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.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The spark of life

In which our Diva plays dramaturg as Victor plays God

Just got home from an encore screening of the National Theatre's amazing Frankenstein, which I was lucky enough to see on my UK trip in 2011. Still one of the most satisfying experiences I've ever had in the audience of any theatre, and it was lovely to revisit that experience as well as see it in new ways courtesy of the expert filming.

Once there, I kicked myself for missing the opportunity to give out postcards for the entirely different Frankenstein in which I'm currently performing, which has been equally amazing in its own way, even if we can't afford several thousand light bulbs and a turntable/elevator. I did give the website info to some lovely geeky ladies sitting nearby; I do hope they come check us out!

It's been particularly gratifying to log my first actual credit as dramaturg, after years of diving down the research rabbit hole at the slightest provocation. And then there was the delight of watching Cory Sandrock's fantastic brand-new script evolve through two developmental readings, one of which afforded me the privilege of reading the delightfully developed role of Elizabeth. I have smaller roles in the full production, but they're still lots of fun, and I had a great time creating the lobby display too.

With a steampunk slant and some truly stunning performances, you really don't want to miss this one. If you come out Halloween night (with a delayed 9 pm start to let all the little ghouls and goblins get home and start in on the sugar coma), there's $5 off if you come in costume.

Hope to see you there!

Frankenstein runs through November 9. Visit the GreenMan Theatre website for more information.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mermaid-like awhile they bore her up

In which our Diva's much-delayed dream project draws ever closer to reality

It's been over a month since I scrawled the words "END OF PLAY" in a spiral notebook, and just over a week since I typed the same ones into Celtx. Over a decade since the idea first hatched in my little brain, Unvarnished: A Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal is finally becoming an actual coming-to-a-stage-near-you solo theatre piece.

It even has a Facebook page, for which the wonderful Pre-Raphaelite social mediasphere has already garnered 161 Likes. I'm in contact with a venue for the first public reading, which will likely be in November or December in Elgin, and mulling various logistical considerations for touring the fully realized production.

 Unvarnished on Facebook

With all that going on, of course I picked today to have a eureka moment about Ophelia's dress.

That's not entirely out of left field. In my text, the dress is the springboard for a little flight of fancy while Lizzie poses in the infamous tub, and it's always been important to my mental image of the show. But the details craved by my obsessive little costumer's brain (which couldn't help being a bit disappointed by the sad greyish thing the mostly gobsmackingly gorgeous Desperate Romantics put on Amy Manson; the designer for Emma West's Ophelia short film seems to have given it a little more thought, albeit on a restricted budget), are tantalizingly thin on the ground. Millais himself recorded in a letter that "To-day I have purchased a really splendid lady's ancient dress - all flowered over in silver embroidery - and I am going to paint it for 'Ophelia'. You may imagine it is something rather good when I tell you it cost me, old and dirty as it is, four pounds." (The Tate Britain educational info on the painting estimates that this would be about £250 today.)

Now, it didn't take too long to decide that a 20-something guy's idea of an "ancient dress" -- even if that 20-something guy is a genius painter intent on getting his masterpiece absolutely right -- is likely to be defined fairly broadly. In all likelihood, we're talking about something kept in a trunk for a generation or two before it found its way to the secondhand shop where Millais found it.

Which somewhat remarkably gives us more to go on than the painting itself, in which the distortion of the water makes it nigh impossible to discern much about the actual shape of the garment. That said, the shape does appear to be relatively simple, which lends further weight to the likelihood that it dated to the first couple decades of the 19th century.

The advent of machine-made net at the close of the 18th century paved the way for the early-19th-century fashion for gowns of muslin overlaid with embroidered net, often in gold or silver thread. So I've been working for a long time under the assumption that the Ophelia dress fell into that category, as typified by this gorgeous specimen at the V&A.


The place I've always been tripped up is the neckline, which is clearly a couple inches higher than is typically found on this type of dress, appearing to cover Lizzie's collarbones. It's one of the few structural details we actually can see in the painting...

...or so I've always thought.

That eureka moment I mentioned? Follow the red dotted line:

Yup. Right there in front of me the whole time: the actual neckline of the dress, outlined in reflective bluish highlights.

At first I thought maybe he painted the actual neckline, then altered it to look more medieval and/or better represent Ophelia's virginal innocence for his contemporary audience. But the more I look at it, the more I wonder what that lace flounce around the top of the V&A dress would look like if it were flipped up and clinging to its sopping wet wearer. I suspect it'd look a lot like this.

So, that's that direction settled on. Too bad I hemmed and hawed just a little too long about that perfect vintage sari on eBay; I probably could even have used the choli for the bodice! Ah, well. I'll just have to look around some more. Darn. Shopping. ;-)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Ice Bucket Challenge

In which our Diva chills out in support of combating ALS and related diseases

Over five years ago (I got it wrong when I said four in the video), Spinal Muscular Atrophy took my brilliant, wacky, wonderful friend Abby away from us at the age of 33. With that in mind, I'm making "Ice Bucket" donations to both the ALSA and MDA.

The closing line of my blog post linked above was inspired by Abby's stated belief that any and all fanfics -- whether or not they had anything whatsoever to do with Stargate -- should end with the phrase "And then Teal'c took off his shirt." With that in mind, I have to think that wherever she's watching from, this is her favorite: