Kids’ Play

There’s nothing like the annual Christmas play in elementary school.  Today I got to watch a practice.  How marvelous to see children be children.  I tried to imagine adults doing all the cool stuff I witnessed.  Sometimes the imagining was a stretch.

One young lady has perfected “Bah humbug!”  It wasn’t just her face, which was a contorted mask of fury.  Her whole body got into the act, crouching down in a spasm of scowl.  I just had to applaud.  Sure wouldn’t want to meet her in a dark alley.

Three elves, two girls and a boy, were doing their conversational thing.  The fellow kept extending his ball of greenery towards the nearest girl.  Mistletoe!  She cringed and backed away from him, fending off the offending amour with her arms.  Then he did it again … and so did she!  Ahh, the battle of the sexes.

And soon there were grandma and grandpa, expecting holiday mail.  At the end of the scene, the darling couple exited the stage with their twin canes, slow and bent over as I hope I never am.  (Good luck on that, Bruce)  How strange to see 10-year-olds hobbling along in pain.  My brain just couldn’t make sense of it.  Good acting.

Next was the mailman, striding onto a long white box which doubled as a slippery sidewalk.  Down she went in a heap, slip-sliding away.  Letters and presents tumbled every whichway.  Pure slapstick fun.

Also, what would a Christmas play be without reindeer?  Eight of them lined up on the box, with antler heads proudly displayed.  Arms were flying in the air and mouths bellowed the good and bad.  What a motley crew … and immensely lovable too.  You should have seen them all hopping off at the end.

My favourite moment was when a young girl was pleading with someone  – I think the mailman.  Hands in prayer position … imploring, begging.  So good.  Soon to be followed by another girl, crying her eyes out, in the best tradition of drama.  Angst always gets me.

I smiled a lot
I clapped
And I wished that more than a few of those kids were mine
Maybe next lifetime

Matilda

On Wednesday, I came to Toronto to see Matilda: The Musical.  Weeks earlier, when I started volunteering in the Grade 6 class at South Dorchester School near Belmont, Tiffany asked me to read a chapter from the novel the kids were studying – Matilda.  Never heard of it.  But I like reading aloud, so off I went into the world of a five-year-old child, her lovely teacher Miss Honey, her wretched parents the Wormwoods (who didn’t give a whit about her), and the ominous Miss Trunchbull, a thoroughly evil principal.

I really got into the various voices.  One day, when the Trunchbull told a kid to “Shut up!”, I really yelled it.  Oops.  Not a few children leaned back in their chairs.

I went to Toronto a few weeks ago, was walking along Bloor St., and glanced up at a banner hanging from a lamppost.  “Matilda: The Musical” it announced.  Minutes later, with the wonders of technology, I had myself a ticket.

The kids at South Dorchester knew I was taking in the drama, the singing and the dancing this week.  Tiffany asked me to send a photo once I had arrived at the theatre.  “Sure,” I replied, not totally sure how to do that on my phone.  But Tiffany coached me and I left town with marginal confidence.

The performance was to start at 1:30.  I arrived around 1:00 and snapped a pic of folks lined up under the marquee.  Eager faces.  As I stood there I realized that the Ed Mirvish Theatre was formerly called the Pantages, where many years ago Jody surprised me with tickets to Phantom of the Opera.  My dear wife.  I remember the grand staircase (similar to the Titanic’s) and being ushered down, down until we were seated only six rows from the stage.

I took two more photos before the show, both in the spectacular lobby.  One was a selfie, showing a beaming face with a “Matilda” sign in the wee background.  Now for some words and my text would float over the miles to the Grade 6’s.

Hi Tiffany and all you kids,

Would you believe that Miss Trunchbull roared up to me in the lobby and screamed “You filthy little maggot!”?  Gosh, and she hardly knows me.

Have fun,

Mr. Kerr/Bruce

Tiffany texted back, saying that the kids had questions about the Trunchbull and that they liked the photos.  Cool.

The musical got going and we saw Mr. Wormwood as an immoral used car salesman, skilled in turning back odometers, and the Missus as a TV addict who lusted for her Spanish dance instructor.  Baaad people.  And dear Matilda was just a book-loving “thing” who wouldn’t go along with proper TV gazing values.

Then there was school.  Miss Honey was a lovely human being with a glorious voice.  Miss Trunchbull was almost as wide as she was tall and spewed venom wherever she went.  (It turns out the actor was male!  Didn’t matter.  He did a great job of bringing forth mean.)

One of the best scenes saw the Trunchbull grab a girl by the pigtails and swing her horizontal, just like in the book.  Actor-wise, it looked like the young one was wearing a neck brace that the old one could grab onto.

Matilda wowed the class with impossible math skills.  MIss Trunchbull led a gymnastics class with yells punctuating the jumps and rolls.  At one point, a small trampoline sat beside a padded “horse”.  The weighty principal lined herself up, lurched towards the trampoline, bounced high, flipped in the air and landed with grace on the padded surface.  Awesome!

Matilda started tipping over water glasses with her mind.  Then she caused writing to appear on the blackboard, words that suggested Miss Trunchbull had killed her brother (and Miss Honey’s father) in order to get his money.  Matilda shone onstage, especially during tender scenes with Miss Honey.  Such joy and such despair peppered throughout the musical.

At intermission, Mr. Wormwood strolled onto the stage.  I texted the South Dorchesterites:

Mr. Wormwood just came onstage at intermission and told the kids in the audience … “Don’t try this at home.”  He meant reading books!  “They make you ugly and give you head lice.”

Tiffany replied:  “They love that!”  Thanks, kids.

At the end, we favored the young actress playing Matilda with a standing O.  It was richly deserved.   I walked out of the Ed Mirvish/Pantages with a light heart.  Waydago, Matilda.  The Trunchbull had no chance against you!  And I hoped the children back in Belmont were smiling.

Letting Jake Go

Last September I auditioned for the part of Jake in the Neil Simon play Jake’s Women.  The director chose someone else.  I was sad, and that sense of woe has been a frequent visitor in the months since.  I so much wanted to be Jake.

The play is about a writer who lives in his head, working on characters and plot while largely ignoring his wife Maggie.  Jake has conversations (some imaginary and some real) with the women in his life – his current wife, former wife, daughter, sister, therapist and new girlfriend.

Jake’s Women opened a few days ago in St. Thomas, Ontario.  I went last night.  I’ve known for months that I would see the production, rather than staying away from something that represented pain.  The truth is that I love the play.  It has both funny and tender moments.

I got there early and scored a front row seat.  The set was spectacular, especially Jake’s home office at the top of the stairs.  I sat quietly for half an hour, and all sorts of thoughts came my way.  I wanted the theatre to be full (about 150 people).  I wanted the theatre to be virtually empty (How small of you, Bruce).  I wanted the actors to be great, totally inhabiting their roles.  I wanted the actors to stumble over their lines.  I wanted Jake to be superb in his happiness, sadness, anger, giddiness and love – the best Jake ever.  I wanted him to be ordinary so I could think I would have done better.

As the story unfolded, I realized that it was a first class rendition of Simon’s play.  And Jake was brilliant.  Perhaps far better than I would have been.  I enjoyed the evening immensely.

At the end, as the actors were fanned out across the stage for their bows, I stood, clapped and smiled.  They deserved the standing O.  Although I had planned to see Jake’s Women once this week and once the next, I won’t be coming back.  I am complete with Jake.  What’s in him is in me.  On we go.

Day Seventeen … Jake and Mr. Redbird

I wonder if I’m obsessed with the play Jake’s Women.  I guess the answer is yes.  Until Wednesday at 7:29 pm, I had watched Jake do his thing six times – three in Belleville, Ontario and three in London, Ontario.  I want to be Jake.  As of 7:30, however, make that seven.  I bipped down to Bellingham, Washington, just south of Vancouver, to sit in the gorgeous Mount Baker Theatre and dream of February, 2016 in St. Thomas, Ontario, when hopefully theatregoers will be watching me do my thing.

I auditioned for the part of Jake just before I left for the west.  How completely strange that I wasn’t nervous.  Before I was called into the inner sanctum, I talked to some kids in the lobby of the Princess Avenue Playhouse.  They were making puppets in a drama workshop.  One of the girls was playing Little Red Riding Hood in a few days.  Her name was Maddie.  Nice human being.

A bit later, I was ushered into a room where a man and a girl were sitting at a table.  It was Ross (the director) and … Maddie.  She was trying out for the part of Molly, Jake’s 12-year-old daughter.  Ross had us read from the script, especially scenes where Molly and I were together.  I’m sure he was watching for the chemistry between us.  No worries, Ross.  I really liked Maddie and she liked me.  At the end of the audition, Ross said that we had both done well.

Back in the lobby, I told Maddie that I hoped she gets the part, and she said the same to me.  We smiled and shook hands.  It was a great moment.

Okay, back to Wednesday.  Mount Baker was a very small theatre. The set was square and the audience inclined upwards on all sides.  Jake sometimes was just a few feet from me.  I almost jumped up and said, “I want to be Jake too!”  Somehow I restrained myself.  Jake was dynamic – sometimes tender, subtle, pissed off, and – for ten minutes or so with his new girlfriend Sheila – crazy.  I watched him like a hawk, including when other actors were speaking.  So many facial expressions.  Pauses that worked beautifully.  Real.

After the stage faded to black, I gave the actors a standing ovation.  Every single one of them deserved it.  I soon realized that I was the only person standing.  Oh well.  I stayed up.  As Jake left the stage, he smiled at me.  Jake to Jake, I do believe, but Ross may have other ideas.  We’ll see.

Since I’m essentially a conservative person, I’m going to resist with all my being the idea of showing up at the Mount Baker Theatre tomorrow night to see Jake’s Women again.  I mean, there is such a thing as too much.  Wouldn’t you agree?  (8!)

Jake was really on Day Sixteen but Mr. Redbird was definitely Day Seventeen.  I headed off to the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary to see the feathered ones.  I’d been once before, about 40 years ago, and I had this great memory of thousands of white seabirds soaring through the air, just like in a National Geographic TV show.  But it was not to be.  No clouds of moving white.  Instead, as I wandered the gravel paths, I had company … strings of Canada geese and ducks, waddling along as calm as you please.  As long as I moved slowly and predictably, they just passed me.  Some of them smiled.

At the edge of one large pond, a woman told me that there were four great blue herons sitting in a tree across the way.  I saw one on the dead branches.  But the grey of the wood soon morphed into three other splotches of bird life.  Farther away, three more herons were perched on snags.  Then a lady or gentleman swooped down near by and took up a fish-seeking position only about 25 metres from me.  (8!)

I spent some time up the observation tower, watching swallows swoop over the marshes.  That was fun.  When I got down, I saw a young woman sitting with a girl who appeared to have Down Syndrome.  The woman was holding out her hand and a red-winged blackbird was perched on it, eating seeds.  “Do you want to try?”  “Yes, thank you.”  She gave me a handful of a sunflower seed/millet mixture and I practiced being perfectly still.  Seems I know a bit about doing that.  In less than a minute, Mr. Redbird came to say hello.  Oh my.  He pecked away so industriously.  He hardly weighed anything.  And his black claws dug into my fingers just a wee bit.  Plus we made eye contact.  For at least fifteen minutes, we had good quality time.  One time, a second red one alit on my wrist.  They took turns pecking at the seeds.  Very courteous.  Only once did they have a spat, but then returned quickly to their “After you” rhythm.  Thank you, birdies.  I had a fine time.

Memorizing

As some of you know, I want to be Jake in the play Jake’s Women, which will be performed in St. Thomas, Ontario in February, 2016.  Auditions are months away.  I’ve told people that I’ve started memorizing Jake’s lines, and that’s true, but I haven’t turned a page in a month.  Time to begin again.

Many years ago, Carol, the librarian at the Port Stanley Library, challenged me to learn the poem “Twas The Night Before Christmas” in time for the kids’ talent show in December.  I showed up day after day at Sebastian’s, a cozy restaurant on Springbank Drive in London, to talk to myself creatively.  And the deed was eventually done.  Onto the stage I walked in a nightgown and night cap, holding a candle, and I told the story to the children.  “And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.”

This afternoon, I drove from home with the script beside me.  I knew that all the libraries were closed on Sunday, so where to go?  A hotel.  Good idea.  Which one?  How about the Sheraton Four Points on Wellington Road South?  Sure.  The lounge at the Four Points had been one of Jody’s and my favourites.

My early attempts at learning Jake had been weak.  I was full of negative thoughts.  “Maybe I’m too old to memorize hundreds of lines.”  A friend of mine told me of some research about meditators.  Apparently those who practice regularly can remember things more easily.  Well, that’s good, but I still wasn’t bringing my whole self to the task.

Today, I sat in an easy chair looking out at the rainy world.  I decided to order a glass of white wine.  How about a Gewurztraminer, a semi-dry variety that I used to love?  Sounds good.  Now … page one.  And guess what happened?  I wasn’t scared.  I tackled the sentences with gusto.  Cool.  I’ve seen six performances of Jake’s Women in the last six weeks – three in Belleville and three in London.  I knew the flow of the story.  I remembered Jake saying this and saying that.  Yay!

After multiple sips of chilled white goodness, I opted for food.  The menu proclaimed that French fries in garlic with bits of some fancy cheese was a winner.  And the menu was right.  There I was, the glass of wine perched on the right arm of the chair, the bowl of fries sitting on my lap, and my left hand hoisting Jake’s script.  I talked out loud between bites and slurps.  Oh, I had fun!  And I was Jake.  Wonder if the patrons halfway down the lounge thought so too?

I was getting some lines right, and some almost right, but more importantly I was on stage, at least in my mind.  And here comes page 12, where Jake speaks at length to the audience.  Power, and more power, flowed through me.  I can do this.  Who cares if I’m “old”?  I sure don’t feel it.

“That little room up there [where Jake writes] is eight by ten feet but to me it’s the world.  The universe!  You don’t get to play God … You get to be God!”

“She’s so damn stubborn and intractable – only she’s not saying it.  You wrote it!  You’re bright, witty and clever and she’s a pain in the ass.”

My free hand was gesturing.  My mouth was alternately orating and devouring.  My heart was thumping away.  No smallness here.  I’ve got stuff to say, hopefully in February, 2016.  And the words will come.

Acting – Part 3

Last night, I sat in my man chair and watched my obsession continue to unfold.  Why not find reviews of Jake’s Women on the Internet?  And it was cool.  I found all sorts of amateur productions of the play, and what the reviewers thought of each actor and actress.  Mostly, the Jake’s of this world were doing a bang-up job with the character.

I also looked on Amazon to see what books have been published about Neil Simon.  And guess what?  There’s a volume of monologues from Neil’s plays, including Jake, so I did what any skewed human would do in the circumstances – I snatched it up.  A used copy set me back $ .01 (CAD) plus $6.49 for shipping and handling.  Bargoon!

After such an achievement, I sat some more and wondered what the next expression of my fanaticism would be.  After all, I’d already bought the script and was starting to memorize Jake’s words.  How could I possibly top that?

As I continued to look for reviews, I came upon the official site of Samuel French, the publisher of Neil’s plays.  There was a long list of his creations.  I clicked Jake’s Women and up came a map of North America, with seven green, upside down teardrops scattered over the surface.  It took me a few seconds to absorb what I was looking at … places where the play was being performed, or would be soon.

I know my Great Lakes, and towards the easterly end of Lake Ontario, on the north shore, was a little green blob.  I stared, and then clicked … The Pinnacle Playhouse in Belleville, Ontario; April 7-25, 2015.  Belleville is a city of 50,000 souls, two hours east of Toronto.  And I’m only 2 1/2 hours west of T.O.

Do it!

Do what?

It!

On to the site of the Belleville Theatre Guild.  I could see the evening performance on Thursday, April 23.  I could take the train.  I could find a B&B.

“Well, you can’t just go for one night.  See Friday’s production too!”

“Isn’t that a bit excessive?”

“No, excessive would be watching Saturday’s finale as well.”

“You’re crazy!”

“Thank you.”

“Okay, I’ll do it.”

You’ll be happy to know that I have done it, sitting in the front row each evening – seats A3, A12 and A9 (that one right in the middle).  I get to study Jake, Julie, Maggie, Molly (ages 12 and 21), Karen, Edith and Sheila … up close and personal.

I leave on VIA Rail from London at 11:00 am on Thursday, April 23 and arrive in Belleville at 5:00 pm, giving me lots of time to detrain (15 minutes), walk to the Place Victoria Place Bed and Breakfast (30 minutes), drop my stuff (15 minutes), walk downtown (20 minutes), eat at a groovy restaurant (60 minutes) and stroll over to the Pinnacle Playhouse like I own the place, all set for the 8:00 pm curtain.

Oh, what a good boy am I!

Daytime on Friday – move and groove in Belleville.  Same for Saturday.  Lots of parks, riverside walks and funky stores to explore.  Benches to sit on as I pour over Neil’s script.  Thoughts to roam in and out of my lovely head.

A leisurely Sunday morning leads naturally to a rendezvous with a train at 3:25 pm.  Gaze out at lots of Ontario from my window seat.  Back in London at 9:00 pm and home in my trundle by 10:00.  A perfectly sane way to spend four days, I’d say.

I wonder what the actors will think when they see me front and centre three nights in a row?  “He must really like the play.”

Indeed I do

Acting – Part 2

Lesley is the woman who’s leading the beginning actors workshop on March 21.  She mentioned how scared most people are to get on stage.  They’ll start off with set building or being a backstage hand.  Hmm.  Not me.  I told her I want to act.

The workshop will include the opportunity to throw a teenaged tantrum.  Yes!  I can do that.  In real life, I have very little antagonism left in me, but socking it to my parents for pretend sounds like so much fun.

Decades ago, I took a personal development course in Vancouver.  One of the exercises was to share these words with another participant:

Don’t you ever … ever … ever … let me catch you
Brushing that dog’s teeth
With my toothbrush!

Back then, in my 30’s, I struggled.  I had learned to be polite, “nice”.  Before I got to the point of really blasting my partner, the instructor sure blasted me.  “C’mon, Bruce.  Give me all you’ve got!”  What an adventure.  So I’m definitely looking forward to telling mom and dad where to go.

I’m drawn to the third play of next season’s playbill at the Princess Avenue Playhouse – Jake’s Women.  The cast is one guy and seven girls.  The small voice inside says “What chance do you have to get the one and only male part?  You haven’t acted for 39 years.”  But there’s another speaker who wants me to go for it.  Here’s a synopsis of the play:

“Jake, a novelist who is more successful with fiction that with life, faces a marital crisis by daydreaming about the women in his life.  The wildly comic and sometimes moving flashbacks played in his mind are interrupted by visitations from actual females.  Jake’s women include a revered first wife who was killed years earlier in an accident, his daughter who is recalled as a child but is now a young woman, his boisterous and bossy sister, an opinionated analyst, his current wife who is leaving Jake for another man, and a prospective third wife.”

Okay, I like this.  Not being an obsessive-type person, I won’t tell you that I’ve ordered the script from Amazon (delivery on Friday, March 6!) plus the movie that was adapted from it, starring Alan Alda (delivery by March 23!).  Oh, Bruce.  Such a silly goose.

Ya gotta laugh at us human beings.  So strange.  And we’ll see what plops into my lap as I travel on.

Acting – Part 1

I did it a long time ago … once.  In the summer of 1976, I was Snoopy in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.  Gosh, I loved being Snoopy.

I feel every now and then that I’ve gotta bite someone
I know every now and then what I wanna be
A fierce jungle animal crouched on the limb of a tree

I’d stay very, very still till I see a victim come 
I’d wait, knowing very well every second counts 
And then, like the fierce jungle creature I am 
I would pounce!

Pouncing was so much fun.  So was having kids come up to me at the end of the evening, wanting to hang out with Snoopy.  My only real problem with the play was turning Snoopy off afterwards.  I couldn’t do it.  Between performances and for a week or two after the run was done, I was Snoopy.  A bit pathological, perhaps, but I remember not thinking so.  I was just waiting for Suppertime.  Suppertime.  Supp supp suppertime.

Now its 39 years later.  I went to a play at the Princess Avenue Playhouse in St. Thomas two weeks ago, and a found out about a beginning acting workshop to be held all day on Saturday, March 21.  I signed up for it, just like that.  Today there was an “Art Crawl” in town, with 30 or so artists spread over 12 venues.  Back to the playhouse I went, to see photographs and paintings.  Welcoming me at the door, with passport dabber in hand, was Lesley, one of the main cogs in the Elgin Theatre Guild wheel.  Plus she’s the workshop leader.  We talked.  I reminisced about Snoopy, and Lesley told me that life in amateur theatre is like “family”.  With Jody no longer with me physically, I could use a little family.

I blabbed on about the three-month meditation retreat I’m starting in September.  She thought that would be about relationship too.  And she’s right.  I asked about next year’s playbill.  If I was to act again, aiming at the April-May play next year sounded like a good plan.  It’s going to be Calendar Girls.  From Lesley’s description, it sounded okay.

Gosh, who knows?  I’d be auditioning, but would I get a part?  The future is such a mystery.  On a whim, I asked about the February, 2016 production.  It’s to be Jake’s Women by Neil Simon, the story of an agonized writer who gets visited by lots of women from his life, past and present.

“Lesley, when would rehearsals for that play start?”

“Right after Christmas.”

“Oh.”  I get back from my long retreat around December 10.

More reflections on my future tomorrow.