Archive for the tag 'Shakespeare'

My Life As An Actor (?!?!!)

December 1st, 2015

For some unfathomable reason, in the summer of 1969, when I was a new student at the University of Kansas, I decided to audition for a couple of Shakespeare plays being presented on the main stage at Murphy Hall.  On the form that I filled out at the audition, I indicated that I did not want any major speaking parts, that even just a walk-on would be fine, because I merely wanted to see what it was like to be “an actor.”  To my surprise, I was called back and cast in not one but both of the Shakespeare plays.

The first production was Julius Caesar, directed by Jack Brooking, who was reputed to be the best director in the theatre department at that time.  I did triple duty—as a revolting peasant (along with Ric Averill and many others) in the crowd scene cheering Caesar’s triumphant return to Rome at the top of the play; then as a soldier fighting bravely alongside Marc Antony; after which us soldiers flipped the front panels on our shields and we suddenly became soldiers fighting alongside Brutus.  Late in the play, I was a sentry overlooking Brutus’ camp. It was my job to climb a tall scaffold, to stand guard and alert everyone about approaching strangers.  Whenever this happened, I was to shout out the one and only line I had in the play, “What, ho!”  I practiced the line endlessly, trying out many variations.  Only trouble was, I discovered during rehearsals that I suffered from a severe case of vertigo. It was impossible for me to stand still on top of that tall scaffold, trying not to look down, sweat streaming down my forehead, into my eyes, which I could not wipe because I was supposed to be standing at attention, ever ready to shout “What, ho!”  I had visions of me plunging from that scaffold, breaking every bone in my body.  To this day, I don’t know how I survived the ordeal.  The only note I got from the director after each rehearsal was that my “What, ho!” needed to be more vigorously forceful, with an exclamation point, rather than timidly uncertain, with a question mark.  (When I shared this story years later in one of my classes in the English department at KU, an innocent sophomore asked if all my warning shouts of “What, ho!” meant there were prostitutes offering their services to soldiers on the battlefield at that time, and whether this contributed to The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.)

The second production I was in that theatrical summer of 1969 was The Taming of the Shrew, directed by guest director Jerome Kilty.  In this one, I was a cowering servant in the household of Petruccio, suffering all the physical abuses he heaped upon us.  It was a fun production, and there were great parties after many of the rehearsals, one of which I hosted at 1108 Avalon Road, the house near campus I was living in at the time.  I had such a good experience with this production, I tried out the following year for my third and final appearance as an actor.

This time, it was One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Dale Wasserman’s adaptation of the novel by Ken Kesey, to be presented in the tiny black box at Murphy Hall.  The director was Piet Knetsch, an amiable graduate student originally from the Netherlands.  I told Piet the same thing, that I wanted only a small part, preferably with no lines to learn.  He was most accommodating, and cast me as Ellis, a catatonic inmate who identified with the crucified Christ, arms forever outstretched.  Ellis also happens to be incontinent, and the other inmates make fun of him mercilessly whenever they catch him wetting himself on the cross.  I asked Piet how we were going to achieve this rite of passage, and he said nonchalantly, “Drink lots of water before the show, but wait till final dress.”  When final dress finally arrived, I did indeed drink lots of water, and I did indeed pee on cue, warm streams marking their progress down my green pajama bottoms.  The lights in the small space we were performing in were really hot, and soon you could see the steam rising from where I stood.  Piet quickly called for a break, and the costume designer was asked to hook up a clever device which would allow me to “relieve” myself more hygienically. Thus, all ten performances of the play went well, even though I thought it was rather sacrilegious for people to laugh at the crucified Christ wetting Himself.  Six hours on that cross, from nine in the morning till three in the afternoon.  Surely, He had to go.  He was human, after all.  The Redemption would have been meaningless had He not really died on a Friday, and then really resurrected on Sunday.

As for me, I never appeared as an actor on stage again, after that.  But my admiration for what actors do continues unabated, especially these past couple of days, when I have been in rehearsal with a very talented cast of 13 actors, directing them for a free staged reading of my play Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris at 7 PM on Thursday, December 3rd, at the Lawrence Public Library.  Come, and be amazed.  No one pees on stage, but Old Frank does give a vivid description at one point of how he uses a special enema of his own invention.

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The Beastly Beatitudes of the Chinese Zodiac

January 1st, 2010

After over half a century of reading and collecting paper place mats from Chinese restaurants all over the world, I’ve decided to collate my collection and share the Wisdom of the East with anyone who believes that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of by western horoscopes.

As you probably know, according to legend, the twelve animals in the Chinese Zodiac are listed in the order in which they arrived for an important meeting called by the Buddha (or maybe the Jade Emperor).  Unknown to the ox, the rat had jumped upon his back.  As the ox approached the destination, the easy rider jumped off his back, and this is why the rat is the first year of the animal cycle, the ox second, etc.

It might amuse you to know that, because of their birth years, Mozart and Shakespeare are rats, Richard Nixon and Barack Obama are oxen, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are rabbits, Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin are dragons, and Dick Cheney is a snake.

My mother tells me I was born on the day of a year when the “sympathetic” sheep was being ushered out by the “manipulative” monkey, that I am neither one nor the other but both, inheriting and exhibiting not just the best but also the worst characteristics of these two creatures.  My mother doesn’t like people to know it, but she’s a pig.  I console her by reminding her that Alfred Hitchcock is also a pig  She loves his movies—Psycho, The Woman Who Knew Too Much, and, of course, Dial M for Mother.

What about you?  If you have the stomach for it, you might want to check out your own beastly beatitudes below, courtesy of all the paper place mats from all the Chinese restaurants through the years which have contributed to my hardened arteries.

Rat:  1900, 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008

Forthright, tenacious, systematic, meticulous, charismatic, sensitive, hardworking, industrious, charming, eloquent, sociable, artistic, shrewd.  Can be manipulative, vindictive, mendacious, venal, selfish, obstinate, critical, over-ambitious, ruthless, intolerant, scheming.

Famous Rats: Michelangelo Antonioni, James Baldwin, Charlotte Bronte, Truman Capote, Wilt Chamberlain, Prince Charles, Sasha Cohen, Eminem, Scarlett Johansson, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Plato, Robert Redford, William Shakespeare, Leo Tolstoy, George Washington.

Ox:  1901, 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009

Dependable, calm, methodical, born leader, patient, hardworking, ambitious, conventional, steady, modest, logical, resolute, tenacious.  Can be stubborn, narrow-minded, materialistic, rigid, demanding.

Famous Oxen: Pedro Almodovar, Johann Sebastian Bach, Napoleon Bonaparte, Charlie Chaplin, George Clooney, Marlene Dietrich, Walt Disney, Anton Dvorak, Jane Fonda, Clark Gable, George Frederic Handel, William Inge, Rachel Maddow, Yukio Mishima, Paul Newman, Richard Nixon, Barack Obama, Vincent Van Gogh.

Tiger:  1902, 1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010

Unpredictable, rebellious, colorful, powerful, passionate, daring, impulsive, vigorous, stimulating, sincere, affectionate, humanitarian, generous.  Can be restless, reckless, impatient, quick-tempered, obstinate, selfish, aggressive, unpredictable.

Famous Tigers: Emily Bronte, Fidel Castro, Sheryl Crow, Tom Cruise, Emily Dickinson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lady Gage, Langston Hughes, Jay Leno, Jerry Lewis, Karl Marx, Marilyn Monroe, Marco Polo, Beatrix Potter, Queen Elizabeth II, Jean Seberg, Jon Stewart.

Rabbit:  1903, 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011

Gracious, good friend, kind, sensitive, soft-spoken, amiable, elegant, reserved, cautious, artistic, thorough, tender, self-assured, astute, compassionate, flexible.  Can be moody, detached, superficial, self-indulgent, opportunistic, stubborn.

Famous Rabbits: David Beckham, Johnny Depp, Zac Efron, Albert Einstein, Eartha Kitt, Whitney Houston, Angelina Jolie, Rush Limbaugh, Arthur Miller, Brad Pitt, Frank Sinatra, Leon Trotky, Orson Welles, Tiger Woods.

Dragon:  1904, 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012

Magnanimous, stately, vigorous, strong, self-assured, proud, noble, direct, dignified, zealous, eccentric, intellectual, fiery, passionate, decisive, pioneering, ambitious, artistic, generous, loyal.  Can be tactless, arrogant, imperious, tyrannical, demanding, intolerant, dogmatic, violent, impetuous, brash.

Famous Dragons: Edward Albee, Susan B. Anthony, Joan of Arc, Orlando Bloom, Sigmund Freud, Graham Greene, Bruce Lee, John Lennon, Florence Nightingale, Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin, Keanu Reeves, Ringo Starr, Mae West.

Snake:  1905, 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013

Deep thinker, wise, mystic, graceful, soft-spoken, sensual, creative, prudent, shrewd, ambitious, elegant, cautious, responsible, calm, strong, constant, purposeful.  Can be loner, bad communicator, possessive, hedonistic, self-doubting, distrustful, mendacious, suffocating, cold.

Famous Snakes: Ann-Margret, Joan Baez, Dick Cheney, Bob Dylan, Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, James Joyce, John F. Kennedy, Imelda Marcos, Pablo Picasso, Martha Stewart, Kanye West.

Horse:  1906, 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014

Cheerful, popular, quick-witted, changeable, earthy, perceptive, talkative, agile (mentally and physically), magnetic, intelligent, astute, flexible, open-minded.  Can be fickle, arrogant, childish, anxious, rude, gullible, stubborn.

Famous Horses: Muhammad Ali, Ingmar Bergman, Jackie Chan, Davy Crockett, James Dean, Clint Eastwood, Ella Fitzgerald, Harrison Ford, Aretha Franklin, Janet Jackson, Ashton Kutcher, Ang Lee, Silvana Mangano, Paul McCartney, Sandra Day O’Connor, Teddy Roosevelt, Sonia Sotomayor, Barbra Streisand, Mike Tyson, Luchino Visconti, Oprah Winfrey, Boris Yeltsin.

Sheep:  1907, 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015

Righteous, sincere, sympathetic, mild-mannered, shy, artistic, creative, gentle, compassionate, understanding, mothering, determined, peaceful, generous, seeks security.  Can be moody, indecisive, over-passive, worrier, pessimistic, over-sensitive, complainer, weak-willed.

Famous Sheep: Jane Austen, Catherine Deneuve, Anita Ekberg, Jamie Foxx, Mel Gibson, George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Franz Liszt, Michelangelo, Sam Shepard,  Mark Twain, Rudolph Valentino, Barbara Walters, Bruce Willis, Orville Wright.

Monkey:  1908, 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016

Inventor, motivator, improviser, quick-witted, inquisitive, flexible, innovative, problem solver, self-assured, sociable, artistic, polite, dignified, competitive, objective, factual, intellectual.  Can be egotistical, vain, selfish, reckless, snobbish, deceptive, manipulative, cunning, jealous, suspicious.

Famous Monkeys: Julius Caesar, Daniel Craig, Bette Davis, Federico Fellini, Jake Gyllenhaal, Louis Malle, Eleanor Roosevelt, Diana Ross, Will Smith, Elizabeth Taylor, Harry S. Truman, Leonardo da Vinci, Alice Walker, Naomi Watts.

Rooster:  1909, 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017

Acute, neat, meticulous, organized, self-assured, decisive, conservative, critical, perfectionist, alert, zealous, practical, scientific, responsible.  Can be over zealous and critical, puritanical, egotistical, abrasive, opinionated, given to empty bravado.

Famous Roosters: Catherine the Great, Amelia Earhart, Paris Hilton, Rudyard Kipling, Groucho Marx, Britney Spears, Peter Ustinov.

Dog:  1910, 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018

Honest, intelligent, straightforward, loyal, sense of justice and fair play, attractive, amicable, unpretentious, sociable, open-minded, idealistic, moralistic, practical, affectionate, sensitive, easy going.  Can be cynical, lazy, cold, judgmental, pessimistic, worrier, stubborn, quarrelsome.

Famous Dogs: Brigitte Bardot, George W. Bush, Mariah Carey, Cher, Winston Churchill, Bill Clinton, Doris Day, Benjamin Franklin, Jean Genet, George Gershwin, Jane Goodall, Herbert Hoover, Michael Jackson, Akira Kurosawa, Sophia Loren, Madonna, Shirley McLaine, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Donald Trump.

Pig:  1911, 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019

Honest, gallant, sturdy, sociable, peace-loving, patient, loyal, hard-working, trusting, sincere, calm, understanding, thoughtful, scrupulous, passionate, intelligent.  Can be naive, over-reliant, self-indulgent, gullible, fatalistic, materialistic.

Famous Pigs: Lucille Ball, Humphrey Bogart, Hillary Clinton, Alain Delon, Thomas Jefferson, Ernest Hemingway, Alfred Hitchcock, Mahalia Jackson, Elton John, David Letterman, David Mamet, Keith Olbermann, Elvis Presley, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tennessee Williams.

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23 September 2009: No Boners in This Church!

September 23rd, 2009

The roof of the 800-year-old church in Stratford-upon-Avon where Shakespeare is buried is caving in. Whatever else happens during the renovation of the church, I hope no one makes the mistake of disturbing the Bard’s remains.  Be forewarned!  The epitaph on his grave reads:
“Good friend, for Jesus sake forebear
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blest be the man that spares these stones
And curst be he that moves my bones.”

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