Friday, July 27, 2007

Lord Captain Seyton, or Three, not Five

As mentioned previously, in the Lallygagging Players' production of Macbeth I was initially quadruple-cast in a number of minor roles, as the Captain, the Old Man (Ross' father), an unamed Lord who is loyal to Malcolm, and finally Seyton . However, by the first day of rehearsals, I found myself quintuple-cast, adding to my roles yet another unnamed Lord who is present for the banquet scene.

While rehearsing the scenes between Macbeth (who has rejoined the cast after causing us varying degrees of anxiety) and Seyton the other night, it occurred to me (somewhat under the influence of David Blixt's notes) to suggest that something would be gained if we were to merge the characters of Seyton, Macbeth's last loyalist in Act V, with that of the bloodied Captain I play in Act I, Scene ii, after all, it is the captain who first sings Macbeth's praises as a brave and cunning warrrior and leader of men, if the surgeons are capable of treating his gashes, then he would likely attach himself to Macbeth. At this point, Brigid Battell, our producer, suggested that "Captain Seyton" may have been rewarded with a noble rank, thus making him the Lord in the Banquet scene. Given that our production is in such an intimate space, it will hopefully be less confusing to the audience that a single actor is now only playing three characters, instead of five.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Central Square Business Association and the Performing Arts

Last week, whilst in the midst of rehearsals both for my solo show and for Macbeth I attempted to resolve a situation that concerns many Cambridge-based performing artists. It had been my hope to deal with this behind the scenes to ensure good will, but my powers of persuasion were not up to the challenge.

In 2005, the Central Square Business Association sponsored the first ArtsCentral. As with many art festivals that receive sponsorship from the business community, the idea is that by allowing artists working in different media to show their work, the audience will then spend their money not just on the arts but also on the goods and services of the sponsors. Seeing this as an opportunity to build a mutually beneficial relationship between the arts and business communities in the Central Square neighborhood of Cambridge, I agreed to donate my services pro bono for that first year.

Two years later, I was to read the Artist Registration Form and noted that all artists had to provide a registration fee. This is not unusual in the case of visual and plastic artists, since they are renting out space to sell their work as vendors, however a fee is irregular with regards to the performing arts at festivals of this nature. This fee is not a rental of a performance space for a period of time in which the performers can sell tickets in some sort of co-production deal common with some fringe festivals. While the form indicates that performers may sell merchandise to offset the fee they have paid, many performers, notably those working in theatre and dance, often do not have merchandise, or the merchandise they do sell is supplemental to whatever income they might take in from ticket sales and fees when performing for a client. The point is that artists were being asked to pay for the privilege to perform. Typically, when I have performed at festivals sponsored by business organizations, I was paid a fee, and my job was as an artist, to keep pedestrians engaged with the festival so that they would spend that extra time and be more likely to also spend money on the wares and services offered by vendors and storefront businesses. The performing arts simply exist in a different economic niche than do the visual and plastic arts.

Artists often donate their work pro bono to educational and cultural institutions-- often as a way of giving back to the community, sometimes we even donate our work in an attempt to create a mutually beneficial relationship with the business community, but here, it appeared that at best, the Central Square Business Association did not understand the economics of the performing arts.

I attempted to explain these issues to Margaret Farmer, the executive director of the CSBA via email, and after an exchange that began on July 16th and ended July 20th, I became convinced that not only did the CSBA not understand the economics of the performing arts, that they had either not included anyone with knowledge of the performing arts community (especially dance and theatre) in the planning, or that they had not listened to the advice and expertise that was offered to them. Indeed, it was explained to me that one of the reasons performers are being charged a fee is because the Business Association is convinced that performers are more likely to show up as scheduled if they have paid-- not realizing that the fee was a disincentive for performers to even want to be on the schedule.

Perhaps, because I was a lone artist speaking my mind, I was unable to persuade, but if you are a performing artist who presents your work in and around Cambridge, perhaps you wish to express your opinion. Please be diplomatic.

Friday, July 20, 2007

On Reading the First Folio

One unusual decision that David Letendre (our director) and Brigid Battell-Letendre (our producer) have made in this production of Macbeth is to take our script directly from a facsimile of the First Folio of Shakespeare's works. For those readers who are unfamiliar with the term, "The First Folio" refers to a single volume edition of 36 of his plays prepared by the actors John Heminges and Henry Condell and published in 1623, as such, we are reading the original spellings.

Something exciting happens when one recites and rehearses Shakespeare's words as they were written by members of the King's Men. The spellings are those of the early 17th century, not those to which we are accustomed to reading in more modern editions (the better of which are incredibly valuable due to all the scholarly notes) but as David pointed out in the first rehearsal, the spellings often provide hints as to where to place emphasis. Indeed, what I have discovered is that by reading the First Folio phonetically, I do not need to think about iambic pentameter-- I hear it as I recite the lines, nor do I have to think about my accent-- the accent is there in the spellings. It may not be the accent of modern Scots-English (and perhaps not the accent of any historical Scottish king), but it is certainly not the theatrical Queen's English I heard as I watched the various Thames and BBC television productions of Shakespeare on my local PBS station (or indeed, any of the British film and television imports) as I was growing up. The long-vowels are longer than any of the mishmosh of North American English accents I speak or understand.

Consider one modern edition (edited by M.A. Shaaber):

...On Tuesday last
A falcon tow'ring in her pride of place,
Was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed.

With largely modern spellings, the actor is left with the option of speaking in his or her native accent or a stage accent. Pronunciation of certain words is ambiguous. Are the "-ed" suffixes pronounced as separate syllables or are they simply consonant sounds? Some of the options will read as poetry others as prose, some as awkward prose.

Compare that to the first folio:

...On Tuesday last,
A Faulcon towring in her pride of place,
Was by a Mowsing Owle hawkt at, and kill'd

Reading from the first folio edition, there is no ambiguity as to how many syllables are taken by "Hawkt" and "kill'd" nor with the ending consonant sounds. The spellings of "Faulcon" and "Mowsing Owle" also emphasize the vowel sounds and demand an accent that falls right on the stressed syllables of the iamb-- and the stresses emphasize that these are birds of prey-- something that "mousing owl" fails to do. Wonderful!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Scottish Plague

Though I was raised to be a rationalist and tend not to indulge in superstition, I find that somewhere along life's path, I have, quite against my better judgement, become an actor and so must contend with the curse of "The Scottish Play".

My first encounter with this phenomenon was in December of 2004 when I joined a short-lived commedia dell'arte troupe (this was before I became a member of i Sebastiani.) Under the influence of several nights of too little sleep, too much coffee, and a Shakespeare pastische, I found myself compulsively mentioning Macbeth as if to test the hypothesis of "actors are a cowardly and superstitious lot." The result was being repeatedly tossed out of the practice space by the director and made to spin around and speak incantations several times that evening until I was cured of this compulsion of mine. The hypothesis was correct.

I suspect that, amongst the many sources of the curse, such as the folklore that surrounds the play, and the sheer amount of fight scenes, I suspect that the curse comes from the fact that some of the most compelling poetry of the play itself is also the most graphically violent dialogue. Speaking these wonderfully written lines over and over again is bound to have effects on the speaker.

Now that I am actually in a production of Macbeth, we have encountered just that curse, for various reasons, we have lost both the actor who were to play the tyrant whom we shall call "Mackers" and the one who was to play Donalbain. If replacements are not found in due time, we will have to move the show dates up a few weeks.

While taking five at last night's rehearsals, one of the witches suggested that that maybe it was not a curse, but an act by the theatre gods to find us the ideal Macbeth (there I go, typing the name one dare not speak but at least I am not in a theatre) and Donalbain.

Actors are a cowardly and superstitious lot.

Screenings for "The Adventures of CMYK"

As mentioned previously, I am very proud of my involvement with Katie Machaiek's short film The Adventures of CMYK in which I play a a somewhat loopy classics teacher. Katie just wrote to mention that CMYK has been selected for the Rhode Island International Film Festival on August 11th at 10am at the Columbus Theatre in Providence, Rhode Island.

Katie has put the first 8:23 up on YouTube for a limited time only. I make my first appearance a little more than three minutes into the film. It's a small role, but I'm pleased with the results.

Trivia: I wrote all the Greek and Latin on the chalk board behind me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Spoonful #0

Spoonful, the new poetry journal of the Stone Soup Poets, has, through the hard work of Chad Parenteau and Lynne Sticklor published an online issue #0. Despite my having left the fold of Stone Soup many years ago, Chad's powers of persuasion can be largely credited with my decision to contribute to this project. The poem, "Numbers" was originally composed for a reading at the New England Holocaust Memorial organized by Stone Soup in 2001. The accompanying portrait is by Bill Perrault-- and I think it well selected. The poem has previously appeared in print in Out of the Blue Writers Unite and I Refused to Die.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

An evening with Ian Thal and the String Theory Marionettes @ Willoughby and Baltic

I'll be performing an evening of my original work, which incorporates poetry, mime, and and theatrical clowning, at Willoughby and Baltic on Saturday, July 21st. Also appearing will be the String Theory Marionettes who will be performing in the Teeny Lounge. The marionettes will be joined by the voice of Jimmy Tingle.

Coffee, chocolates, and mocktails will be available at the refreshment stand. Show starts at 8pm. Admission is $5

Willoughby & Baltic
195g Elm Street
Davis Square
Somerville, MA 02144


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Rehearsals begin for Macbeth

Last night a large group of actors whose heads I forgot to count met crowded into the Somerville art space, Willoughby and Baltic, a former ambulance garage converted into an art gallery and marionette theatre, and sat down along a long train of café tables. It was first time the full cast of the Lallygagging Players' production of Macbeth met to rehearse. Our director and producer, David Letendre and Brigid Battell (who is also playing Lady Macbeth) introduced the concept, unlike most productions of Shakespeare's plays, we are working directly from the unmodernized text of the first folio with close attention to the scansion of the original text and its eccentric spelling conventions of the early seventeenth century. That so close attention is being paid to Shakespeare's poetic language adds to my confidence in a production that is to be staged in such a non-traditional venue with a new company. (Of course both Letendre and Battell have already been active in local theatre, directing and acting in numerous plays in more traditional venues with other theatre companies.)

I am playing the characters of the Captain who recounts Macbeth's victory over MacDonwald and King Sweno, the Old Man who first speaks of such perversions of nature as horses eating one another, a number of unnamed Lords, and Seyton, Macbeth's aid in the final act. These are my first roles in a Shakespeare play-- something I had been actively working towards this past year. (I auditoned with Sonnet 28-- which I had recited at the Shakespeare Sonnet-athon his past April.)

Interestingly enough it's not my first time this year involved with some piece of theatre that originally served as political propaganda for the reign of King James I of England and Scotland as earlier this year i Sebastiani had performed an anti-masque to Samuel Daniel's court-masque, The Vision of the Twelve Goddesses.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Letter in the Literary Review of Canada

The Literary Review of Canada printed my letter to the editor regarding last month's publication of The Explanation We Never Heard an apologia by Shriaz Dossa, a professor at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada who has come under criticism for being the sole Canadian scholar to have attended the "International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust" in Tehran, Iran, a conference that included a great many holocaust deniers, anti-Semites, and non-academics.

I found Professor Dossa's defense of the conference and his attendance so sophistic, and so intellectually dishonest that I felt compelled to write the following letter (also available on the LRC's website):

To The Editor:

Professor Dossa’s excuses regarding his attendance of the December 2006 “International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust” demonstrate poor scholarship and faulty logic. Even if we accept his claim that only 6 out of 33 presenters were Holocaust deniers, then that means that at a supposedly academic conference, roughly 19 percent of the presenters were deniers. It would be unacceptable for a major academic conference on Darwin to have 19 percent of the presenters advocate creationism—were this the case, the conference organizers’ commitment to science itself would be questioned.

Dossa also misuses the word “anti-Semitism”—the word was specifically coined by 19th-century Germans who wanted to describe their hatred of Jews in racial (or pseudoscientific) terms as opposed to theological terms. It was never used to describe hatred of Muslims. Indeed, the Nazi regime even openly recruited aid from the Muslim world in its final solution.

Dossa also claims that anti-Semitism is an exclusively western problem. Policies of humiliating and subjugating Jews had been common in many (though not all) nations and eras of the Islamic world. These humiliations were, for the most part, not as severe as what occurred in Christian Europe, and at some points—notably in al-Andalus—Jews had great liberty. Nevertheless, Muslim countries (most significantly in the Arab world) adopted many elements of western anti-Semitism in the 19th and 20th centuries—first from Christian missionaries and later through Nazis and neo-Nazis.

Furthermore, a “spiritual wish” by a head of state for the elimination of the Jewish state is hardly without significance. It is the practice of Holocaust deniers to claim that Hitler did not intend to murder Jews because his public statements regarding the fate of the Jews were always in terms of prophecy and not policy.

I suppose Dossa has learnt something from the conference.

Ian Thal
Somerville, Massachusetts

Visit the LRC website for other letters discussing Professor Dossa's statements.

[As a note, this is the second time this year I have had a letter to the editor published-- last time was to criticize a production of playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis' The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.]