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!