Saturday, December 29, 2012

Over the Misty Mountains and beyond the barricade

In which our Diva has recently spent a number of highly satisfying hours in the dark

'Tis the season for actually getting out to the cinema more often than usual, and with two highly-anticipated adaptations of things near and dear to my heart for many years, this year has been no exception.

First up was The Hobbit, which I'm not too proud to admit I've seen three times. Two of those were in the much-discussed HFR (high frame rate) format, which, while I see where those who dislike it are coming from, I'm going to have to declare myself in favor of. (Though it's interesting that it's the frame rate that's getting all the attention, when I think a lot of the look also comes from the RED-EPIC camera's extremely high resolution.) It took a little getting used to -- as I've been explaining it, my brain spent a good chunk of the prologue switching between interpreting what I was seeing as "video" or "right in front of me" before cementing a new perceptual category -- but by the time Bilbo was unexpectedly accumulating Dwarves in his dining room, I didn't find it obtrusive at all.

Much has been made of it as a vehicle for showing the sweeping vistas of New-Zealand-as-Middle-earth, but I was equally struck by how much it allows the audience to see the finest nuances of an actor's performance. And there are plenty of those to be seen in The Hobbit, from the entire ensemble. The fun part about seeing it more than once was being able to watch all the character stuff going on in the background, and there's plenty to see. Thorin looking out for his nephews, and his nephews (particularly Kili) looking to him for cues on how to behave and whether they're impressing him. Balin keeping a weather eye on his long-grown-up protege. All sorts of other things that make the huge troop of characters distinctive and memorable.

Speaking of capturing performances, of course, Andy Serkis' time covered in little dots was tremendously well spent as always. Without detracting from the tremendous technical and, yes, artistic skill of the team who put Gollum's image on the screen, it's been great over the past several years to see that people understand that their work isn't replacing the actor -- as some doomsayers were predicting for a while there -- but providing a new way to change his appearance, as the artistry of costume designers and makeup artists has done for centuries before them. The technical advances made since the Lord of the Rings trilogy a decade ago have been entirely in the service of all the more faithfully showing us his work, with greater capacity to capture nuances of expression like the movement of tiny muscles around his eyes. Anyone who tries to tell you what he does -- and what we see -- isn't acting? Has no idea what they're talking about.

And yeah, New Zealand is pretty too, and the production design is as gorgeous as ever. Impressive production values don't make a movie good, but they also don't prevent it from having heart, and there's plenty here. The seven-year-old kid who loved the book, and who went on to plunge into the rest when her reading level would allow it, has grown up very happy with what this team has created on screen.

If the adventures of the Company of Thorin had me grinning at the screen for the better part of (three times) three hours, I was just as happy to spend a similar stretch of time mostly crying my eyes out. Though, after some 25 years of familiarity with Les Miserables, I really should have known better than to go with only two measly kleenex in my purse! I ended up clutching a useless sodden ball by the time the barricade was going up. Oops.

A good chunk of that is down to Anne Hathaway's absolutely heartrending Fantine, though again, I was happy with all the performances. I have a quibble here and there with voices, despite having accepted years ago that movie-musical singing is different from musical theatre singing in much the way movie acting is different from theatre acting. And, in much the same way, it's evolving to keep pace with technical developments and audience tastes. But all the characters were right there, newly vivid in many ways as they were illuminated by the perspective of film and the tweaks to the text. Closeups and angles provide opportunties for minor characters -- notably little Eponine and several of the students -- to shine in non-verbal moments that might go unnoticed on stage.

I could go on and on, but the bottom line is, it's amazing, they did an amazing job. Not that there was anything wrong with my faith in the future of the movie musical, but I still feel really really good about it now.

I know these are both HUGE movies that don't need any help from me. But sometimes the blockbusters really do have the heart and the art. And this is my blog, and it's the holidays, and I felt like gushing about movies that make me happy.

I hope you're finding things this holiday season that make you happy too.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Overheard at Dunsinane

In which our Diva presents further proof that the higher the body count onstage, the greater the silliness backstage

The Official Macbeth Quote List
GreenMan Theatre Troupe, Fall 2012

Wait, do I come from up-up, or just up?
  -- Galinda Up-Left of the Upper Up-Lefts.

This is the most action I've had all year.
  -- I know.

And she's really a woman?
  -- She's really a woman.
  -- And what is he?
  --  He's a man.

 I'm going to start with lechery.

It sets him on... and it takes him off. There's a child there. I'm sorry.

But I requitted it.
  -- Requited.
  -- Requited... did that too, I believe.

I wanna see that manly readiness.
  -- Come out into the hall.

Uncle Ross! Where are you going? I thought you were staying a week and taking us to Great America!
  -- Great Scotland.
  -- Six Flags Edinburgh.

Nothing like a good bloodcurdling scream.
  -- I don't think I've ever done one of those.

He will teach you how to fall so you don't hurt yourself. Because you've just been stabbed. I'm sorry.

Home fry of treachery!

I feel like I should have a weapon. Even though I don't fight.
  -- You're so violent.
  -- It might make me feel more manly.
  -- So would a sock in your pants.

He's impressed everyone into this army.
  -- Except me. I'm off topping myself.

Macduff was from his mother's womb untimely ripped!
  -- Well, here's a howdy-do.

His k-nell is k-nolled.
  -- Ooh, cannoli?

Three waitresses for the gruel.
  -- It's good stuff.

You're smiling. You're happy. You're king.

I lost one of our children. We have a son/daughter. I'm not sure.

Say goodbye to your chickens.
  -- They're McNuggets, man. Colonel's gonna be happy tonight.

Come be my adopted child. Look, husband, we have another one!
  -- Yes!

You have a throne here, so at some point in this speech you want to sit and... be king.

Good job, honey! Way to get him!
  -- A ghost!

And you're free to paint your story out here. "And you were there! And you were there! It's good to be back in Kansas!"

Thou mayest revenge. Oh. Ohhhh.
  -- Come over here so I can kill you.

Aaaand, fight-fight-fight, fight-fight-fight, die-die-die.

Let me play you the saddest song on the most brutal violin ever.

Last night you were a bench, and tonight Ryan is a chair.

How do you say that to a lady? "Spread your legs a little bit more."

So I hope you've been practicing a good yell. A war cry.
  -- Well, I couldn't on the train.

And remember they make great gifts.
  -- Nothing says "I love you" like a t-shirt from a murder.

If not for the fact that you cut your fingers off when you cut his throat.
  -- Thou'rt the best o' the cutthroats.
  -- Was't not the way?

Knock, knock, never at quiet! Never at quiet. But don't tell me.

So do I go this way to protect them? I want to save my children, but I don't know how.

We hear the scream, beat, and then we see Jimmy.
  -- I can remember that.

Did everyone get their picture taken who wants to?
  -- It's a choice?
  -- Just use a picture of Hugh Jackman for mine.

Ah! That's why you're a bad mother!

The witches will see you now.
  -- Now I'm picturing her like a 50s secretary. "Mistah Macbeth!"

And with my sword I'll prove the lie thou speak'st!
 -- You should probably get a sword.
  -- Macbeth's planning to use the Force.

Poof! And I drop gold coins.

God save the king!
  -- Thank you.

The other attendant went off with the bloody captain, so he cannot be a head-bearer.

Why don't you take the staff and "Hail Macbeth!"
  -- Better stand back, Macbeth. She'll take you out early.

Worthy MacDeath!

He wants the natural touch. He lacks... He's a lousy father.
  -- What? How dare you blaspheme me!

She gets warned twice, and she still doesn't get it.
  -- It's the thought that counts.
  -- I get like a ten-second warning!

He's your favoritest uncle.
  -- He's her only uncle.
  -- That too.

Whither should I fly? I have done no harm.
  -- Aaaahhh!!
  -- Not yet.

I'm just dying to do the scene.
  -- Don't say "dying" about this scene.

Are we eating worms? Om-nom-nom.
  -- I don't like worms. I realize they have a lot of protein, but I don't like worms.

Double, double, toil and trouble! Fire burn and cauldron bubble!
 -- [from corridor] Arooooooo!

Let's take it from that finger.
  -- That finger?
  -- Give him the finger, Grace!

And when he says "horrible sight"... You say "horrible sight," right?
  -- We can only hope.

Good. Excellent. I wanted to point that out right when it happened.
  -- Now I'll never say it like that again.

Witches, try not to get in the way of a sword. Fighters, try not to get in the way of a witch.

And all my children?
  -- They were well on the Red Line when I did see 'em.

I want to start with Act V Scene II, which is when the rebels start to assemble.
  -- You mean the liberators of Scotland.

The cry of women, plural. I scream, you scream.
  -- We all scream for dead queen.

That's all right. They'll remember the porter. That's all I care about.

Let's take it from the bad news.
  -- Your pizza will be delivered late.

That speech soars with the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. To quote NBC Wide World of Sports.
  -- In the 70s.

Hey, there's a question. Do I get my own thumb?
  -- We have a thumb. Well, we have four fingers.
  -- Set your thumb in your costume.

The Bears are winning 10-7, if anyone cares.
  -- Oh, you are good.
  -- I'm a full-service AD.

Oh, look at the time. Ding! *heads offstage*

Let's try that one more time, much slower.
  -- All of us?
  -- Well, one of you can't go slow and the rest go full speed.

He's going to go quite a way away from you, and it'll look closer to the audience.
  -- It looks pretty close to me too.

Oh shlave!
  -- Shlave?
  -- Yiddish Macbeth.

He's only mostly dead.
  -- Flllllyyyyyyy gooood Fllleeeaaaaaance...

Oh, the Duncan murder. We just had a murder.
  -- I know! I just can't get enough murder.

I thought he was over there.
  -- No.
  -- I don't know. I've been drinking all night.

Whatever it takes to make you look as good as the rest of us.
  -- How much time have you got?

It is a peerless kinsman.
  -- That's right, I am.

Oops. I just stabbed the ground.

I thought it was Steve.
 -- Uh, Steve Two.
  -- Paging Steve Two.

Let's put the sword in his crotch, shall we?
  -- That's a great plan.

Wow, it looks just like Carl!
  -- You are currently a coconut pirate head.

And his fiend lite queen! 
-- I'm not a fiend. I'm just fiend lite.
  -- She's just misunderstood.
  -- That's right.

Bless you, fair maid. Fair maid?
  -- Not with two kids, she ain't.

I'm going to find a drink of water somewhere. All that killing has made me thirsty.

She's the old witch. I'm trying to make goo-goo eyes at him.
  -- Grace is playing hard to get. Would you like a fan for this?

And all together on that "seek." He suddenly becomes radioactive.
  -- Evil king cooties!

Thy royal father was a most sainted queen. Blah. He's a cross-dresser.
  -- Scotland was a wacky place.

You don't necessarily want to hurt him, but...
  -- I do want to hurt him.
  -- Well, okay.
  -- Character choice made.

I can teach you a little bit to do with the wooden swords.
  -- As long as you don't kill Mommy.
  -- Or each other.
  -- Oh, I don't care about that.

You look like the Grim Reaper. It's a good look for you.

Can we hear your scream back there?
  -- There's no way he caught us. We are fast.

I thought we were doing half speed, is all.
  -- Oh, that is half speed.

Oh, yeah. This is where you punch me in the face.

And now this is where you say your line.
  -- Yo' momma!
  -- I don't think that's the line.

The attendant holds it in case the king needs it.
  -- Yeah, so if we get attacked, you take the sword and --
  -- Run like hell.

We have about 20 minutes to slice off of Act I. And you have the swords to do it.

My children are interchangeable. That's why I had two.

There's a head in there. I'm not going in there. It's too creepy.

You're scaring the witches. That's a good thing.

Your son, my lord, is a little strange.

If we end it there, Macbeth wins. He's crazy, but he wins.

Root of hemlock digg'd in the dark. Sorry, that creeped me out.

Flash of lightning! Sparks fly! It must be a witch's curse!
  -- Amazing special effects!
  -- And then no lights.
  -- Yeah, those aren't the effects we want.

I like killing Ryan too. That's just funny.

You can clean up your own blood!

From where all the dead bodies are. Can I have my dead bodies, please?
  -- Do you want us to lie down?
  -- Yes.

Think of THIS, good friends, but as a thing of custom. I'll check the other line later.

I have a cold, so we can hug.
  -- I probably gave it to you. Sorry.

Because your mother sewed a label right on the hilt that says "Murderer #1."

Come in, without there! *beat* Really, come in, without there!
  -- These doors are thick, my lord.

How convenient! A head-pole holder!

And now we drink all the beers.
  -- I have almost forgot the taste of beers.

Look! It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's Stan in a cape.

I'm just going to stab Carl in our fight. Be like, "Yo, Duff! I got him!"

Anybody got any mending they need done?
  -- At home.

Sorry. I got entangled in a fertility cult.

Buckets of blood, no waiting!

He is a murderer, after all.
  -- Yeah, I'm gonna murder your whole family in a little while.
  -- That's rude.
  -- There's a recession on. He needs the money.

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

Friday, November 2, 2012

Endings and Beginnings

In which our Diva has two of one and one of the other

Ending the First: Final weekend of Macbeth at GreenMan Theatre Troupe! I couldn't have asked for a more amazing experience playing That Scottish Lady, thanks to director David Soria, my marvelous Mackers Carl Zeitler, and too many more people to list even though each and every one of them is thirty-one flavors of awesome. If you're planning to come out this weekend (and I hope you are!), a little box-office birdie tells me Saturday night in particular is filling up, and reservations are recommended for any of the three remaining performances.

Ending the Second: Also in the category of Awesome People I'm Glad To Have Met is the ever-affable Andy, host of the Being Human Cast podcast. I met Andy when we were both on the Being Human discussion panel at Dragon*Con 2010, and have had the privilege of babbling nigh-endlessly about that remarkable example of TV storytelling as guest host on several episodes of the podcast. After some soul-searching, Andy made the tough decision to close the podcast's three-year run with Episode 38, and kindly invited me to join him in a wrap-up discussion of the end of Series 3 and an overview of Series 4. We examine the resolution of Mitchell's tragic arc; take a moment to bid farewell to Daisy, my favorite free-spirited vampire and occasional cosplay alter-ego; give Nina, George, and Annie some well-deserved love; and spend a bit of time pondering where things are going with the newest denizens of Honolulu Heights. If you're a Being Human fan, give it a listen, and let us know what you think!

And a beginning! The moment I get home from post-closing festivities for Macbeth, I'll be packing my set bag to start filming Witchfinder the very next day. After all the detailed prep work, it's finally time for the dark historical world the crew have been building to come alive. I'll bet even my stunt double over there is looking forward to it, and she can't even stand up without a little help from production designer Arianne Clarke and costume designer Alisha Tyler! What a dummy...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

An exercise in absurdity

In which our Diva should have known it couldn't possibly be that simple

I should have sent off my entry to the Pre-Raphaelite Society's poetry contest well before today, since I'm now crossing my fingers that it will arrive by the October 31 deadline, but, well, no room in the brain for non-Macbeth things. (I still keep wanting to say that name WITH GREAT DRAMA, Geoffrey Tennant style, but I could never possibly give it quite the flair Paul Gross does.)

Regardless, I expected to make a quick stop at the post office to buy an international money order for the £1.50 entry fee ($2.40 at today's exchange rate) and a 95-cent stamp, drop the letter in the mailbox, and be done with it.

Instead, I discovered that, although I am absolutely positive I remember buying at least one UK-bound money order from the USPS and/or Western Union some 10-12 years ago (before online transactions became the norm for such things), the lady at the post office looked over the available list on her computer several times (and looked under UK, Great Britain and England), then called her supervisor over to confirm that no, they couldn't sell me a money order that could be cashed in the UK. Practically anywhere else (including the British Virgin Islands!), but not jolly old England.

At the Meijer customer service counter (which includes both USPS and Western Union services) the girl couldn't even figure out what I was talking about, and her supervisor (with what I'm fairly certain was a Swedish accent) regretfully confirmed that no, they couldn't help me.

The bank, as is to be expected in this age of electronic everything, was deserted but for half a dozen employees who gathered around trying to think of a way to solve the problem that wouldn't involve a $40 fee for an international draft. They didn't manage it, but I got the feeling it was the most excitement they had all day.

In the end, I pulled £1.50 in coins from the leftovers of last year's trip (having exchanged my remaining paper money at the airport but forgotten the change), taped them to a card, and put everything into a small padded envelope to make it less obvious. Halfway to the (different) post office, I realized that this meant it was now a package and would require a customs declaration. The very sympathetic postal clerk shook her head at my account of the afternoon up to that point, then asked if I had tried a currency exchange. *headdesk* D'oh! Of course not. And it was a little late to think of it now. But it'll definitely be what I try next time.

If I were feeling cleverer, and didn't need to render my house something resembling hygienic ahead of my parents' arrival tomorrow, I would have attempted to render this tale in the style of Lizzie's letter from Nice. It would only be appropriate, after all. Plus ├ža change...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Yet here's a spot

In which our Diva has discovered a fun new toy

If you've been around this blog for a while, you know I like to create character-inspired playlists to listen to during the process of a show or film. I've played around with various ways to share them here, but somebody finally came up with one where you can upload whatever you want for listeners to stream, and not worry about whether all my more obscure stuff is in a given service's library. Yay!

(And once you're done streaming, perchance you will go and buy a track or three to have for your very own. Because supporting artists is awesome.)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Screw your courage to the sticking place

In which our Diva's near future includes a lot of handwashing

LADY. MAC. BETH. Really, what else is there to say? *happy actor dance*

GreenMan Theatre Troupe, October 19-November 4, 2012. All the details can be found here.

With rehearsals already underway, I'm happily up to my eyebrows in text and character and all those wonderful Shakespearey things. We have a fantastic cast, with a terrific director, and the show is going to be one not to miss.

I've been involved in three previous productions of the play (including one as director), and have joked for years that I've played practically everyone in it but Lady M. Guess I'll have to find a new joke! Which probably won't be difficult; it's a pretty dependable truism that the higher the body count onstage, the more silliness is generated backstage. ;-)

Hope to see you there!

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Year And A Day

In which our Diva has recorded a few more poems, and made a pretty video to go with one

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Voicing the Vespers

In which our Diva has the title role, in a manner of speaking

Check out the amazing-looking first trailer for this unique SF feature, independently produced entirely in Chicagoland with all local creative staff, talent, and crew.

I was initially brought on board to do just the opening narration, but the gig evolved into a little bit more. Can't say more until the movie is out, but I'm excited to see/hear how it all came together!

Be sure to check out the offical site, like Voice of the Vespers on Facebook, or follow the production on Twitter to learn more!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Witches and Roses

In which our Diva has been keeping out of trouble. Or maybe getting into more. She isn't sure.

There's a wealth of creativity and boundary-pushing at the lowest-budget end of the indie film world, but with all the challenges inherent in making something out of practically nothing, the visual textures of fantasy and history, as a rule, are left to those with ample resources to create them.

Every rule was made to be broken. :-)

I'm over the moon to have two examples in my acting life right now. One is a brand-new project, Colin Clarke's Witchfinder, in which I'll be playing the titular witch. (Say that ten times fast! Or maybe not.) Principal photography will take place in November, and in the meantime Colin and his team are hard at work creating the gritty period details that will make this look like no other horror short I've seen. I've already been involved in one rehearsal -- we have limited time in historic locations, so the aim is to eliminate as many unforeseen variables as possible before then -- as well as had my whole body encased in duct tape for top-secret FX purposes and had a first costume fitting. It's going to be an amazing process, and I couldn't be more excited to be in the thick of it.

The other, of course, is the dark fantasy fairy-tale update Rose White, which you've been hearing about since I filmed my scenes last spring and summer. The official theatrical trailer has just been released, and is gobsmackingly gorgeous.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Boy Who Looked Suspicious

In which our Diva's life imitates art imitating life

Yesterday I had the privilege of watching this brilliant young actor share a scene with veteran powerhouse Kelsey Grammer.

Rotimi Akinosho is a soft-spoken, engaging young man who's "still getting used to" being recognized on the street. As extras, anyone who wants to keep working knows to respect the actors' space and working process, and it's understood that we leave them alone unless they address us. Sometimes that's an awkward dance, like during yesterday's rain-enforced downtime, when twenty extras were instructed to gather in a building entryway where Rotimi's chair had been placed in the corner. He could have retreated farther into the building, but instead chatted with extras about his experience of the neighborhoods of Chicago, his college days at Northwestern, and how blessed he is in this role at the start of his career.

A couple weeks ago, I tweeted about looking forward to the impending return of Boss for a second season of production in Chicago, and was surprised by a reply from Rotimi -- who I hadn't even known was on Twitter -- that he was looking forward to being back too. Yesterday, between takes, he shook my hand and told me it was nice to meet me in person. He's down-to-earth, smart, and incredibly talented, and I look forward to watching him grow and continue to succeed.

At one point, the scene called for Rotimi to pull up his hood as he walked away, a perfectly sensible action on a rainy day.

And as this slight, baby-faced figure in the hoodie walked by, my stomach lurched. Because on another street, on another rainy day, unprotected by the bustle of a television crew and security detail, another bright young man's promising future was extinguished by a bullet.

As I drove home last night, there was another lurch, as a BBC World Service anchor quoted President Obama saying that if he had a son, he would look like this. The media and public discussion swirling around the Trayvon Martin tragedy is grappling with a dozen complicated and interlocking demons of the American social psyche, which will take months if not years to untangle and properly name, let alone really address. Many are how-could-this-happen?? shocked, while others are bitterly unsurprised, only heartbroken that it cost this teenage boy's life for the world to even begin to notice the minefield their children face every day.

In early coverage of the case, we were told George Zimmerman had stated that he thought Trayvon was "suspicious" because he was walking slowly in the rain with his hood pulled up. Earlier this week, I had to wonder what was going through the head of Zimmerman's attorney when he let his client publicly assert that this beanpole kid, armed with nothing more deadly than sugar and caffeine, attacked a stranger with ten years and a hundred pounds on him. Where on earth that line of defense is leading, only time will tell, but one thing is certain: They're banking on the justice system to believe it, and not without reason.

Black male in a hoodie. In any movie, TV show, or even advertisement, it's shorthand for shady dealings, gangs, drugs, violence. Even in a sophisticated context designed to subvert or deconstruct the trope, it works because the trope is already there. And where pop-culture images go, public perception follows. A casually dressed black guy can never be just a casually dressed guy.

On Wednesday, a grass-roots "Million Hoodie March" took shape in street demonstrations and online solidarity. One of those posting a picture for the latter was Elon James White, creator of the satirical webseries This Week in Blackness. As he recounts on Tumblr, this resulted in a commenter objecting that "This is a thug in a hoodie" and that it confused the message. The photo, of course, is of White himself, and you can see at the link above how the dialogue played out. And you can bet the farm that the commenter -- who did not back down from their original position -- would have said no such thing about an image of a thirtysomething white guy wearing the same casual outfit, facial hair, and appropriately sober expression.

On Boss, Rotimi's character, Darius, is by no means an upstanding innocent. Neither is he simply a "thug," though it would be easy at a glance to label him as such and write him off. There's a reason we first met him as the worried caretaker of an elderly uncle. Boss is a grim show, committed to throwing a harsh light on the worse angels of our nature behind the gloss of political maneuvering, rife with racial tensions and moral corner-cutting. I have to admit it's not something I'd regularly watch on its own considerable merits, if it weren't the proud flagship drama of Chicago's growing TV industry, produced entirely here and well stocked with local talent and crew. It's a little too grim for my taste, but I'm still glad it's here.

And when I watch the scene we shot yesterday, I'll be thinking about that hoodie, and what the costume designer knows perfectly well it symbolizes. And watching for how the visual code plays out, for Darius, and for Rotimi, and for a nation of young men with their lives ahead of them.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The stuff of fairy tales

Still a zillion things going on, and my brain is too busy to organize them into a post that makes sense, but I just had to share this bit of gorgeousness.

There's been a flurry of activity on the Rose White publicity front this week, leading up to the trailer expected to be released in the next few weeks.  I've seen a rough cut of the film, and couldn't be more excited to be part of it. I really think it stands out as unique in the current indie film landscape, and have high hopes that it will take the festival circuit by storm. Even better, it comes from a savvy team who know that it's not enough to just make a great film -- you have to get eye-catching suppport materials out there and spread the word too.

Enter Dennis Willman of Iron Dead Studios, who's created this amazing poster in the best fantasy-movie tradition. Just blown away.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

And this is only earth, my dear

In which our Diva pauses to remember

One hundred fifty years ago today, Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal Rossetti died of a laudanum overdose at the age of 32.

I had grand ambitions to finish writing Unvarnished, the one-woman show about her I first conceived nearly a decade ago, in time to be well on the way to production on this date, if not actually up and running. And, well, that hasn't happened for a variety of reasons, chief among them being that I'm both a busy actor and an unreliable writer. :-)

If finances and other obligations were kinder, I'd be in London right now, sharing the day with other admirers drawn by the memorial events scheduled at Highgate Cemetery with the participation of Jan Marsh and Lucinda Hawksley, two of the primary authors whose work has kept Lizzie's work and story alive in the public consciousness. I had the good fortune to meet the down-to-earth and gracious Lucinda for coffee on a whirlwind day in London last February. (So whirlwind, in fact, that I was appallingly late for our agreed-upon time, but she was very kind about it despite her own busy schedule).

Earlier that day, with just an hour or so to visit the Tate Britain, I made the decision to spend essentially all of that time in the "Key Works From the Historic Collection" room, whose far end is home to a concentration of the Pre-Raphaelite favorites that have accumulated on my bookshelf for two decades. After giving each painting a few minutes' close examination, and chatting for a few minutes with the lovely middle-aged lady who was kind enough to take a snapshot of me with Ophelia, I took a seat on a nearby bench and scribbled a dozen-plus journal pages of observations, not so much on the paintings themselves, but on the way people approached and interacted with them. And, of course, specifically with Ophelia, so famous, and such a magnet for adolescent girls in particular. I heard a pair of friends, perhaps twelve or thirteen, chattering their way down the long room behind me, grow hushed and suddenly serious as they approached.

It's a modestly-sized work, placed a bit to the side in the composition of a wall dominated by Burne-Jones' King Cophetua and the Beggar-Maid, which I had somehow never processed was quite that enormous. But nobody misses it.

I sat there for about half an hour, and at one point my journal scribbling became a poem, something I've dabbled in but never been at all serious about. I don't know whether I'll end up using it somehow in Unvarnished. I don't really see how, as it doesn't mesh in style with Lizzie's own poetry, or that of her contemporaries, that I'm weaving into my text. So maybe here is where it belongs...

                               22 Feb 2011
                               Tate Britain
Like Snow White in her glass coffin
I am encased safely behind a pane
A window into our mad bewildering
                    idealistic youth
They walk past me, speaking in
                    reverent tones, as if in church
Or in a graveyard
This is more my monument than that
                   stone at Highgate, where I lie
Among those who share my name
                   by marriage
But who never quite wished
                   to share that name
                   with me.
There I am difficult to find, more
                  difficult to reach
You must know where to look
                  and whom to ask
                  and hope it is not one of
                  those who guard me so
                  closely from those who seek
                  me there
Here, behind the glass, my colours
                  are undimmed
My face as fresh as they told
                 Gabriel it was when they
                  brought me up from
                  the earth
A pretty lie to assuage his
                  guilt, his turmoil
                  at recovering that
                  which he should never have
                  given me at all
                  I had no need of them
On a dark night in Highgate
The tale of my uncorrupted state
                  was a lie
Here it is the truth.
What you seek is this
The girl in the water
She's easy to find
She hangs on the line
Wouldn't Mr Millais have
                   been pleased by that?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It's January, but no molasses here!

In which our Diva has a few irons in the fire

Who says things slow down in winter? Not the Chicagoland indie film community! Just updated my website with deets on upcoming projects, including The Dragon's Alley, a sci-fi webseries slated to premiere on February 9. Details are under pretty close wraps until then, but I can tell you I play an alien weapons expert named Tchind Vifge (say that ten times fast!), and I'm having a blast with its old-school Flash Gordon sort of vibe. I'm only in one scene in the first batch of five webisodes, but don't worry, there's more to come!

After that, I have three horror shorts of varying flavors lined up all in a row: Words Like Knives, Trapped, and The Hazed.

Plus, of course, still determined to finish writing Unvarnished, as well as regrouping a bit on the Chicago Resonance storyline. No rest for the wicked!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Upon reflection

In which our Diva has been missing the obvious

If you've been around this blog a while, you might remember me mentioning that the whole Lizzie Siddal thing started for me with her self-portrait. It's been a solid twenty years now, but I still vividly recall flipping through Jan Marsh's Pre-Raphaelite Women in the bookstore at Okemos Mall (a relatively convenient bus ride from my Michigan State dorm) and stopping short at this image with a near-physical shock of something very like recognition.

Over the years, I've pondered where that reaction came from. It's not that I actually think she looked that much like me (though it's also not hard to figure out how a pale, skinny, redheaded dreamer promptly developed an enduring fascination for her). It's the expression that reached out and grabbed me, eloquent of concentration and minute examination.

Lizzie painted herself... painting herself. Studying, perhaps even criticizing. Descriptions of the portrait -- just nine inches in diameter, and Lizzie's first and most successful known work in oil -- usually contrast its directness with the downcast gazes and romantic glamor of Rossetti's many portraits of her. It's part of the reason my work-in-progress finally acquired the title Unvarnished.

The easy conclusion to draw is that Rossetti (and, perhaps to a lesser extent, the other artists she sat for) projected a particular image onto her, and there's a lot to be said for that conclusion (hey, look, it's another Beatrice, and another, and Gabriel, honey, this is becoming an issue), but it doesn't necessarily follow that she painted The Truth in counterpoint to his romantic embellishment.

In fact, as occurred to me in a headsmacking moment the other day, it wasn't physically possible for her to do so. Which I knew, of course, but I hadn't quite thought through the implications this way before.

Like any self-portrait prior to the ascendance of photography (and, I expect, a good many even today), it's not a portrait of Lizzie as anyone else saw her. It's a portrait of her reflection. Which is not the same thing at all. But it's the reflection that spoke to me on that glossy page all those years ago. Sure, I could stare at Ophelia or Beata Beatrix all day, but that modest little circle still pins me like nothing else. I wonder if she ever held the portrait up to a mirror (as simulated here through the magic of Photoshop)? Did it shed any light on the connection between her "unvarnished" self and what others saw?

This train of thought brings to mind this blog post I read a year and a half ago, in which Cleolinda (who writes the sidesplittingly funny "Movies in Fifteen Minutes" recaps as well as the best good-natured skewering of Twilight you will ever encounter) states, quite clearly and cogently, what should be obvious but isn't necessarily, about what we see in the mirror vs. what everyone else sees.

And that's just in the purely physical sense, before you get into the mindgames we play with ourselves. And oh, do we play them. My own relationship with the mirror remains largely that of a dancer -- it's a tool for finding faults, but also for fixing them, and most of all for practicing and adjusting what I show to the world. I get along much better with my reflection than with most photos of me (which is probably why Cleo's post stuck with me), but still... Well, there's a reason that searching, critical look in Lizzie's eyes is so very, very familiar.

It's funny that, as Kirsty Stonell Walker pointed out in a post a few months back over at The Kissed Mouth, there's a metric truckload of Victorian art assuming women's relationship with the mirror to be all about vanity. But I'm inclined to think that then, as now, it was a whole lot more complicated than "Oh, look at how pretty I am!"  I can't help but imagine that within each painting where the viewer sees a glamorous nymph admiring herself, the nymph herself sees something a bit more stark looking back at her.

Jane Eyre painted Blanche Ingram as imagined perfection, on ivory with her finest pigments, before ever meeting her in person -- and depicted herself on plain paper with every flaw laid bare. All those dudes painting the girls in love with their mirrors should have checked with Miss Bronte or Miss Siddal for the real score.

(And on that note, back to my reflection of Lizzie, coming soon to a stage near you. Just as soon as it has a whole script. I'm getting there. This thought process is distilling its way in as we speak...)