Monday, 28 February 2011

"Inspiring Wisdom For The Play": a letter

The high school drama director I work with in Uka asked me to share some words of wisdom from my own experience acting with the drama kids.  Here's what I wrote,:

Hiya, actors!  I wish I could be there with you, but I'm having my own adventures here on furlough.  I'll see you in July (assuming I get my visa...).  Here are some things I thought about while being in my own show this semester, which closed last night (!!), and I thought I'd share.
The magic and communication and energy and meaning in a performance isn't in the script or in your acting.  It happens in that alchemical mix between one particular audience and your particular performance each show.  When it works it's so live and so heady!  I'm a bit high for days after a great performance.  (And last night's was really great, viscerally great.)
Take care of your fellow actors--part of the energy that can happen in theatre is because of true kindness and camaraderie between the cast and crew.  This includes being generous onstage by paying attention  and getting your lines right!    After you learn them, keep on reviewing them before every performance or you're lost.  Get your mind in the game and review your lines and your cues before EVERY performance.  It also includes praying for people, in groups and alone, when you think to.  It also includes not gossiping backstage, and always obeying the director.  Be your best self backstage, and it pays off in the performance--it's part of the unquantifiable magic of this complex creation that draws spiritual and creative energy from every part.  That's why every actor and ever crew is important because you can either poison or bless everyone.
Give energy to others on stage.  Try out new things and don't get stuck in a rut.  Pay attention to what's going on around you, not just to when you speak, and be in the moment (which you can't do if you don't know your lines!).  Touch other people, move around, figure out how your character feels about the others, and then let it SHOW in a big way on your face and your body as well as your voice.  (In fact, here's a dare--let your character find one or two more times to physically touch another actor on stage and see how it gives away more emotion and communication in your performance.  Go ahead, I dare you!  Give each other permission!)
Try out a different vocal pitch and rhythm than your speaking voice for your character.  The part I just played had a lot more of the angry desperate energy it needed when I pitched my voice near the top of my range instead of in my usual speaking voice.
Overlap the ends of other people's sentences so you sound like you're real people talking and not actors saying lines (badly)...
Remember that Mrs F and I love you!
See you soon,
Donna Smith
p.s. Partying with actors beats partying with anyone else.  That's all I have to say about that.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Hell? No, I won't go.

In case you were wondering how many months I can absorb bad language regularly before it starts to leak out again, the answer is, let's see, September, October, November...  six months.  Gaah!  I don't want to be a potty mouth!  I'm sad.  Look at me, setting myself up to be the worldly glamorous one back from furlough, being a subtle but poisonous influence on my students.  Sad, sad, sad.

In case you were wondering how many times I've almost died riding a bicycle six miles a day three or four times a week, the answer is only three, but all in a row.  Thanks, whomever is praying for me!

In case you wonder what happens to my creative energy to bead, sew, cook, dance, write, sing, meander, plan, draw, think, and blog in a term in which I'm taking three classes, working, and acting in a play, the answer is: it all, and I mean all, goes into classes, work and the play.  I have just enough left over to dress myself, comb my hair, and eat food that is recognizable as food.  But the play is f--oops--nevermind awesome.

In case you don't know who the best people are to go out dancing with, the answer is:  actors you're in a play with.

In case you wonder how many pounds I loose a week if I eat around 1600 calories a day, the answer is:  one.  How about that!  I'll end on that encouraging and sorta funny news.

Monday, 7 February 2011

"I no longer wish to be patient...." Mercy Amba Oduyoye

"I have arrived at a point where I no longer wish to be patient with sexism, racism, and injustices against the dignity that rightly belongs to beings made in the image of God.  These labels are loosing their force, but the realities they point to, the burden and the evil we are naming, continue.  Those who live under them feel their iron weight.  I may not be classified materially poor in my own community, but as long as I am a woman and black and refuse to accept any condition or attitude toward me that makes me feel less than accepted and included, I stand with all who are trampled upon and with all who want to struggle to see the end of inhumanity in the human community."
Mercy Amba Oduyoye
in "The Struggle  about Women's Theological Education" in Feminist Theology from the Third World:  A Reader,  ed. Ursula King, 1994.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Newmeze? Meh. A Restaurant Review

Tonight I impulsively went out to dine quite late, at the grown-up hour of 8:30, all by myself.  I'd toyed with taking advantage of the three-course Dine LA prix-fixe menu at the restaurant where I work by splitting it with someone to bring both the price and the volume of food within my range.  Lacking a pal to split, I hatched a new plan and headed out to a restaurant I've long been curious about in Pasadena's Old Town, Neomeze.  After the seat I was offered (in the bar complete with TV screens of sports and annoying 90's rock) almost drove me away, the hostess relented and seated me in the restaurant where I was bemused to discover my tablecloth was brown paper.  How conceptual.

Is being a waitress by (temporary) profession making me too picky?  Though inattentive, the staff were congenial, which does go a long way...or it would have if they hadn't brought me the wrong drink, neglected to send out the bread I asked for, sent my food out to the wrong table, sent me another table's food, neglected to clear dishes I was done with, made me keep the same cutlery through two courses, and made a mistake on my bill.  Even all this would have been overlooked if the food had transported me.  Unfortunately the most uplifting part of the meal was the psalm I read while waiting for my kibbeh to arrive .   

My glass of malbec went well with the psalm. It smelled of earth and mushrooms and ended up going well with all three courses, though it was served in a very trendy little bulb of a stemless glass that was too wide for me to get a good grip on with one hand, driving me to handle my wine glass two-fisted, like a toddler learning to drink.  Not endearing!  If I'd been offered crayons to draw on the paper tablecloth or the paper napkins perhaps I would have been mollified. 

The kibbeh, little meatballs of beef and pine nuts in a crunchy crust, were nicely textured and mild, going well with the smoky salsa that tasted a bit like harissa.  Eating sausage meze without bread didn't seem right, but my kibbeh and the lettuce it rested on were long gone by the time my pita, warm but sweet and doughy--perhaps in the gringo class of Weber's bread pita?--finally arrived after I pestered a busboy for them.  Second course was a tagine, the first tagine I've had a chance to actually BUY in a real RESTAURANT as opposed to the dozen or so I've made myself following, more or less, instructions in Paula Wolfert Moroccan cookbooks. I couldn't wait to taste a real, authentic tagine and learn secrets of flavour and texture that would inspire my future cooking.  What arrived was a well-cooked chicken stew, falling off the bone, with white raisins, fingerling potatoes and green olives in a bit of gravy, but tasting bland and under seasoned, with nothing to set off the sweet/savoury, fresh/cooked or smooth/crunchy dichotomy I love about Arab-speaking Mediterranean cuisine.  Fortunately I'd rescued my smoky harissa from first course to dump on the chicken to give it some heat and I munched away with my fingers (the pita having finally arrived, remember) contentedly enough.  This unremarkable stew cemented my plan to not return to this restaurant, reinforced by the minute by the insipid 90's rock that continued unabated and the TV screens showing sports well within view of me in the restaurant.

I rejected a plate of sliders (for my neighbors) and read my anthropology text until my third course, grilled halloumi served in a red wine fig reduction with an almond paste crostini was delivered to my neighbors, who had to exert themselves to get it delivered to me.  The jammy fig and wine sauce was the one delightful part of the dinner and something that I will probably attempt at home, though perhaps with a muscat, and then stirred into rose petal jam and served in a tart on top of a cream cheese custard, perhaps, or as a filing for a vanilla cake along with whipped cream and yogurt to temper the sweetness, with pistachios of course...  But I digress.  The halloumi was a little square of white salty cheese, crusty on the outside from being grilled.  The almond paste on a little slice of french bread seemed like crunchy almond butter from the store and fought a bit with the cheese for dominant salty flavour.  After a meal of dishes apparently adjusted in flavour for the uninformed gringo palate, I was surprised to get something that didn't taste like a normal American dessert--salty and savoury with only one sweet thing:  this halloumi dish would make a hearty and sustaining breakfast.  The only thing missing from my meze dinner was Turkish coffee with my dessert, but the waiter denied knowledge of any Turkish coffee and instead offered me, to my horror, regular diner coffee.  At this point my mind was firmly made up never to return.  My question for the owners:  why name your restaurant after meze if you dont' plan to serve the whole deal?  My question for myself: why oh why hadn't I found a real meze restaurant that served real coffee and tagine with salty pickled lemons and fresh parsley or crunchy almonds on?  

Demoralized, I returned to my anthropology text while I waited for the bill, by now driven to actively wish to depart by the badly mixed music of the recently arrived DJ--the signal, apparently, to dim the lights even further and for preppily dressed 20-somethings to fill up the bar and gaze at basketball on the TVs.
In fact, it seems that 'bar' rather than 'restaurant' is the dominant metaphor for Neomeze, based on their clientele and the indifferent food and service. 

At least Ira was broadcasting Science Friday to sooth me once I was back at the car.  Despite, or perhaps because of the disappointments, it was an educational evening.  Lesson 1:  The most enjoyable part of the evening was imagining that I would dash off to a restaurant, taste delicious food, experience a whole new place.  Reading menus was engaging and plotting out all the Dine LA restaurants within my hood was intriguing and far more satisfying than the reality of parking, ordering, and being mistreated by cook and waitstaff.  Also a lot cheaper; $2 for parking and $40-ish for my meal and wine.  Lesson 2: I probably won't like a restaurant where the staff are dressed more casually than the clients.  Lesson 3:  Listen to the music before you submit to an hour and a half of torment.  The music may also tell you who the bar/restaurant wants to please, and if it ain't you, then get out while the gettin's good.  Lesson 4:  My cooking expertise and experience serving at Elements have priced both my taste for food and for service way outside what I'm willing to pay at an American restaurant.  Alas!  Woe is me!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

...and here's a head shot.

Now that I'm an actor (!) I need head shots; here is one my director took.  I think I am slightly airbrushed!, but my eyes are looking nice and green.

I auditioned for the play to learn empathy

I did!  I wanted to experience a play from the actor side because in Uka I'm always on the side of power, on the director's team, and I figured it would be good for me to scare my pants off by auditioning so I could empathize with the poor students shaking up there on the stage during auditions.  Then I got the part (I actually didn't see that one coming) so now I get to have my pants scared of by actually being in a play--empathy by the bucketloads being one result.  Of course, I also auditioned because I remember pining away for acting regularly during my years in PNG, and here was my chance--not everything I do is motivated by a desire to benefit my little middle schoolers!, though they do feature prominently, actually.  So, collecting observations from the point of view of someone who helps high school students put on plays, here's what I've learned so far.

I'm much, much, MUCH more nervous about rehearsals than I ever imagined I'd be.  Such pressure!  I don't even get so preoccupied about speaking in churches or other things that usually terrify people, but play practice--!  I'm not a nervous person, usually, but the adrenaline before those early rehearsals!  Even now, three weeks in, the hour or so before a rehearsal finds me with elevated heart rate and churning stomach.  Gaah!  Do my students feel this?

Some obvious ones:
You can have a line memorized perfectly at home and be a total dud at rehearsal.
And the corollary:  the line you get perfectly today and yesterday and at every previous rehearsal will be the one you flub up tomorrow. 
And the empathetic realization: you want to appologize and be forgiven, but this is tedious to the director, so you don't, but you just feel dumb and mad at yourself instead.

Being interrupted makes it harder to go back and do the scene over again.  Once you loose your head it stays lost for a while.

It's nice not being on the production team.  I can relax and just act! Whee!  I'm an actor! 

I have learned good characterization skills over the years, and am enjoying putting them into practice.  I keep discovering new things about my character!  This is such a fun process!  And watching my fellow cast members give stunning performances rehearsal after rehearsal--I learn a lot from them.  This is so cool!  Is this why we put on plays in Uka?  Whee!  Sign me up! 

Being on a cast of adults is quite different from a production of teenaged actors and techies.  We goof off as much, but the starting level of emotional and mental resources to draw on is greater, and we are better trained.  We can cut to the chase.  There's more spontaneous generation of character and movement and not all the wooden, poseable robot stuff that goes on sometimes with young actors.  Maggie this one's for you:  we're not afraid to touch each other. 

It's interesting observing a very different style of directing--quite useful. 

I wish we prayed more at rehearsal (as in, we don't at all) but this is becoming one of those boring themes of my life that you can hear me repeat and repeat:  Pray more!  Pray more! 

I had another few good observations saved up to write down, but I can't seem to recall them.  Time to go back to writing another paper, then go to bed.  Good night!  Come see us perform on Feb 18, 19, 25 & 26.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Catching Up with Last Month's Adventures

"Grab your coat and get your hat!/Leave your worries on the doorstep./Just direct your feet/to the sunny side of the street."  Unless you're sitting on the shady side of the street to watch the Rose Parade, then make sure you're wearing a cotton layer, a wool layer, a capeline layer, a wool layer, a cotton layer as well as your coat (wool/cashmere overcoat from a Glasgow thrift store) and hat (a blue watch cap from who knows where).  .  Also a scarf from Nepal.  Also sit close to your cousins for warmth.  Best float:  the reef fish.  Most annoying float faux pas:  bananas growing upside down on the Dole float.  Dole!!  Come on, people.  Best band uniforms:  the dancers and musicians from Mexico had gorgeous costumes.  Best music of a band:  the Marines have them all beat.  Coolest horses:  the Frisians have to win out.  Outfit I was gladdest not to be wearing while sitting on a float in 45 degree weather in a chilly had wind:a mermaid bra and shorts!

Strolling and biking along Colorado Boulevard as it filled up yesterday was a hoot.  We have one night of street people with fancy gear for New Year's Eve in Pasadena--air matresses, heaters, espersso machines, computers powered by generators!!  J.Crew was boarded up by 5 pm, and the crowd was honkng their world cup horns when I was going to work at 10 am Friday. I slept so much better in my own bed than on the sidewalk, and we ended up with a just fine spot near the end of the route, so no worries.

Disneyland with nine Smiths in the rain, preceded by a Bit Smith Sleepover, with three of us in the Garage Cave and getting up at, gulp, 5:30.  I wan't wearing my wool and capeline under my overalls, and I regretted it.  But, Thunder Mountain Railroad in the rain was thrilling!  I was amused.  Disneyland doesn't sell churros in the rain.  Bummer.  And, fair warning:  Michael Jackson as Captain Eo was far, far worse than I had ever remembered, and I shall bitterly regret those 20 minutes till the end of my days.  How could something be so bad? That level of eye-crossing insipidity couldn't be duplicated even if done on purpose.  Also, sitting still while watching it when already wet through made me hypothermic and miserable.  Luckily my chivalrous brother leapt to the rescue with chocolate covered pretzels and kindness.  Thanks, B!  You're a star.

Birthday museum visit to the Norton Simon with the siblings and the niecefews.  Culture!  How I love you!

Birthday dinner party, tablecloths and candles, transforming Chez Gene.  Menu:  babaganouj, tabbouleh, lentils stewed in garlic, and hummus with flat bread, pita, and baguettes; carrot soup; Indonesian rice salad and satay with peanut sauce; Balinese spice cake and vanilla ice cream.

Christmas with lots of rellies!, including three whole meals eaten at tables with real siverware and not plastic and not out of my lap.  Well done, relatives.  The cascading overflow of presents around the tree warmed my heart, too. :-)

A trip on the train downtown with cousin J to see a concert at Disney Concert Hall.  We got student rush tickets and ended up sitting in the SECOND ROW!  God be praised!  We also ate delish Mexican at the central market, where I bought some mole, frankincense and myrrh.  Nice for Christmas!

I talked my way into the church choir for a week so I could sing alto for the Hallelujah, my little Baroque oratorio fix.  I need much, much more of it in my life, but there's no space.  Singing under Dr. Hopkins back at UAF is a little different than singing for the church choir!  He taught me well, better than I ever knew back then.  Thanks, Dr. Hopkins, and I'm really sorry for all the days we giggled too much when we were dumb freshmen and couldn't behave well in public.

I worked a lunch shift where I handled 40 covers in 3 hours.  Yoikers!  Three months ago I could barely handle 12.

I auditioned for a play!  And got a part!!  And rehearsals start Saturday!!!  AND I have to be off book by then!!!!  I am juror #9 in Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men. Yes, all you smart aleks out there, I am an angry man.  Angrier than I can say.

No one else has died this month.  Good job, everyone!  Keep it up.  Give me another month, at least, to keep being sad about Bettie Yarita and baby Smith.

I wrote many papers that last week of school (five, I think, some short and three long).  I wrote one fabulous paper in which I learned a lot and enjoyed examining a piece of art (for Theology & Film).  I wrote another  fascinating paper (for Power Encounter) in which I stored up heaps of ideas to use in Uka and reflected on really mind blowing research and some practice with healing prayer.  And, I wrote one that never got beyond an 18-page rough draft into the 10-page final paper it needed to be.  I ran out of time, but I'd also already given up on success due to being from a different planet from the unfortunate youth who will be grading it.  Alas. Very compelling ideas for the class (Church and Mission in Global Context), but I'm afraid I'll end up with a low grade.  I'll be an example for my own students with my D in a grad class!  And I'll loose my scholarship!  Woe is me! 

I registered for classes that start in two days:  Anthropology, Leadership, Intro to Global Theology.

I read a few library books. 

That's all! 

Curry and Salad

So, I'm glad I'm flexible and all since my life has so much transition, but it's kind of flummoxing to find out just how far my identity stretches and reforms in each context.  It's exhausting and disconcerting to have to find out again in each new home who I am for that place!  We know our identity mostly by observing what we do day in and day out;  that's how we what kind of people we are and what's important to us.  For instance, I'm a reader, one of the cornerstones of my identity.Books!  Books!!  BOOKS!!!  Yeah, well, you get it.  Also big in the last decade or so has been that I cook.  I cook things!  Food!  Cooking!  Feeding people!!  I have a reputation in Ukarumpa as an adventurous cook, I cook all the time, I have people over a few times a week usually.  I cook because I love it, to experience joy in God's creation of flavour and texture and smell and the civilized and rejuvenating art of eating.  I explore new cuisines and rarely cook the same thing twice.  I cook a lot when I'm in Ukarumpa.  Dinner parties, tra la, tra la!

So what happens to my identity here?  Tonight I made curry veg on rice with a chopped salad, one of my so-common-I'm-bored-with-it meals in Ukarumpa...and it's the first time I've made anything like it in America.  I'm just not cooking!  Who IS  this person who doesn't cook?  What am I doing instead?  Skipping meals by working lunch shifts at the restaurant, eating Gene's food on Tuesdays, eating left-overs the rest of the time, eating meat all the time and bread I didn't bake and prepared food...  I cook about once a fortnight now.  I don't recognize myself!

Perhaps that's what's upsetting--I have this huge vocation for cooking and feeding people and yet it's not part of my life here, so who am I, then, this person who doesn't cook here?  At least I still dress myself from thrift stores and hand-me-downs (let's give a little cheer for scuffed orange Dansko clogs, the $7 answer to rainy days and blah outfits), and with a lot more daring than last furlough, where my need to blend in was far outweighing my need to be creative.  I still read the Bible!  I still cut flowers and put them in vases around the house.  I still think I'm going to get around to sewing much more than I actually sew.  I still hate to talk on the phone.  I still love hanging out with people and impromptu parties.  I still am always up for prayer.  I still like arty films and swoon at classical concerts (another cheer here for Disney Concert Hall, my new favourite building).  I still prefer to park a mile away and walk than pay for parking...not that *that's* part of my life in Ukarumpa.  I guess I haven't totally changed...but I miss the parts of me that can't be me here.  I'm making up for it partly by being the me that can go to concerts and museums, that can go on road trips by herself and be on the streets at night and wear pants every day.  Throwing the dinner party for my birthday was great, but was the first time I've cooked for people in...since Alaska, I think!  Gah.

So, here, to reassert my identity as a cook, is a recipe for you. 
So-common-I'm-bored-with-it Curry, with a salad on the side

1.  Set the rice on to boil.  I like brown rice if you have the time.
2.  Briefly toast some spices in hot oil until they release their aromatics (40 seconds should do it).  Pick your curry country of origin and choose spices accordingly.  I recommend cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamon and black pepper if you don't know what to add.  Diced chilies are awesome, but expect to cough as the heat releases the volatiles!  Wipe your eyes and thank God you're alive and cooking.
3.  Add a diced onion, perhaps garlic, depending on the curry country of origin, and saute until soft and somewhat coloured.
4.  Heave in any other veg whose flavour would be enhanced by a saute before the stewing, like celery and peppers.
5.  In need of protein?  Don't neglect the lentils or chickpeas.  Heave in some chopped sweet potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, or the like.
6.  Add water and/or broth and/or coconut milk and/or tomato sauce or canned tomatoes.  Follow your instincts.  The curry force is with you.  Cover tightly and after it comes to a boil, simmer on low heat until the veg are soft--which will be just as the rice is finishing, if I don't miss my guess!
7.  While that gets to know itself and the rice is coming close to being done, get your favourite chef knife or mandolin chopper and make a salad of finely sliced veg, such as cabbage, green onion, coriander leaf (called cilantro in some places), parsley, bell peppers (called capsicum in some places), tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, daikon, or anything hanging around in the crisper.  Apples are fine, too.  Add green papaya or oranges--I dare you!
8.  Before serving, toss your salad in a simple dressing of lemon juice and salt, or be more adventurous and make a dressing balancing the sweet and salty with the following:  ginger, shallots, garlic, pepper, rice vinegar, katsup, soy sauce, olive oil, sesame oil, tamari, and a bit of water  (the Wagamama cookbook has a great Asian salad dressing) for a Southeast or East Asian style curry or pepper, coriander, salt, molasses, oil and vinegar for South Asian, or just yogurt, salt and lemon juice.
9.  Serve the curry on top of rice, with the salad on the side.  Eat!  I recommend finding a table with a tablecloth and lighted candles, but your lap and a TV will work depending on context.  Reading library books propped up on salt shakers is also a great accompaniment to this dish.  Eat your curry with a spoon, a fork, chopsticks or your fingers and bread depending on the curry's country-of-origin.  Obviously a pot of tea that compliments the curry's country of origin is not to be overlooked, though a big glass of tap water is quite satisfying.
10.  Box up left overs in lunch containers.  Your salad will be wilty if you dressed it tonight and eat it tomorrow, but the veg juices and dressing will make a nice condiment to dump onto tomorrow's reheated curry.  Rehearing this lunch in the staff room will get you a reputation as a good cook--no one else's lunch will smell as delish as your curry.