Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Remember the ladies

In which our Diva impersonates the Founding Mother of smarts and sass

A couple weeks ago, a friend alerted me to Drunk History's "Stumble Into History" contest, which called for videos of fans posing as historical figures to react to their portrayal on the show. It sounded like fun (and getting flown out to warm, sunny LA to do a walk-on in Season 3 sounds particularly good right about now!), but I've had other priorities, so it wasn't until this past weekend that I did anything about it.

At which point, I pulled it together in less than a day, with resources I had around the house, and uploaded my entry a comfortable three hours before deadline. I'm pretty pleased with myself for that. :-)

I spent a fair amount of time waffling among the awesome ladies on the list -- Mary Dyer? Dolley Madison? Nellie Bly? -- but ultimately Abigail Adams and her legendary letter-writing were always going to prevail. (I am rather sad nobody represented for Nellie, the original intrepid girl reporter.)

So, interspersing some of Mrs. Adams' famous words with a few of my own invention, I took pretend quill pen in hand and threw my mob cap in the ring.

You can check out the results here and (if you feel so inclined and if you have a Facebook account, on which the voting mechanism unfortunately depends) vote for me once a day until next Monday, March 2. Comments and sharing are also most definitely welcome, and thank you!!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

MY autograph? Um, okay...

In which our Diva commits vlog with tremendous ambivalence and curiosity

I am, as you may have noticed, not even a little bit famous. Despite this fact, from time to time, I receive an email or letter asking for an autographed photo. Typically they mention a relatively recent credit from my IMDb page, tell me a little about themselves, and are generally polite and respectful.

The one currently sitting in my inbox (waiting for me to get around to printing a promo photo at Walgreens in a size that can be sent with regular letter postage, which the 8x10 headshots I actually have on hand rather decidedly can't) says he's a fan from Epitaph: Bread and Salt. Now, that has over half a million views on YouTube, increasing the odds that he's actually seen it, as compared to some other films requesters have mentioned.

One of the previous requests I've received, upon googling the name of the requester together with "autograph" (because I'm nothing if not a curious beastie), let me to this blog post by author C. Leigh Purtill. She was understandably baffled at receiving an autograph request from a Polish gentleman who seemed vanishingly unlikely to have actually read her books, and took her blog to see what her readers made of it. I'm guessing she probably never predicted that there would still be a fairly lively discussion happening in the comments nearly six years later, with all manner of obscure public figures (including myself) chiming in to relate their stories, share the names of requesters, and puzzle over why they're interested in us.

It says a lot about the state of the world, and particularly of trying to make a go of it in the entertainment or publishing industry, that the first place pretty much everyone's mind goes is "Is this some kind of scam?" The short answer, as far as I've been able to determine, is no, although currently the discussion is circling around the pros and cons of confirming that the email address they're using for you is valid. (In my case, it's the one I list on my IMDbPro page for professional purposes, so if it weren't, I'd definitely be doing this "self-managed actor" thing wrong! But that's not the source for everyone, so it's a valid question to consider.)

In my aquaintance with collectors, no matter what their area of interest, the qualitative and quantitative properties of what they collect, of what makes a particular item worth including and what doesn't, is a highly idiosyncratic thing. I can easily picture the autographs of obscure public figures having a place in the collection of someone for whom the act of collecting itself, of organizing and cataloging, is the point. There are social interactions in both contacting celebrities (or even not-so-celebrities) with requests as well as in the collector community, which, as a glance at the fanmail.biz forum or the Google results for "my autograph collection" will tell you, is a diverse and thriving one.

So I can guess at what's going on when I get that request in my inbox. But I don't really know, and (although I briefly considered asking this latest requester if he'd mind taking some sort of survey and passing it on to fellow collectors), it seems sort of rude and weirdly presumptuous to ask directly. If someone is writing to me saying "I'm a fan," I don't want to go essentially accusing him of lying.

Instead, I spent my latest vlog ruminating on the phenomenon, and inviting insights from the people who do the requesting. Whether any of them will respond, or even see it, is a total unknown. But what the heck, right?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Grieve not with thy bitter tears

In which our Diva commemorates a famous death

On this day in 1862, Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal died of a laudanum overdose. The inquest ruled it accidental; some who knew her claimed to know for a fact that she had taken her own life. We will never be able to confirm with absolute certainty what was in her mind that night.

We do have her poems, many of which dwell on death and loss, a tendency in which she was not alone among her contemporaries.

On this solemn anniversary, this one -- probably my favorite of hers -- seems fitting. It closes Unvarnished; I recorded this reading a few years ago.

Early Death
Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal

Oh grieve not with thy bitter tears
The life that passes fast;
The gates of heaven will open wide
And take me in at last.

Then sit down meekly at my side
And watch my young life flee;
Then solemn peace of holy death
Come quickly unto thee.

But true love, seek me in the throng
Of spirits floating past,
And I will take thee by the hands
And know thee mine at last.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ophelia is everywhere

In which our Diva ponders how the girl nobody at court considered until it was too late came to be considered a great many things

Long, long ago, when woolly mammoths roamed roamed the wilds of the information superhighway between the glittering GeoCities and the gates of AOhelL (which one reached by means of shiny wheels that appeared by the dozens in one's physical mailbox), yours truly created a section of her personal website called "Doubt Thou the Stars Are Fire - An Ophelia Gallery."

Through the magic of the Wayback Machine (and a temporary change in my display resolution - raise your hand if you remember SVGA being fancy!), I can give you an idea of what it looked like:

Also thanks to the Wayback, I can quote my long-forgotten "about the site" statement:

I had no idea it was going to get this big.
This project was originally conceived as a page for my Fireside Tales section [that was where I used to blather about fairy and folk tales before discovering blogging], but it wasn't long before I realized there was far too much material to fit in that context. It began (as so many things seem to) with Shakespeare, and with the familiar figure of Hamlet's poor tragic lady-love, who is driven mad by the madness going on around her, and who drowns in the brook with a song on her lips.
The next ingredient was my long-standing fascination with Pre-Raphaelite art, and with the circle of individuals who produced it. Ophelia was a favorite subject of theirs, as you'll soon see if you didn't already know. At one time I had notions of doing a website on the Pre-Raphaelites, but the lovely folk at WebMagick and The Germ have covered the subject far more thoroughly than I ever could.
The final catalyst was reading Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, a standout amid the recent flood of pop psychology and women's studies. To Dr. Pipher, Ophelia is the symbol of the loss of identity that so often strikes girls as they reach adolescence and are pressured to define themselves by everyone's standards except their own.
As you'll see throughout this site, Ophelia has far more faces than those few. She is a potent identifying figure for women in general and teenage girls in particular, and she means something a little different to everyone.
"This big" might sound funny in the age of blogs and content management systems and wikis (if I were to undertake such a project today, it would totally be a wiki!), but in the Wild-Digital-West days we prided ourselves on hand-coding HTML, which was actually the easier way to make something look the way you wanted than the clunky web-authoring software of the time!

So there were quite a few hours and a lot of love in that handful of pages, gathering art, photos, essays, and links to people, businesses, and pets bearing Ophelia's name.

Then came blogs and wikis and aggregators, and a far wider and more populous online world, and it all became far too much for one busy woman to keep track of. The links became outdated, and the subject became amply covered in multiple elsewheres. So I retired the site, and moved on to other things.

I still think often of poor drowned Ophelia, of course -- I could hardly help it even if I wanted to, up to my eyebrows in dramatizing a woman whose legacy is inextricably bound up with her. I still have the ghost of that "I need to add this to the site" impulse when I encounter a new expression of our enduring cultural fascination with her -- Emilie Autumn's tour de force album Opheliac; or a chamber opera entitled Ophelia Forever that features not one but three incarnations of the title role; or even a contemporary art piece involving a recreation of Millais' painting in bacteria, time-lapse photography of its decay, poetry collected via voice mail, and a musical composition based on the genetic code of digestive flora!

I think of poor drowned Ophelia, and also sweet hopeful Ophelia, and mad Ophelia struggling to make herself heard through old words and melodies and the language of flowers. I think of the reality of an old ballgown turned gossamer flotation device and glittering anchor by turns. I think of a role that can liberate or imprison, or paradoxically do both at once -- for Lizzie, one of its most famous exponents, or for unknown dozens of young actresses taking her on at any given moment.

I've never played Ophelia myself (barring reading from our desks in a high school literature classroom), and I've passed the "ingenue" phase of my Shakespeare career and into the "queens" -- though, despite having dived headfirst into Titania and Lady Macbeth, I somehow don't feel ready to tackle Gertrude. But she remains there in the background, somehow, well past the adolescent confusions in which one is supposed to identify with her.

For a fictional girl who didn't make it out of her teens, Ophelia really does contain multitudes. Like many characters, really, especially those of whom we learn tantalizingly little in their moments on the stage. Those whose shadowed lives we can illuminate with the experiences and questions of our own.

It's with this role I begin Unvarnished, with Lizzie offering a few typically wry observations hinting at how it has touched on the corners of her own life. A glimpse:

Three years ago, I witnessed in person the sensation Millais' Ophelia still creates in those passing her on the Tate Gallery wall. Lizzie was part of making something magical, whose appeal is impossible to quantify. Yet her experience of its making involved entirely earthly and practical considerations of cold water and needed wages. If anything encapsulates the contradictions of her life, that's it.

 The music opening the above video is from Helen Trevillion's "The Goose Girl"

Friday, January 9, 2015

Unvarnished vlog: Why Lizzie?

In which our Diva gets some use out of that phone tripod she got for Christmas

I've been bitten by the vlogging bug. (Well, technically I can call myself an early adopter -- all of these predate my even hearing the term "vlog" -- but it's way easier now.)

For those of you who prefer the written word, don't worry -- I still plan to do proper blog posts too! But thoughts come out differently in writing than they do in speaking, and of course once the Unvarnished process is more visibly underway, this way of sharing it should be even more fun.

I started simple today, with a few thoughts on why I'm so fascinated by Elizabeth Siddal and what inspired me to create a solo theatre piece about her. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you've probably encountered most of these thoughts in one form or another, but I wouldn't mind your giving a listen even so. And, if you're so inclined, sharing with potentially interested friends? :-)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Unvarnished sneak peek

In which our Diva sends season's greetings from Lizzie Siddal in Nice, 1855

The first staged reading of Unvarnished has come and gone, followed immediately by a lower back strain that limited my time in front of the computer, and immediately after that by, y'know, Christmas.

The turnout was small but enthusiastic, I learned that it's still too long and I must kill more darlings (seriously, folks, even I don't want to talk for two hours straight on purpose!), and our hosts at Side Street Studio Arts were super helpful and supportive. Onward and upward!

One of my Christmas gifts was a nifty little flexible tripod for my smartphone, which leaves me with no more excuses for putting off that vlogging I keep saying I'm going to try. (Not sure the handful of video diaries I did with my old flip camera really count, though I suppose I could lay claim to being an early adopter, since I'm pretty sure they actually predate the term "vlog." *g*)  Now that Unvarnished is not only written but most of the way toward the final version that will be produced, I have plenty to babble about -- including far more detailed background than could ever have fit into a 90-minute show, and maybe some outtakes from earlier drafts!

In the meantime, a sneak peek at said script (though most of the words in this snippet are Lizzie's own):

Hope everyone has had a very happy holiday season, and looking forward to a bright New Year!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Something in the water in Geneva

In which our Diva gives thanks that her Frankenstein castmates made everything such fun backstage

Frankenstein Official Quote List
GreenMan Theatre, Fall 2014

You can be in various stages of beverage... ness.

Let's have you pout again. That was good.

You're just kind of frantic piano-ing, so you don't notice him right away.

She's a great governess. She's the best. And you really did have a frog situation with the other one.

If you're not Victor or the Creature, you can take five.
 - Am I the Creature?
 - If you don't know if you're the Creature or not, I can't help you.

So fight your natural instinct to get up and punch them in the face right away.

Walk it off. She's going to die. You just got beat up.

You're Enlightenment guys. You think you know everything because you read a book.
 - I read two books, thank you very much.

Any inappropriate audience reactions will be dealt with by the Creature.

I feel bad for Victor, but I hate him too.
 - Ding-ding-ding! You get to lead the talkback.

I made you a present.
 - I made you a playmate. He's in the park waiting for you.
 - Totally in keeping with the period. Handmade presents.

And once the set's built, the first time you smack your head on that wall will remind you.

Did we do this part yet?
 - No. Be careful.
 - Kung fu Frankenstein.

Easiest scene transition in the entire show. Except for the giant tarp.

I think Bill & Ted might have paid a visit and dropped their shoes off.

What am I doing?
 - Trying to comfort the crazy man.
 - Same as always.

Now let's do one "happy, fun, before everyone dies."

Let us talk of happier times. Things. Topics. Three T's.

And then I realized that someone was talking about watching Dexter's Laboratory when they were little, and I was sad.

No! No amount of torture? Line.
 - Yep.

Thank you, son. I will go and inform your wife. Uh, your future wife. Your bride.
 - That's the one.

Justine and Elizabeth, you learn about this conversation, and you can feel about that however you feel about that. Disgruntled is one option.

I wrote in big letters "Victor and Creature up." Because you both love the floor.

Whose body parts are these? Why hasn't CSI been invented yet? We can pay them in Toblerone and clocks.

Elizabeth, you're next. We're going to kill you now.
 - What about Henry?
 - Oh, yeah, Henry!
 - I'm going to live.

Dying is great. Keep doing it.

I think that will work better once I figure out where to touch her in a nice way.
 - Yes. We don't want any sort of lawsuits.

So in a... appropriate for Dad, and yet also, like, kind of locker-room way.

The Creature has an extra body part.
 - It's your purple appendage.

Go to the end of 7. Victor beats Effie. I mean Elizabeth. That's a different scene that I didn't write.

This guy said, "You look like Tina Fey," and I was like, "You're too old for me. Do you have a grandson?"

Why couldn't you get, like, a whole person and bring him to life?
- Well, that's no challenge!

I finished punching and I thought, "Oh, I wonder where I went with that? Well, it doesn't matter now."

My keyword for a crushed windpipe will be a lot of wheezing.

You're sort of period-esque moving while carrying a bench. And if that's not vague enough for you, I can try to make it a little more unclear.

That time I was listening for the knap. I have been growling. I like growling. Growling is fun.

That felt kind of weird.
 - It looked weird. I think it's because your foot got hooked on her boob.
 - If I had a nickel for every time somebody said that...

At what point in that do I die?

I've been saying, "I've been riding a horse for forever. Is this Felix's family?"
 - You'll notice that I'm walking weird. It's not just because I'm Spanish. I've been riding a horse.

I think you can enjoy his bad Spanish a little more. You already are, but you can be like, "Oh honey, we don't need to talk."

We speak the universal language.
 - Polish.

I wrote lots of kissing notes tonight. We'll work on it.

People will get it. And the people who don't, that's fine. Their friend will explain it to them in the car on the way home.

Warm up your slapping hand.

Ben's doing this reaction of "Oh, my hand came from a dead guy. That's gross. Oh, and this one too. That's also gross."

Henry, your grossness is still awesome. Keep it up. Literally.

It can get a little shouty. Then it's like, "I have rage! Don't you have rage? Yes! I have rage!"

Erick, you need to learn to use a blanket. Or maybe it's Frank.

Early is on time. On time is late.
 - Late is dead.

He's trying to defend you, but it's not working very well.
 - Yeah, you're supposed to be poking me.
 - I'm not into poking anyone.
 - It's against my beliefs.

You're so friendly. I'm too hungry to be friendly.
 - As long as you don't actually eat the people you're greeting, it's all good.

You sing like a bird. A vulture.

Becky, are you ready to get your face beat in?

Do you sweat?
 - He sweats on the inside.
 - I sweat on the inside and then I spit it all over Erick in our fight scene.

I think Val should go on just like that. Nothing says intimidation in the courtroom like a tank top and curlers.

I didn't care for Romper Room. It was too educational.

Everything has changed. The show is now a musical.
 - Ohhh, sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you!
 - That's now the jail scene.
 - Hey, I'd be way more scared of Madeline Kahn than some random thug with a stick.

It's all your fault. You made me kick my own butt.

Unfortunately, most of the sound and light cues are cued off of violence.

Ahh. Oh, my knee. Ahh.
 - Oh, come now, you're a better actor than that.
 - Ahh.
 - We're gonna have to shoot him.

I'm waving the grey flag.
 - It's like, I'm kind of giving up. I sort of quit.

I'm telling lies to the child. What else is new?

Keep the bottles for Foley purposes.
 - Keep the bottles for killing.
 - I actually said "Keep the bottles for Foley," not killing. But killing is just as accurate.

Don't pace behind me.
 - I'm not pacing. I'm staring.

Yeah, that would be me leaving my brain in my other pants. Or rather my pants in the wrong place.

You've never looked at your scalp before?
 - Not close enough to see freckles.

 - Thank you, 27.
 - Sorry. Fifty-seven.
 - That's better.
 - Thank you, heart attack.

I was tempted, but I never seriously thought about it.
 - About what?
 - Punching someone.
 - Hunting someone?
 - PUNCHING someone.
 - Oh, I thought you said hunting someone.
 - That's a whole different level.

You want to do some highlights here so you can see the breakage of his head.
 - "Breakage of his head" is a phrase I really only want to hear in very specific circumstances.

I died? Nobody told me this.

Look what I found in the back.
 - Yay! More death!
 - More death bottles.
 - I'm going to have a fear of water bottles after this.

Why are we sitting on Duard?

She spent the whole week going "Thursday... Thursday..."
 - I'll kick his ass on Thursday.
 - And you know Mr. Val was like, "Honey, what's wrong?"
 - I haven't beaten anyone up in DAYS.

Do whatever you need to do to bring extra energy.
 - Should I eat all my Halloween candy?
 - I recommend doing that AFTER the show.

Thank you for washing my super-gross shirt.
 - Oh, yours was nothing compared to Erick's.
 - That was my excuse to myself.

Why didn't you make a puppy, seriously? Or, like, a chimpanzee.
 - Yeah, science starts with small animals. You should have made a slug.

And I saw it for the dumbest reason. I'm seven years old, and I saw Alan Rickman, and went *clutches heart*.
 - Y'know, Becky, that tells us so much about you.
 - It really does.

I'm going to tell her she's the cat's meow, and she's going to tell me I'm the cat's pajamas.
 - I love cats! And pajamas!

What if they canceled the show because someone couldn't get a shoe on?
 - That would be...
 - Ridiculous.
 - It would be a one-shoe show.

Erick, you've been e-Victored.
 - Wow.
 - You have no idea how much joy that brought me.

I will find you a water.
 - But only the green ones.
 - Don't start with me.

Looks like a greatcoat.
 - Well, it's good. I wouldn't call it great.

I already came up with a way that everyone could be happy. Except Justine.

Hey, Rachael, you used to be on my side. What happened?
 - I was never on your side. Sorry.

This isn't working.
 - You have to work for it.
 - I did. I gave her four mints for it.
 - That's not work. That's bribery.

I feel naked without at least eyeliner.
 - See, I feel naked without clothes, so I usually wear those.

Well, you had that look on your face like, "First I'm going to find out how you're doing, and then I'm going to destroy your day."

You should wear that out there. Be like, "I killed Victor."
 - I killed him for the hat.
 - I wish you never went to University! Bang!

That might not be the right show.
 - What show would it be?
 - Harvey.
 - See, I'd give it to my family, and my dad would be like, "Well, he said it was an adaptation."
 - I created a giant rabbit. He's invisible.

Now do you see the dangers of this game?
 - There are no dangers. I've only been hurt once, and that was when someone interfered.
 - True. And that someone was your mother.

So your version of flipping the bird to your mother is stealing all her chocolate and bringing it to us.
 - Yes. Also, she told me to.