charles Lyell, a lawyer who argued that catostrophism was absurd and advocated a more natural cyclical theory to life on earth.

With a link to the Wikipedia article even.  Mercy.  It’s harmless, but it’s certainly also unnerving.  I’ve learned to live with it.

update: Let’s add another one: using Slate’s Reincarnation Machine, I amused myself by following the chain of famous folk who died/were born on the same day, starting back from my birthday.  Eventually we arrived at Otto I, who was in the crossword puzzle yesterday.  (I also got Julius II in there somewhere.  Fun web activity!)

another update: So yesterday I mentioned info skills at Newnan Crossing.  One of the last lessons I invented was to teach a fourth grade class the difference between figurative and literal language.  They had to create a Keynote presentation on the new iPads that illustrated the metaphors in a Shakespeare sonnet.  I demonstrated with Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”); they had to go back to class and work on Sonnet 73 (“That time of year tho mayst in me behold”).  This morning’s Writer’s Almanac?  Sonnet 73.

That time of year thou mayst in me behold,
When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day,
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self that seals up all in rest.
In me thou seest the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.