All posts by Ravenchild

Rip Away This Mask

By Cynthia Wands

ANTIGONE

I wonder how the pandemic is going to affect how we experience being an audience again?

Even with the vaccines in place, and appropriate social distancing, what will the sound of someone coughing – long, difficult, raspy coughing – how will that sound effect an audience, a performance, a performer? What if some of the audience members continue to wear masks, and some don’t? What if we’re actually sitting right next to someone, in front of someone, in back of someone?

How will we see one another when we no longer wear masks in public? I know right now I’m resigned to this weird world of not seeing anyone’s nose or mouth or chin when we meet in public. It’s all eyes and eyebrows. Are they smiling? Am I smiling? Do I look like a worried hamster? I try to articulate, and choose words with a lot of force, but it’s seems like an underwater world of muffled talk.

Years ago, many years ago, I was in a production of ANTIGONE, where we all wore masks that might have looked like a great idea in the design phase of the production. The masks covered everything on our face, except our chin. This was not a great idea.

Here is a picture of me, strangely positioned as I look towards the heavens. I can’t remember how I got up from this posture. I do remember thinking during the run of this production, “At least I’ll never have to wear a mask in public again.”

Masks, not like what we’re wearing today, in ANTIGONE

The masks made you feel like you were a chess piece moved around on an ancient Greek chess board. Wearing the mask, you could only see straight ahead, with no peripheral vision. And the structure of the mask placed a lot of pressure on your nose and cheekbones, so everyone had a distinctly nasal voice. Plus you couldn’t open your mouth very wide.

Even standing right next to another actor, you could have a hard time understanding what they were saying.

“Wolf sinks tweed suffers – something something – pink weave suffered nuff for the cursive edible purse.”

Yes. That is what it sounded like. And the text itself was straight forward:

“You would think that we had already suffered enough for the curse on Oedipus.”

That’s what masks can do to you with Greek tragedy.

So here we are years later, and we are wearing masks in public. They aren’t as bad as the ANTIGONE masks.

Another ANTIGONE

I look forward to the day when we won’t have to wear masks because of this pandemic. I want to be able to appreciate the days when we can laugh, and sing and cry and shout in public because we can.

I wonder how that will inform our writing, how free we’ll be to write characters that have faces that are uncovered and voices unrestrained. I look forward to what other women will write about in the days ahead. I’ll see you in the future.

Writing for Invisible Characters : And I mean women of a certain age

by Cynthia Wands

My scripts includes writing about women of a certain age. And depending on who is looking at these characters, this certain age could be middle aged. (You just need to determine the death date so the character lives exactly in the middle of their life span.) (Okay, I’m kidding.) This certain age could also be post menopausal, so this female character could resemble a screaming banshee, hysterical about night sweats and lost youth. This certain age could also be allocated to a dreaded certain descriptor: a crone.

Yes. Other words to indicate a woman of a certain (older) age might also include: hellcat, trot, witch, shrew, harpy, virago (isn’t that a car?), beldam, biddy and matriarch.

What I see is a real hunger and appreciation for old women. What we call old. And there’s an interesting phenomenon where some older women are seen as valuable and accomplished. And confident and experienced with something to offer.

The fabulous Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey

And a personal favorite:

Judi Dench, not afraid of looking her age

Now, granted, these are deliberate and stunning examples of a celebrity willing to be portrayed as women of a certain age. Mostly these celebrities have been photographed and filmed as ideal versions of their age and station in life.

Judi Dench appearing as the character “M” in a James Bond Film

But to my point, we don’t often get to witness older women in leading roles in our film and stage work, in our arts, and in our leadership. We don’t get to see them because they are seen as being invisible.

Here is a fascinating article by Vanessa Williamson:

by Vanessa Williamson

‘The Dig’ – Hiding Sutton Hoo’s women.

With my archaeologist hat on I review the new film The Dig.

I eagerly awaited the release of the film The Dig, on Netflix, set against the story of the Sutton Hoo Excavation. I watched on the first day it was released. It washed over me with a humble beauty, gentleness, and quiet. A stark contrast to the pace, violence, and noise permeating film & TV. Now several days later I feel compelled as an archaeologist to speak out after reading a piece on FB and Twitter by Paul Blinkhorn. The eminent British Anglo-Saxon archaeologist drew his followers attention to the true story of the Sutton Hoo photographer. The storyline of the photos forms a strong literary theme in the film. What I learnt today is, it is in fact fiction. Blinkhorn reveals the photographer was not a man, but two women, Mercie Lack ARPS and Barbara Wagstaff ARPS. After the war, they both successfully submit for membership to the Royal Photographers Society as Associate Members, using their photo essays of the excavation at Sutton Hoo. From 1948 they provided ongoing contributions to research projects with additional prints of their photographs for publication by the Sutton Hoo research projects. Their photographs now form part of the British Museum Sutton Hoo archive. 

I eagerly awaited the release of the film The Dig, on Netflix, set against the story of the Sutton Hoo Excavation. I watched on the first day it was released. It washed over me with a humble beauty, gentleness, and quiet. A stark contrast to the pace, violence, and noise permeating film & TV. Now several days later I feel compelled as an archaeologist to speak out after reading a piece on FB and Twitter by Paul Blinkhorn. The eminent British Anglo-Saxon archaeologist drew his followers attention to the true story of the Sutton Hoo photographer. The storyline of the photos forms a strong literary theme in the film. What I learnt today is, it is in fact fiction. Blinkhorn reveals the photographer was not a man, but two women, Mercie Lack ARPS and Barbara Wagstaff ARPS. After the war, they both successfully submit for membership to the Royal Photographers Society as Associate Members, using their photo essays of the excavation at Sutton Hoo. From 1948 they provided ongoing contributions to research projects with additional prints of their photographs for publication by the Sutton Hoo research projects. Their photographs now form part of the British Museum Sutton Hoo archive. 

I eagerly awaited the release of the film The Dig, on Netflix, set against the story of the Sutton Hoo Excavation. I watched on the first day it was released. It washed over me with a humble beauty, gentleness, and quiet. A stark contrast to the pace, violence, and noise permeating film & TV. Now several days later I feel compelled as an archaeologist to speak out after reading a piece on FB and Twitter by Paul Blinkhorn. The eminent British Anglo-Saxon archaeologist drew his followers attention to the true story of the Sutton Hoo photographer. The storyline of the photos forms a strong literary theme in the film. What I learnt today is, it is in fact fiction. Blinkhorn reveals the photographer was not a man, but two women, Mercie Lack ARPS and Barbara Wagstaff ARPS. After the war, they both successfully submit for membership to the Royal Photographers Society as Associate Members, using their photo essays of the excavation at Sutton Hoo. From 1948 they provided ongoing contributions to research projects with additional prints of their photographs for publication by the Sutton Hoo research projects. Their photographs now form part of the British Museum Sutton Hoo archive. 

Miss Lack and Wagstaff photographed in 1938 as they recorded the Sutton Hoo ship excavation. 

Mercie Lack & BarbaraWagstaff’s work in documenting the excavation was vitally important. The archive of 447 photographs taken on Leica cameras, 72 Agfa 35mm colour slides and film of Basil Brown excavating captured on a 16mm cine-camera, today forms a critical component of the excavation record. Their work at Sutton Hoo included some of the first colour images in British archaeology. What happened to their story in the film? An important part of my enjoyment of British TV and films has been the balance of gender and diverse inclusive ensemble casts. This film is a standout for stripping the female and some male characters of their character & achievements.

The films fictional account is based on the novel ‘The Dig’ by John Preston, yet I argue the filmmaker’s decision to follow a storyline to re gender two women to a male is problematic and flawed. It throws a troubling light in 2021 on the overt sexism that I see permeating the female roles in the film. Lack and Wagstaff were important members of the archaeological ensemble closely associated with the excavation. I can’t imagine what could possibly motivate a screenwriter or author to turn two women into a male character. My immediate conclusion was middle-aged ordinary women with cameras are not good enough for a feature film in 2021. Age, gender, and sex appeal of a romance are more important to this film’s maker. What the hell is wrong with middle-aged women I protest out loud, as I now surprisingly find myself in that category. Or god forbid there would be too many women in the film! The argument the plotline of the photographer is true to the novel is a valid, adaption of novels to film is just about always made by filmmakers and in this instance, the failure to swap empty fiction for the real story has undermined the integrity of the film. 

My immediate impression after watching the film was to question why the three female leads were presented as a vulnerable, passive, with a dull ongoing focus on their fictional problems, not their achievements. I had a bad taste of the filmmaker misogyny, outdated even in 1938. The women as we met them in the film are Dorothy May Brown (Centre) presented as neglected lonely wife; this was not so, Mrs Edith Pretty (right) spends the film fighting Illness. She was a fascinating well-educated woman, who travelled the world and visited her own fathers Abbey archaeological excavations. The Peggie Piggott, (left) we meet is naive, inexperienced, and in every way a slip of a girl. In fact, she was a highly qualified and experienced field Archaeologist. The absence of character development of the women sent me straight to the internet to learn more about them

What I discovered shocked me. The women’s true drive, skills, and successes were not only ignored but deliberately covered up. Wasted opportunities in scene after scene focused on vulnerability, weakness, in empty scenes, where were their triumphs? After all the triumph for all concerned is the central theme of this story. Peggie Piggott when she arrived on site had a 1934 diploma (equivalent to a degree, which women were excluded from at the time) from the University of Cambridge and a 1936 Institute of Archaeology postgraduate diploma. She had been Archaeology project leader and lead archaeologist on an excavation of an Iron Age barrow. The real fantastic lives of the women are revealed in an expose article by the National Trust on the Sutton Hoo web site- ‘The True Story’ behind the ‘The Dig’. The National Trust I see were highly motivated to have ready, by the day the film was released, corrections with a suite of bios for the people misrepresented in the film. 

My other frustration was wasted screen time on the novel’s subplot of archaeologists Stuart Piggott’sfictional preference for a fellow male chum over his new wife! A back story, echoing the film the Imitation Game in which the plotline was a fact. The dominance of screen time allocated to this relationship and Edith Pretty’s illness resulted in dull screen time, and neglect of ‘The Dig’s- archaeology, the finds, excavation, British archaeology politics. The film was called The Dig! The film marketing established an expectation as a story of the greatest archaeological find in Britain in 20thc. The expectation is everything in marketing and hitting the right note is important to audience satisfaction. Audiences have been naturally confused in thinking the film followed history and the true-life experiences of the individuals portrayed. Yet the novel was followed create a romantic storyline. So unlike film the ‘The Imitation Game’ which tells a true story of its characters in the film. The Dig replaced fact with fiction and has done a great disservice to the individuals portrayed. The true story of the Sutton Hoo excavation and its team is fantastic, the vision and drive of Edith Pretty, and Basil Brown a wonderful inspiration achieved in spite of the 1930s British academic establishment. 

The film The Dig has many merits; beautiful cinematography, great sets and locations, talented cast. Where it disappoints is the poor choices of plot resulting in the weak screenplay, standout misogynist treatment of all female characters, and poor storyline editing. It was the story of the ‘The Dig’ that suffered, a missed opportunity by the producers who failed to understand the significance of women’s stories, the recent history, and the importance of the Sutton Hoo archaeology. Audiences have a nice film, rather than a film classic of the future. 

https://www.lhoteldeherce.fr/post/the-dig-hiding-sutton-hoo-s-women?fbclid=IwAR1IBpDsM5Jt_A4Ah_UBCLaPR6R6nlIwP69JxbKQ1kO6PLL9Cy5W1ZCogT8

An interesting article about missed opportunities for seeing our accomplished, older, fascinating female characters on film. We don’t see enough of older women in our stories.

I’m looking to write and to read and to witness the stories that include and focus on older women. Along with those other members of society as well.

I also want to see their faces.

A visit with a ghost and then, sometime later, rebuilding from ruins

The ruins of our garden shed

by Cynthia Wands

This year we lost our garden shed. We didn’t misplace it, but the loss was complete and unmistakeable. From years of slow moving soil erosion, and a rotting roof, the entire structure fell in on itself. And on it’s side. And down the hillside.

And yes, this does remind me of some of the scripts I’ve worked on. Initial promise. Lots of adjustment. Then total ruin. At least that was the worst case scenario I had in my head.

But back to our shed. The original owner of our little cottage built the garden shed, some eighty years ago. We found out that he was quite a character, even if we never met him in the flesh. Early on, we did have a visit from him as a ghost. But I’ll get to that in just a minute.

This owner, we’ll call him Mister Cottage, was a caretaker for the golf course across the way. He was staff, maintaining the grounds and the buildings, and when they rebuilt the main clubhouse, he reused many of the discarded bits to make our house. This included the old wood frame windows, which shimmer, and tink with cracking sounds when it gets cold. The welded together metals cans that served as an exhaust vent in the attic. And the Buick hand brake that continues its use as a door handle to the deck. He was inventive and determined, and he was successful in building this little cottage with a massive fireplace and a wonky kitchen. The story goes that he died in this house. We should have paid more attention to that part of the story.

But Mister Cottage loved his shed. It housed his giant table saws, and tools and lumber. It didn’t see much use for tending a garden, but it was the engine of his industry at the cottage. And this year, after eighty years of rain, the occasional earthquake, and raccoons, the shed had enough.

The garden shed waits for it’s reincarnation

So, for my playwright friends. You know the part in the process, where we look at the arc of the play, how does it move along, what actually happens, and how does it get there? This is the beginning of all that. It is the beginning of all that hard work.

During this pandemic solitude, Eric and I spent several months rebuilding the little shed. It was a slow, labor intensive process, pieced out by how much we could afford to buy things, and manage the work. Like in writing: IT WAS SO MUCH WORK. Everything took longer, and was harder, more complicated than it seemed.

And there was a strange sense of rewriting history as we worked on it. The table saw had been given away, the cement floor broken up, the roof rebuilt. But the painting part. Yes the painting. That’s when the odd things began to happen.

I wanted to paint the entire shed white. A very nice paint. All white everywhere. Eric helped me set up all the painting props: the tarps, the brushes, the rags. And it took weeks. I would spend hours painting the walls, the sides, the ceiling. And the paint would disappear. As in not show up on the walls, sides or ceiling. I would paint it again. Same thing. I went through 5 gallons of white paint. I had the feeling that Mister Cottage did not approve. Because we had been through this issue of interior decoration years ago.

When we first moved into the house, it was – spartan. We repainted walls, filled it with paintings and mismatched furniture and cooked smelly curry dishes, and listened to loud jazz, and played charades with friends where there was lots of yelling and laughing and banging about.

We started to notice that sometimes, overnight, things were moved around the house. Certain paintings on the walls (and only the paintings with naked people) were always tipped to one side. Things left on the counter appeared on the table. Things on the table appeared on the counter. You could hear the floorboards in the hallway creak, as if someone were walking away from you. You could hear things go bump in the night. Lights suddenly turned on in a room when no one was there.

And sometimes Thaitu, the Abyssinian cat, would jolt up and watch something move across a room, eyes bugged out, and then she would look at us as if we were idiots for not seeing it. Whatever it was. And then one night. I heard bumping and scraping in the kitchen, and got up, and turned on the lights. They flickered for a moment, and Thaitu appeared next to my ankles, fluffed up like a porcupine. The room was cold, really weirdly cold. And I knew he was there, and he was making it known that he was not happy.

Thaitu let me scoop her up, and I held her as I realized I had to be the one to do this. So I told him. I let him know that we loved his little house, and appreciated everything he did to build a home that was lovely and we would always take care of it. And we were going to hang the artwork with the naked people on the walls. And we would have parties and loud music and smelly food. But he had to go now. Because it was our house now.

And he left. The noises stopped. The artwork was left alone. And we thought we were done. Until I started in on the garden shed. And the paint wouldn’t show up.

I would paint a coat of paint and it would vanish. As in not appear. After three coats of paint it finally started to show up.

Three coats of paint. No really. This is what three coats of paint looked like.

After five coats of this damn white paint – it started to appear. We hung new lights. We put up shelves. And hooks and things.

This did remind me, again, of writing plays. Sometimes you write for a character to appear. You write and write and still, they don’t seem to have a form, a color, a point of view. And then, after a lot of rewrites and hearing them talk out loud, they start to show up.

The garden shed starts to show its color. White.

So, here’s where the playwright’s metaphor gets stretched a little thin. The tools had to audition for their place in the shed. No, seriously. My thought was, we only had so much space in the shed. Only so many tools could be included.

Auditions held for The Garden Shed

But much to my surprise, and perhaps related to my hotly contested abandonment issues, every tool was included in the final organization.

All tools are included.
The beginnings of the shed

So. There we are. The Garden Shed of Mister Cottage has begun a new life.

Very much like a new chapter. A new scene. A new act.

It means my garden can be supported with the tools, and the space and intention to do better work.

Just like a playwright.

And with that, I will go pour a glass of wine and celebrate.

The front walkway of the cottage.

Sometimes an image can help you breathe…

by Cynthia Wands

Was it just yesterday – really – yesterday. Saturday, November 7. I felt like I had this heavy pressure on my heart for weeks. But on that day, starting at 8:36 in the morning ~ we had phone calls, and messages, and tweets, and emails and Zoom sessions with family and friends. And that’s when I realized I had been holding my breath.

The 2020 Election had been “called”. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had been declared the President-Elect and the Vice President-Elect.

I watched television from Tuesday, November 3 through Friday, November 6, waiting for the results. It was excruciating. I went to bed, then woke up, then slept on the lumpy couch to watch exhausted newscasters play with projected numbers and revised projected numbers. Could Biden’s numbers go up? Were all the votes counted?

It felt hard to take a deep breath. It was hard to look away, but it was also hard to keep watching. I felt like I had been here before, waiting, for a long time, for something catastrophic or incredibly wonderful to happen. Either or. It felt like four years ago.

Four years ago, Eric, my husband went through a stem cell transplant at the City of Hope hospital. We’d been watching his cancer numbers climb (70% of his bone marrow had multiple myeloma cancer cells) and after a lot of research and soul searching, decided a stem cell transplant was his best choice. That’s when I noticed I was holding my breath. A lot.

During the weeks of preparation for the stem cell transplant (pre-meds, an implanted Hickman port , dozens of blood draws) I learned that all this work they were doing was to get him ready, was to help him survive the days after the transplant.

All his white blood cells would be affected (okay, killed off) by the chemotherapy/transplant procedure, and then, afterwards, the white cells would start to build up again. That was the plan. There would be a countdown of how his body would recover from the transplant, how his white blood cells would come back. According to the treatment plan, 7-10 days after the transplant, we would see his numbers go up.

So he had the transplant. He seemed to do well. But after nine days in recovery at the City of Hope hospital, his white blood count was still 0 -.1 (A normal white blood count is 4.5 – 10)

This was not good. He had several blood transfusions. My twin sister was staying with me and everyday we kept watching his numbers, worried that his recovery wasn’t kicking in. If his white blood count was still 0 after ten days, he would have to be transferred to another hospital setting, and another treatment plan would be suggested.

That’s when I noticed that I was holding my breath a lot. Waiting. Waiting for the numbers to go up. Waiting for the white blood cells to kick in. Waiting for him to survive this stem cell transplant.

And on the tenth day after his transplant, his white blood count rose to .7 – not even 1.

And yes, it was not 1 or 2 or 4.5 – but it rose more than it had in the entire ten day recovery period. So he was allowed to go to the next stage of treatment. I was still holding my breath. After 14 days, he was allowed to go home. Where he has continued to survive, and to go on to different drugs and treatment plans.

But I remember holding my breath. Waiting for numbers. And this election felt like that.

So I followed twitter feeds, and the television, and my phone. We were watching the numbers go up. In Nevada. Arizona. Georgia. Pennsylvania. And this damn Electoral College voting.

On Saturday morning, November 7, at 1:35am I saw this on the television screen:

I decided that I better stop watching the television. I left the lumpy sofa and went to bed. The next morning, I woke up, turned on the television, made some coffee, and then looked at Twitter on my phone. That’s when I saw this:

It was 8:36am in the morning.

I wanted to take a deep breath, but I was afraid my lungs would burst.

I was afraid that I would blink, the moment would pass, and it wouldn’t be true. Or that it would be true, but that it would turn out to be corrupted, and then become sadly untrue .

It was a moment that I had thought would change everything. It was a moment that I thought would feel like relief and validation and a sense of accomplishment. But it didn’t feel that way. I just felt scared to breathe.

As the day went by, it seemed more real. It almost seemed true. I heard from family and friends, and saw dancing in the streets, and heard church bells ringing in Paris in celebration, and saw fireworks in London to cheer the election results. I was able to join the Zoom meeting of the playwrights workshop that I love, and we read scripts where we forgot about an election, and projected votes. And little by little, I felt better.

But truly, it wasn’t until I saw this, on Saturday night, that I was able to really breathe. And cry. And laugh.

The first woman to be elected Vice President of the United States: Kamala Harris

And then there was this image:

The first speeches from President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-Elect Kamal Harris

Here they are. Both of them wearing masks. At a historic moment in history, they are showing up, making the best of it, and trying to breathe.

A good example of what we need to do, to get by in this present moment.

Women’s Voices

by Cynthia Wands

It’s been an amazing experience to listen to all the women’s voices during the Democratic Convention. Women who are journalists, broadcasters, politicians, a woman who works as security in a high rise elevator, sisters, mothers, Nancy Pelosi, and citizens.

I didn’t hear much authority in women’s voices when I was growing up. The nuns at Catholic school were characters, some brash, some almost invisible, but they were never heard from in the congregation at mass. They could sing in the choir. But they didn’t have voices that you could hear as an individual or participating as an equal in the church hierarchy.

As a playwright, I think back to all the characters I wanted to be as a young girl: a lion tamer, the first person who could fly without wings, an eccentric artist who kept a large menagerie of exotic animals, or a lawyer, like Katherine Hepburn in ADAMS RIB. I loved mouthy, extroverted, fearless, confident women who were fierce.

I’m looking at all the women who are running for office this election, and the voices of women interjecting their issues into the fabric of our chaotic American life right now. And I’m relieved to see that the centuries of women’s silence is coming to an end. I also see the pushback and disrespect and misogyny and violent objection to women in power, using their voices.

So I’m encouraged. For our voices as women, as characters, as people.

I wanted to share a bit of a giggle. This is a bit of diversion taped by the BBC, and the actors are having a bit of fun with our Zoom culture. I love it. I hope you do too. It’s about three minutes.

Auditioning for the Faces of America

by Cynthia Wands

Remembering an audience of 11,000 at the MUNY Theatre in 2019

I was watching the Democratic National Convention last night, and I’m still thinking of all the faces and voices from the Americans who appeared during the states roll call.

I’ve watched it three times since last night, and I’m still very moved by it.

I loved seeing the faces, and hearing their individual voices: some of them polished and confident, others were quirky and spontaneous and awkward. It’s a great melange of the people who care to be involved in this difficult period of time.

I miss being part of audiences, crowds, spectators, and feeling like I belong to a large group, a clutch, of people.

Last year I flew over to the MUNY theater to see a production of 1776, a musical I’d never seen onstage before, and I didn’t know much about it. It certainly reflects the time in which it was written, almost a piece of amber with flecks of culture embedded in it. And I still think about it, and the music, even today.

What I also remember about that production was the audience of 11,000 people who saw the show.

The MUNY Theatre in 2019

I wonder when we will ever get to feel that thrill of being together to celebrate en masse and to carry with us the contact high of belonging to such a large animal group.

I will say, that watching the close ups of people’s faces last night on the television, was rewarding and intimate. And it makes me wonder about the scale of what we’ll get to experience in the future.

When Everyone Hits the Pause Button

by Cynthia Wands

Opening Night of “ALL THE WAY” at the Neil Simon Theater, 2014

Occasionally I’ll get pictures as “Memories” on Facebook (I know, I know) that will make me pause and remember places and performances that were part of our pre-pandemic history.

When I look at these images:

I’m shocked to see so many people crowded together in an audience. No one is wearing a mask.

There are actors singing onstage with their mouths open wide right next to another actor who is also singing with their mouth open wide.

At a long ago party, there are wine bottles and glasses scattered across a table where anyone could just pick them up. I mean anyone could touch anything.

I don’t remember so many hugs, and embraces, and funny elbow nudging moments with the people I love.

So there’s that pause button. I know it may or may not come back that way.

In the meantime, I’m reading articles about the cultural cost of this pandemic to our industry. Specifically, The Fear of Jerks.

The New York Times May 27 2020 Polls Show One Hurdle to Reopening Broadway: Fear of Jerks

And I’m reading stories of those performers, like all those performers in all the shows, that were nipped in the bud by the pandemic. The pictures in this story really got to me.

The New York Times: The Universe Hits Pause, The Ripple Effects of Broadway’s Shutdown

But I’m also remembering what it was like to be in an audience, alive with energy that creates a cathartic performance.  I found this YouTube video of Patti LaBelle singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from CAROUSEL. And, yes, it is over the top, way over the top, and it could only happen in a theatre with an audience that was unafraid of being together.

You’ll Never Walk Alone – sung by Patti LaBelle at the Apollo in 1985

So. Yes. I’m looking forward to “live” theatre again.  When it’s safe. When it’s fearless. When we can be together.

Facial Consequences While Zooming

by Cynthia Wands

I don’t know about you, but I find I get perturbed when I look at my own face on a Zoom call. If the call includes a lot of people, and I’m looking at the group on a “Gallery” view, I have a face the size of a postage stamp, and I’m fine with that.

But I get disoriented when it’s a Zoom conference with just a few people, and there is my face, hanging on my monitor screen, like a lost animal in a cage at the animal shelter.  I see my Pursed Lips Reaction when I’m skeptical of something that’s said. Then there’s my Upward Facing Eyebrows when I’m surprised or combative or uncomprehending. The Eyebrows get a lot of the facial reaction exercises.

I don’t like being surprised by my own facial contortions. I’ll hear someone say on the call: “Cynthia, you seem surprised.”

I don’t hear that very often in my life. I’m like a Girl Scout: I’m prepared, I’m motivated, and I adapt. But don’t call me surprised. 

And I get thrown about what I looked like when I was surprised. (Was it the mouth? The eyebrows? A slight frown on the forehead?)

Usually I’ll try for a reply that diverts the attention. (“No, no, not at all; I’m not really surprised, but I am very interested in what you were saying. What were you saying?”)

So, I’ve come to realize that there are facial consequences to zooming: you’re seen in a spontaneous, perhaps faux dimensional reality that can catch you in unexpected moments. A little bit like real conversations in real time with real people.

The attached article by Dipika Guha about our current awareness of how theater artists live is a great read. Even with some surprises.

Can You Hear Me?

By Dipika Guha

“Suddenly everyone in the world is discovering how theater artists have always lived. From month to month, with no financial security, making our own schedules, relying on our own motivation, seeking solace with our friends and leaning hard on our networks without whom we are nothing- as artists or as people. Little has changed for us in some ways. We were born, raised and sustained in a field in scarcity and crisis. Some questions thoughts and questions remain the same, others are a virtue of the moment… “but it was broken to begin with” and “will anyone want to reconvene in a closed space together?”- “Perhaps we all will? Perhaps we absolutely won’t.” “Perhaps we should make stories and film them with our cell phones at home and upload them to YouTube.”

“Can you hear me?” and “Is anyone there?” is the refrain of Zoom calls and conference calls and Skype calls with friends, collaborators, and colleagues. What is clear is 
yes we are, in fact, here for each other. Our instinct is to connect- and to keep connected. Where once square boxes held the ephemeral – it is now the territory of the daily. We’ve all had a lifelong practice with sitting with the temporary present- the heightened moment that hangs pure in memory.”

The Lark Theatre Blog: Can You Hear Me?

Inspiration from Sugar Flowers in Amsterdam

by Cynthia Wands

Photography by Natasja Sadi

The world seems small these days. Although we’ve been living a quarantine style life here in my house for quite a while, it aches to see the rest of the world in such subdued, grieving and restrained circumstances. But here’s a surprise.

I discovered a woman who makes sugar roses in Amsterdam, and she spoke directly to my idea of writing plays. (The capriciousness of inspiration…) This Instagram posting spoke to me how tediously long the rewriting process is, how you risk experimenting with unknown characters, without names or a history as you try to create their world and identity.

I used to work in a French Bakery in Berkeley many years ago – the French Confection on Hopkins Street. We made cakes for grand events, following the recipes in the tradition of French chef Alain Ducasse. I peeled apples. Strained raspberries. Rubbed the skins from hazlenuts. I loved the architecture and the formality of the cakes made there: Boule de Niege, The Marjolane,  The Polonaise, The Nuit St. George. All created from a history of risk, experimenting, and the revelation of a surprise or two in the final form. I was an actress working to get my SAG card, happy to have a job that helped subsidize my struggling actor lifestyle. I had no idea of the impact of working in that bakery: how the impression of discipline, form and generous artistry would follow me in my future.

I found this inspiration in an Instagram article, written by Natasja Sadi, the force behind an account called cakeatelieramsterdam

She collects bouquets of flowers, and photographs them, and uses them for inspiration in her sugar work. Her sugar work is impossibly beautiful, unworldly and inspired. The world seems a little more wide-reaching today. 

Here is the posting from Natasja Sadi: 

The world’s most exclusive tulips at my table. I’m still dreaming of all the fields I was so fortunate to visit. (Thank you @passionfortulips for the tour and meeting all the amazing Dutch breeders at 1.5m/6ft distance.) I was so lucky to go home with these incredible tulips.

Some tulips here are straight from the grounds of what they call the breeding chambers. Bulbs that are still in their experimental phase. Some seen here don’t even have a name yet. Only a number. Did you know that it takes 5 years for a bulb to become a new tulip and another 10 years to hit the market? These breeders taught me an incredibly important lesson. Patience. I sometimes get restless planning ahead. Thinking of projects that will take several months.

These breeders work so hard, take an incredible risk cultivating new tulip variations and know that they are in this for the long run. 15 years… They are in no rush. They just continue with their passion to produce the most exclusive, most beautiful tulips the world has seen…

Spring in Holland is like nothing else. A magic carpet of colors everywhere. A fairytale that sometimes seems too unreal, the mind doing it best to process all the beauty…

The Cake Atlelier Amsterdam, an Instagram Account by Natasja Sadi

An Immersive Performance

by Cynthia Wands

Years ago, I was involved in a kind of “immersive theatre” – portraying living suffragette characters from history when I lived in Boston. It was more of a “yelling at people” kind of theatre – any interaction from the audience was viewed as a disruption. I was painfully reminded of those characters during the recent Democratic debates. I did, in fact, turn off the television and did not watch the rest of the last debate when the candidates started screaming at one another.

But it did remind me of this style of performing – a sort of living out loud conversation with the audience. This was a kind of “passionate role playing” that attempted to share the experience and rage of the women’s movement in the early 20th century. Mostly what I remember is that I blew out my vocal chords, (not using the right kind of vocal training here), and that I wore a really uncomfortable corset that squeezed me like a lemon.

Cynthia Wands as Lucy Stone, A Suffragette from Massachusetts

Here is a link with a 22 minute video that shares some of the performers/creators of some of the current immersive style theatre being performed in New York City. The folks that I know that have gone to see “SLEEP NO MORE” have really enjoyed the experience (with some reservations). I think there is a kind of intimacy, not just physical, but energetically, that connects people to this style of performance. It speaks to how our audiences need to feel connected to the world and what they feel.

https://allarts.org/programs/immersive-world/immersive-theater-qy9hup/?fbclid=IwAR2SorOmunyEJoKmguJOpWKPLPBsieS_5HtMK-uU9RtsSTYICpgrAVJcyJo