I was determined to get something done today. I even got out the mug I made at GHP nearly twenty years ago, my “get in the composing/translating/writing mode” mug. However, this talisman failed. I just didn’t get anything done.
Part of the reason was that I started the day with a long massage from my former massage therapist James Leipold. The man is a genius, and when he left Newnan last year to attend chiropractic school, I was bereft. When he called and said he was in town, I jumped at the chance, especially since my left arm had been keeping me awake with its tendonitis. So that was way worth it, but it knocked out the entire morning.
I did force myself to sing through William Blake, the first time I’d done that in a long time, and maybe the first time I’d done it paying strict attention to the bass line. Hmm, a couple of lines that got my attention for sure. Not badly written, but oddly placed for a bass line and hard to hear. The one at the end of “Tale of the Tailor” in particular is going to be tricky: above the tenor’s melody and then dreadfully modal on top of that, the kind of thing that would take a good five minutes of Masterworks practice just to nail down those intervals. (And then it still wouldn’t be right…) I also found a misprint in the vocal score.
I walked to the post office to mail some back issues of Dramatist’s magazine to Mike Funt. (If he’d join Dramatist’s Guild like he needs to…) I also bought stamps to mail First Look postcards.
I read Nancy Willard’s essays on writing in A Nancy Willard Reader, including one where she keeps a diary on where the time goes when she’s writing or trying to write. Picked up a great Rilke quote: “If the angel deigns to come, it will be because you have convinced him, not by tears, but by your horrible resolve to be a beginner.”
I communicated with the Lacuna/Mame gang. I opened a WriteRoom file to write the First Look article and even typed in “article to promote First Look” in it before walking away.
However, it occurs to me that I need to talk about last night’s performace of the Cirque du Soleil. It was as usual breathtaking in its beauty. Isn’t that an odd thing to say about a circus? But that’s the thing that strikes me about the Cirque shows: they are deliberately beautiful. The first time I saw a Cirque performance live, the overwhelming impression I had was, “So this is what it’s like to be creative when there are no limits.” It occured to me then how much my own creativity had been limited by money and resources. This is not to say that I’m capable of the kinds of design you see in Cirque, but certainly over the twenty-something years I designed for NCTC, it was a constant thought in my head: do I have the money to make this, and do I have someone who can build it?
Usually the answer was no, and over the years you develop your own restrictions. You fail to dare to dream. Sometimes the limitations could be inspiring, like the set design for 1997’s Midsummer: we had about $100 in the bank, and everything in the set was what I could find upstairs. But more often, you just stop thinking outside the box.
An aside: when NCTC first moved into the Johnson Hardware building, the first set I designed was Streetcar. I found that I didn’t know where to begin, because for thirteen years I had started every set design for the Manget-Brannon space by sketching in those damned poles: thirteen foot squares defined by nine-inch beams. Did I hide them? Incorporate them? Try to ignore them? When we hit the new space, with an actual 26-foot proscenium, I had nothing to anchor the design. I was lost. You assimilate your limits.
Every three or four years, I’d go for what I called “one of Dale’s shows,” where I just let loose and went as far as I could in every direction: Heartbreak House, The Illusion, Pericles, The Winter’s Tale, Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. I’d push the boundaries of what everyone around me thought was possible, and I think everyone benefitted from it. But it was always a huge trek from beginning to end. There wouldn’t be anyone else around me who “got it,” which meant that the source of the vision had to come from me. Everyone was willing to do what I told them, but I had to tell them. (Not absolutely true, of course: Marc in Illusion and Pericles; Becky Clark with the Winter’s Tale costumes; Dave Dorrell with the Figaro set.)
So it is my deepest hope that with the Lacuna/William Blake experience, we’ll be able to move forward together and have multiple sources of vision.
Back to Cirque and the ideas I stole. The show, Corteo, was, as I’ve said repeatedly, a model for William Blake. Ostensibly a funeral (albeit one in which the honoree was the main character), that idea only popped up now and then, and if there was a plot, I failed to discern it. But things kept moving, of course, and the design was impeccable. Fellini appeared to be a major influence, from the first somber cortege that dissolved into random and surreal “events.” Characters were introduced who ran throughout the piece, sometimes literally. Angels flew in and out. The cortege kept reforming and dissolving. And always, of course, the actual circus acts with their dazzling performers, physically beautiful and athletically astounding.
So I got ideas for angel wings, stage groupings, group movements, choreography. And I’m not giving up on flying people yet.