17 Years

Hello Everyone…

Last week, I helped set up the stage for Independent Shakespeare Company’s production of Cyrano de Bergerac, at the company’s studio space in Atwater Village.

Andre Martin, translator and title character...

Andre Martin, translator and title character…cleck HERE for details!

There wasn’t much building to be done. Cat, the set designer for Cyrano, had managed to create a design out of the remnants of the set I built for Macbeth, ISC’s flagship show in their Shakespeare Festival in Griffith Park this passed summer, which had been stacked away in a corner of the studio. One by one, Cat and I – along with Kevin and Andre, two actors performing in Cyrano who’d come to help out – pulled wall pieces off the stack and set them up according to Cat’s design.

Kevin and Andre would run lines with each other as we worked, shouting dialogue to each other across the room, over the music playing from Cat’s iPhone. Andre was tasked with performing the title role of Cyrano. He also translated the play from French to English for the production. This production was his baby – he had a lot invested in it, artistically. Even during periods where he wasn’t running lines with Kevin, he’d quietly mumble lines to himself as he wandered the stage or held a flat in place as I screwed it to the floor.

Some of the flats were stained with stage-blood from the Macbeth production. Dead leaves were stuck in spiderwebs of the many arachnids who’d made homes in the crannies of the wall flats – more than once I found one of the 8-legged creatures crawling up my arm. The wood of the flats was also hard and dry, due to outdoor exposure in the park over the summer. It would crack into pieces when I screwed into it, if I wasn’t careful. But the flats held together and just before midnight…voila!…Scotland had become Paris. When Cat unplugged her iPhone from the PA, a deep quiet fell over the studio, like when birds stop chirping just before a tornado. As the silence began to lift, I could hear Andre mumbling away, somewhere behind the set.

From Scotland to Paris...

From Scotland to Paris…

The next day, Cat and I continued working on the set. Her friends, Lexie and May, came in to paint. The three women were attending UCLA together. They were good hearted 21 year olds and fun to be around.

“Oh my god, The Backstreet Boys!” exclaimed Lexie, when one of the band’s tunes came up on Cat’s iPhone. “I think it was the first CD I ever got! Wow, they were such a big part of my childhood.”

The Backstreet Boys were not a big part of my childhood. In fact, I was already 21 years old when they were popular the first time around, 17 years ago. I didn’t listen to the Backstreet Boys, then. I was still mostly listening to country music, still living in the small South Texas town of Orange Grove, population 1,212. But in the fall of 1996, I felt I needed a change, so I cut off my nearly shoulder-length mullet, quit my job pumping gas at the Exxon station in Orange Grove, then nervously stumbled into the Acting For Beginners I class at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The professor of the class had taught a speech class I took, a few semesters before. I was horrible in that class – froze or stuttered everytime I had to speak – and eventually stopped showing up. But he remembered me when he saw me on that first day of acting class.

“Well,” he said, curiously, “Mr. Pate. Welcome.”

It felt real good to be remembered and welcomed, so I listened hard in the class and did whatever the professor asked of me. He ended up taking me under his wing and for the next three years I acted in most of the University’s productions. I also knew how to use all the power tools in the shop, which gained the attention of the technical theatre professor. He ended up giving me a job and I built sets for the productions, until I graduated. From there, I went on to act, write, build, produce and go broke in the theatre all over the country. A million things happened along the way and The Road took a million turns as one show led to another – all of it leading me to Cat, Lexie and May on a Sunday afternoon in a theatre in the Atwater Village neighborhood of Los Angeles, California …as if the only purpose of those 17 years was to lead me to them, at that location of spacetime. Those years passed by so, so fast. That Sunday, I could still feel that mullet against my neck, smell the gasoline on my fingers as those three giggly 21 year olds bounced around to the swingin’ hits of the 90s. But my aching back and throbbing knees made it clear that 17 years have, in fact, passed by…and I was no longer the young one in the group.

It’s been 17 Halloweens since that first acting class.

It’s been 17 Halloweens since that first acting class.

Later that week, I went back to ISC and continued working on the set. A number things needed to be made safe or more cosmetic. Squeaky flooring needed to be fixed. Wires needed to be run for light and sound. Furniture peices needed to be built. Cat and I goofed off here and there as we worked, but Opening Night was getting nearer, so there were long quiet stretches here and there, as the two of us focused, worked faster and moved from one task to the next. Kevin was there on both days, working hard right up until rehearsal time. And so was Andre, helping, wandering, mumbling…

Just before rehearsal on Friday, the set was nearly complete. I was getting ready to leave when my buddy, Sean – who was also in the play – came in. We caught up and made plans to start working on a short film we’ve wanted to make together. I was tired from working, but talking with Sean about the project invigorated me, and my knees and back didn’t ache so much anymore. By the time Sean and I were finished discussing the project, the other members of the company had arrived. The stage manager was setting the props. Actors were running lines or discussing parts of the play. Every now and then, one of the actors would grab Andre by the arm and run a few lines with him, then leave him to his mumbling and wandering.

Everyone came in from there own long, real day. Their few short hours of make-believe together would begin when Melissa, the director, arrived. When she did, she looked just as tired of as the rest, yet bounced around – energetic, in good cheer – also like everybody else. Everyone was ready to work on the Life that rages on in Cyrano de Bergerac.

20131018_185338-1

Between the Real Long Day and the Few Short Hours of Make Believe.

If you’re not familiar with the play, it centers on Cyrano, a archetypal Frenchmen – a duellist, poet, musician, an all around Renaissance Man, possessing a profound panache. But he’s also cursed with a ridiculously long nose which puts a pretty big dent in his self-esteem – and, therefore, his panache – everytime he enters the presence of the beautiful Roxanne. Cyrano loves Roxanne, but doesn’t have the stones to tell her. Another man, Christian, loves Roxanne, too, but doesn’t have the panache to adequately express his love for her. So, Cyrano writes beautiful letters dripping with panache on Christian’s behalf. Roxanne reads the letters and falls in love with Christian, leaving Cyrano to wander alone, as the odd man out, unable to reap the benefits of his panache. Not until many years later, after Christian has died, and Cyrano is dying, does Roxanne find out that the letters that triggered her love for Christian were written by Cyrano, that it was his panache that awoke the love inside her. But by then, it’s too late. Cyrano est mort…the panache is gone…c’est la vie. The play’s filled with love, longing, fellowship, happiness, loneliness, death, deception, there’s tender moments with poetry, harsh moments filled with danger, it’s funny and sad and a there’s even sword fight.

Just like the last 17 years of my life, probably your life, too…avec ou sans the swords, big nose or not.

Be well…

Doldrums

Hello Everybody,

I’m leaving LA soon, so on Wednesday I headed out to the beach at Santa Monica to jump in the ocean one more time. The beach wasn’t crowded. School had started and the vacation season was winding down. Only clusters of very pretty European women lay out on beach towels whilst solo men with thick accents pranced about in man-panties, too afraid to go all the way out to the breakers for the water was very cold. I lay down my towel next to some lovely French ladies and – fearless and American – ran at full speed into the water, dove under an oncoming wave, then swam out past the breakers.

Birdrain

Birdrain

It was a very hot day with no sea-breeze. The waves came in fat and slow. There was a strong riptide, too, so I’d get sucked out as the waves rose, then pushed back toward the shore as they crashed. For some time, I let the waves push and pull me wherever, floating on my back, barely stroking to stay above water.

A squadron of pelicans were out, flying close to the water. Some came within five feet of me. They glided so slow it appeared as if they’d simply drop into the surf if they flew any slower. They were huge, each one around the size of a year old pit bull. Their eyes twitched, feathers glistened as they patiently trucked across the sky. But after they’d pass me, they’d take a drastic upswing, twist in weightlessness, then dive bomb into the water. After they’d pop up above the surface, they’d float on their bellies with something flopping around in their gullet. It looked as if I’d floated into some feeding area of theirs. Pelicans began to splash into the water all around me, like birdrain.

I swam back to shore after my fingers turned blue. The temperatures of the air and water were so extreme. After a few minutes of shaking, panting, I lay down and instantly grew drowsy in the heat. I glanced across the beach to see visible heat waves dance, distorting the shapes of homeless people who call the beach home. I closed my eyes and listened to the French girls next to me say French things until I drifted off to sleep. The crashing waves stayed with me during my slumber – a soundtrack for little day dreams. But when a particularly large wave crashed onto shore I opened my eyes. The French girls were gone, as were many other beach goers. I was beginning to feel the sunburn, so I left, reluctantly.

I hopped on the bus back to Hollywood, but got off in Beverly Hills. I didn’t want to jerk about inside the bus as it wrestled with the rush-hour traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard. It was still very hot but my apartment was hotter, so I figured the long hot walk back to Hollywood would tire me out enough not to care about the heat, leading to a full night’s sleep, which had been rare over the last week. Six miles in flip-flops would do the trick, I was sure.

20130828_173351I waltzed through fancy Beverly Hills. Pretty people wore sunglasses as they enjoyed cocktails out on the sidewalks of cafes. But out in a park along Santa Monica Blvd were the homeless of Beverly Hills, scattered about the short green grass like casualties on a battlefield. The sun was behind the trees. Golden light lay over these wounded, clothed in many layers of dingy clothing. They’d noticed me walk to them, but all they could manage was the opening of one eye, and a turn onto their other side.

About an hour later I was smack dab in the middle of fabulous West Hollywood. It was passed the cocktail hour and the pretty happy people were now being served dinner at tables on the sidewalk. The waiters,dressed in white long-sleeve shirts and black pants, hustled tray after tray out to the tables. Their faces glistened with sweat as they explained the specials for the evening or listened to an order from a patron. They’d smile, say something like, “no problem, it’ll be right out,” but when they turned their faces dropped into exhausted frowns. In the kitchen, out the kitchen. Smile. Frown. Smile…

A few tweakers and drunks were out in West Hollywood but not until I got into Hollywood Proper did I see any serious winos and junkies. By then the sun had set, and I’d walked up  onto Sunset Boulevard. There, dark skeletal faces peeked out from door archways – not to plead, but more like to see if Earth was still out there. Satisfied they were still on terra firma, their hollow eyes would fade back into the darkness.

Hollywood

Hollywood

It grew darker and darker, two snakes of headlights hissed down Sunset. The tattooed and scabbed of Hollywood danced across intersections to music only they could hear. Outside the Palladium, a long line of sexy, short skirted, fish-netted, heavily eye-lined jail bait waited for a concert to start. Some smoked by the curb, jumping onto the street every now and then, oblivious to the speeding traffic or the Surgeon General’s warning. I weaved through them. I was almost to the bungalow. It’d been three hours since I got off the bus.

Tired as I was, I still couldn’t sleep that night. The bungalow was sweltering. I was also sleeping on the floor – Luis and Andre were almost completely moved out. So I lay on my back and tried not to sweat, in a state of semi-consciousness, where I wandered in and out of the visions of gloomy futures, deep into the quiet hours.

The next day, I helped my friend, Danny, fix up an apartment that he managed – new tenants were moving in. Danny was performing the role of The Porter in Independent Shakespeare Company’s production of Macbeth, this summer in Griffith Park. I met Danny while I was building the set for the production. Danny’s a great fellow and a hell of an actor. The Porter is a small role but one that requires a the balancing of comedy with foreboding, for the play only gets darker and bloody after The Porter exits. Danny definitely delivers. He begins the role passed out drunk in the audience, finally coming out of his stupor to answer a knock on the doors of Macbeth’s castle. As he makes his way to the doors, he improvises, plays with the audience – to hearty applause and cheers – then delivers this monologue:

Here’s a knocking indeed! If a man were 
porter of Hell Gate, he should have old turning the 
key. Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there, 
i’ the name of Beelzebub? Here’s a farmer, that hang’d 
himself on th’ expectation of plenty. Come in time! 
Have napkins enow about you; here you’ll sweat for’t. 
Knock, knock! Who’s there, in the other 
devil’s name? Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could 
swear in both the scales against either scale, who com- 
mitted treason enough for God’s sake, yet could 
not equivocate to heaven. O, come in, equivocator. 
Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there? Faith, 
here’s an English tailor come hither, for stealing 
out of a French hose: come in, tailor; here you may 
roast your goose. Knock, knock! Never 
at quiet! What are you? But this place is too 
cold for hell. I’ll devil-porter it no further: I had 
thought to have let in some of all professions that go 
the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire.
Anon, anon! I pray you, remember 
the porter.

Danny and his son after the closing performance of MacBeth.

Danny and his son, Malcolm, after the closing performance of MacBeth.

Danny improvises a bit more after the monologue, asking random audience members what they do for a living, always insinuating to that hell is an option for all of us, because equivocating is so easy to do for us humans. And no one is immune to resorting to equivocation. Really. Think about it. And, if you’re not sure what equivocation means, look it up here, like I did, then think about it.

“What are you gonna do, Todd?” Danny asked me as we worked in the hot afternoon. “What’s your plan after LA?”

I equivocated, of course, mumbling something about Texas but also about staying in LA. Danny processed my response, his equivocation radar – along with his bullshit detector – easily picking up on my uncertainty. He squinted his eyes as he peered close to the window trim he was painting with a very little brush as he told me, “You can go somewhere and work for a coupla’ years – Alaska or on ships – then come back, buy ya a motorcycle and just ride around. If nothing happens by the time the money runs out, worst case scenario is your right back to where you are now, right? You got nothing to lose. Me, I gotta wife and kids, I can’t do nothin’ like that.”

On Friday morning at 9am it was already 90˚. Luis, myself, The Great Warrior and our friend, Kelly, hung out in the driveway outside the bungalows.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” said The Great Warrior. “My computer told me it was supposed to cool off today.”

The Gloom...

The Gloom…

Later on I sat dumbly by the window, though no breeze came through at all. I had things to do but couldn’t wrest the willpower from my laziness to do anything. So I sat there, unsure of absolutely everything. Those gloomy visions came rushing in again.

Jason, the tenant in the neighboring bungalow was working on his motorcycle, just outside my window. He’d been working on the bike all summer – taking it apart completely, putting it back together, tuning the engine all day, then taking it apart piece by piece again. Sometimes I think Jason will never ride the motorcycle, that his work on the bike is the sole purpose of his having a bike. He was meant only to put that bike together, take it apart, I thought, a steady practice on his off days to bring together his physical being with his spiritual. Like Gandhi and his spinning wheel, or something like that.

“How’s the bike, Jason?” said John, another tenant in the compound of bungalows. John was from Georgia, and spoke in a high-pitched, slow, hung over and stoned southern accent.

“I’s good, man,” answered Jason – from Alabama – equally as slow.

“Gettin’ her runnin’?”

“Prolly pretty soon.”

“Man, it’s hot, ain’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“I gotta work in this shit.”

“Yeah,” said Jason, laying on his back, turning a bold with a wrench, “me too.”

“Hey, man,” continued John, “I checked out this video the other night. It was a bunch a videos all put together. Global warming and shit and floodin’ and stuff we all know’s happenin’ but when it’s all right there in front a ya it’s like ‘oh, shit, man’…you know?”

“Sure.”

“I mean the temperature’s risin’ all over the place with pollution and all, overpopulation and no more food left. And there’s no bees and entire flocks of birds are fallin’ out of the sky, man.”

“Uh, huh.”

“Well, were livin’ in some f#$ked up times, I tell ya.”

The stage is clear for another Run...

The stage is clear for another Run…

John wandered back into his bungalow. Jason continued working on the motorcycle. I got a text from my mother, letting me know my sister just had a baby girl. They named her Arabella Rose Cirio, after her great-grandmother who came here all the way from Italy in the old-timey days. It was exciting news. Another baby, another run at Humanity, another chance of another one of us to live a life beyond the scope of her imagination, as long as she keeps cool in the heat.

Jason was still working on his bike at 1:54pm, when the wind picked up and cooled things down a little.

Be well…

 

The Pipeliner’s Dilemma by Luis Galindo (Echoes From Other Hobos, #1)

Luis Galindo

Luis Galindo

He stopped the truck and threw it into park on a dirt road just after The Universe punched him in the face. It was as though someone who was sitting next to him had reared back and struck him across the jaw line, so clear and startling was the revelation.

He’d been working on the pipeline for several months now – an outfit called King Pipeline. His younger brother had got him the job, even managed to secure him a place on his crew in those first months. They worked together in the chemical plants and refineries of Pasadena and Channelview. It was good to work with his brother. He enjoyed it very much. But his brother had recently been sent to head up a new job in New Orleans, leaving him alone to work with men he did not know on a cattle ranch on the outskirts of nowhere while living in a cheap motel room in Goliad, Texas.

He’d started on the pipeline in the early Summer of that same year, a month after graduating from a university on the East Coast with an Master of Fine Arts in fakery and disguise. He’d vowed that he’d never take another job where he’d have to shower after work – just a few years before, sitting in his apartment in New York City with his friends, proposing a toast, “Here’s to grad school boys and to never having to lift shit for a living again.” But since then he’d done much lifting, continued lifting and had been lifting heavy objects until just a few moments before The Cosmos had tried to give him a knock out blow in the cab of the work truck which he now drove.

He’d just completed a ten-hour workday on the Polinski Cattle Ranch where he and the pipe gang were laying half a mile of thirty-two inch pipe, which was to be pulled underneath the Colorado River then used to transport natural gas to its final destination. Where that destination was he didn’t know or care.

As he sat in the cab of the work truck alone, a mile away from the main gate of the ranch he began seeing things in a different light and thinking things with a different means of process. The truck, the sky. The whole world seemed very familiar yet strangely different, more wondrous than it ever had, before this moment. And in a voice as clear as his own he heard the words, You could be happy doing this for the rest of your life. Maybe.

The sun was setting and it streaked the South Texas sky with swaths of purple, pink, orange and blue the likes of which he’d never seen before in his life. Cattle grazed lazily on that vast stretch of land. Pecan and Mesquite trees dotted the ranch as far as one could see to the south. Small flocks of birds winged through the twilight. Though the truck’s engine was off the radio still played low, but clear. It was a country music station and the song was pure honky-tonk heartbreak. Steel guitars cried and a man’s voice pleaded. The song, as far as he could tell, was about loss and moving on. Hands on the wheel. The enormous silence underneath absolutely everything – the light, his breath, the tightness of the muscles in his back and his legs all the way down to his steel-toe boots. All of the world, there, in that perfect moment. Precise. He was there.

Maybe I could do this forever? Maybe this is all I need? Maybe working hard, making money and living in motels until the right woman came along would be alright? I could pay off my student loan, buy a new truck, buy a house and be an eligible bachelor with something to offer. Hell, I might even quit drinking and doing drugs. Then he thought through the whole list again.

Could he give up trying to be an artist? Could he really work this way for the next thirty years? Would this be enough to sustain his spirit, his comfort level, while his loftier ambitions were put on hold? Could he pretend those ambitions were not there? Could he continue pouring vodka and pills on his problems? Would the fire that burned inside him be extinguished long enough for him to build an escape route to this life?

He thought of the long days of work. The sun or the cold beating him down one millimeter at a time. He would be beaten a little smaller every day. He thought of the intolerance of some, not all, of the workers on the crew, the bosses, the bosses’ bosses until it became one long chain of ignorance and fear. A chain of hate forged in the cold fires of the inability to reach out, to try and understand another human being. How many more “fuckin’ wetbacks” could he hear before exacting revenge?

He thought of the woman he might meet. Would he meet one that really loved him? One that read Thomas, Cummings and Shakespeare? One that would tolerate his penchant for carousing until the small hours? One that would stay?

Thought after thought, possibility after possibility. Scenarios from what he thought a normal happy life might look like flooded his head. Scenes with women, first dates, bank managers, car dealers, dentists, in-laws, doctors, children, little league games, all of these things filled his mind at once like some dry and desolate water tank with a rusty and reluctant valve which now broke open and flooded the parched and dry receptacle of his mind with hope and wonder. He looked at his reflection in the side-view mirror. He saw the face of a man he thought he knew staring back at him. A man only slightly familiar, like some distant cousin met only once or twice in childhood.

The sun had almost disappeared and the brilliant colors from a few moments ago were almost gone like ribbons being taken down after a birthday party. Deep indigo and lighter blues remained, hanging there in space like towels on a clothesline. He turned the key in the ignition. The engine started right away, a low loping murmur. He put his right foot on the brake, shifted into drive, released the brake and slowly made his way down the dirt road towards the ranch gate and its lock.

He arrived at the gate, put the truck in park and killed it. He got out, unlocked the gate and swung it open away from the highway which was just a few yards in front of him. He got back in the truck, started it, drove to through to the edge of the highway, got out and went back to shut the gate.

Before he returned to the truck he stopped and looked left on the highway then looked right. There was no traffic, no wind, nothing save the lights of the radio towers that dotted the horizon and what few stars had begun to shine. Time was swollen, pregnant with what The Universe had just revealed to him. Was it The Universe, or him? His own fear, intolerance and inability to reach out and understand another human being, namely himself?

He stood there in that dense stillness. Maybe this life isn’t so bad after all? Maybe I don’t need to be an artist? It could be this simple all the time. The distrust of these ideas made his shoulders tense. He drew a deep breath and sighed it out.

He needed a drink. He walked back to the truck, reached under the seat and pulled out a plastic pint bottle of vodka wrapped in an oil cloth and stored in a plastic bag. He unwrapped it and looked to see how much was left. A little less than half. Just enough to get him to the liquor store and refuel and to make the music on the radio sound better. It would also serve to help him forget the decision that was put to him, if just for the rest of the night.

He unscrewed the top and took a long hard pull. The jet-fuel vapors in the nose and the sweet burn down the throat were all too familiar to him now. He’d been drinking and drugging hard for a year now. It felt exactly right and completely wrong at the same time, like playing himself at chess and pretending not to know what his next move would be. He screwed the cap back on and shoved the bottle, rag and bag under the seat again. He got in the truck, put it in drive and headed west on the highway towards Goliad in the quiet night. The vodka had loosened his nerves like a hot bath and he turned up the radio.

The Universe had revealed itself, punched him in the face. The only question left was would he punch back and how hard? He pressed the gas a little harder and watched the needle on the speedometer rise. Night was now completely upon him and he wondered what he would do.

© 2014

The Scottish King in LA

The Scottish King in LA

Luis Galindo is an actor and writer. He is an ensemble member of Independent Shakespeare Company in Los Angeles, currently playing the title role in Macbeth, and the role of Jaques in As You Like It, in their summer festival in Griffith Park. In the Fall, he’ll serve as a guest artist/lecturer at Tulane University in New Orleans. The Pipeliner’s Dilemma is part of his upcoming book, Electric Rats in a Neon Gutter – Poems, Songs and Stories from the Cities of America – due out in early 2014 via Jamberoo Press. Luis is from Texas.

The Bad View Of Tomorrow From Behind Today

Hello Everyone…

The projectors are rolling...

The projectors are rolling…

Last week, I spent a lot of time looking at the back of people’s heads – on the bus, behind the wheel waiting for red lights to turn green, in line at grocery, hardware and art stores. I didn’t see a lot talking – or communing in other ways – with anyone else. But I saw a lot of thinking. Or, I chose to see only their thoughts – their silence. In each little head in front of me was a miniature IMAX theater screening Le Grande Epic – but interpreting it differently. Behind the skulls of all the little heads, I saw lists of things that needed to get done that day. I saw worry over the possibility of some of those things not getting done that day. And, I saw the weary mixture of disappointment and consolation stirred by the fact that some of those things would have to wait until tomrorrow. That is, if the Great Projector didn’t break and our little IMAX went black – the only sound being Le Grande Epic spooling off the reel and falling, hollowly, to the floor.

When I am angry and tired, I tend to interpret Le Grande Epic as some kind of mockumentary-farcical-drama – comedic when I expect it to be serious and sad just when I think I’m going to laugh. Real people play puppets who the lead character can’t control. The lead character sacrifices himself over and over to spite his enemies – enemies impecably disguised as true friends, so well disguised, they treat him ill in no manner, whatsoever – those devious foes. It’s a bad film, to say the least. But when I’m angry and tired I proudly wear the lead actor’s thorny crown, and place the thoughts I want to see into all the little heads before me.

The beginning...

The beginning…

Why so angry and tired, you ask? No real reason, although I felt a little overworked, which was to be expected. The first show of Independent Shakespeare Company’s season in Griffith Park – She Stoops to Conquer – opened on Thursday, and all involved pushed through much exhaustion to get the show running. Producing a show is like herding cattled through a pencil sharpener. In the beginning, you can’t even see the pencil sharpener, and the bovine hoard moves along like a slow deep predictable river. This goes on for some time, and for a while time seems to be in abundance, even maliable. Then the pencil sharpener appears on the horizon – shakes a little from the pounding of hooves – so we work a little faster, longer, but we don’t go crazy. But suddenly – as if two or three weeks were completely cut from Time’s thread – the pencil sharpener is exponentially approaching. And – before anyone can do anything about it – the pencil sharpener is pulverized by the first hoof of the first cow, and only then do we think that maybe driving cattle through a pencil sharpener wasn’t the greatest theme to follow for a theatrical production. But we stick with the idea, for it is too late to change. We seek solutions – theatre magic – to make it appear as if cattle really are being driven into a pencil sharpener. This happens usually about a half-hour before the curtain goes up for the first show which, absolutely, must go on.

All shows are like this – to lesser or greater degrees – in my experience, and I have to say She Stoops to Conquer was a lesser degree or two than usual. But as opening night approached, the the time between searching for solutions, finding solutions and building those solutions amplified the electric currents in my head to sizzling levels and frazzled some brain wires.

But last week also offered a few moments of serenity and stillness. Tuesday night, I stumbled into one of these peaceful interludes, after the tech rehearsal started. In the calm, I was able to regain a sense of presence, to find the moment. The rehearsal started just after dusk. The hot day was gone and a cool invisible blanket covered the meadow. Not half an hour later, I was wearing a hoodie to keep warm. A few groups of people had wandered to the meadow and sat down to watch the rehearsal. Another group was having a party atop the abandoned bear cages of the old LA Zoo. Every now and then they would shout, cheer at nothing in particular while waving flashlights in all directions. When darkness had fallen, the lighting techs started to tweak the lighting. The light onstage flickered, shut off, brightened as the actors did their best to incorporate what they’d rehearsed onto a new stage. I felt far away from everything.

Watching the watchers watch.

Watching the watchers watch.

A technical rehearsal is a profoundly human portrayal of the human condition. The actors act, with no one “on-book” to feed them lines they can’t remember. They search their tired brains for the next word like grasping for life vests in blacknight water. Just as they are about to sink below the surface, another actor picks up somewhere further into the script and they continue on. They shake off the mistake and move about the semi-lit stage – getting used to costumes as they stumble further into the landscape of the writer’s mind. They a vague sense of this world, but the reincarnated souls of the characters obey the rules and do not inform the actors in which they reside. As the rehearsal continues, a few more pieces fit together. The show looks almost complete, as if one more spell by the Great Theatre Witch needs to be cast. A candelabra breaks, flowers fall out of a vase, and the sword fight looks a bit sloppy, but that’s the way it goes. Maybe things will be a little tighter tomorrow. At a certain point, the only solution is tomorrow. You don’t take groceries out of the bag, put them on the shelf, then put them all back on the counter and start checking out again if you bitched at the clerk. And the bus driver’s not going to turn around if you miss your stop. It’s just “sorry” to the clerk and a longer walk home – and you’ll be damned if you’re so cruel or absent minded tomorrow.

The cool darkness grew heavier during the second act. The actors moved about the stage like Scooby Doo and the Mystery Gang. I walked from side to side, behind everyone – checking out the stage from all directions to see if anything needed to be fixed. I noticed the back of everyone’s heads again. There was the director, Melissa’s head, Marcos’, Liam’s and Cassady’s – the interns – heads, and there was the back of Cat’s head as she viewed the show on a ladder next to a light, Laura’s – the stage manager’s – head. All were watching the same production, but their views of the world unfolding in front of them were as vastly different as they were as individuals.

The coyotes in the park began to call to each other. This excited the gang of flashlighted humans above the bear cages, and they began to shout and howl back at the coyotes. For a simple quick moment, there was absolutely no difference between humans and coyotes. Then suddenly – as if on a timer – both packs of animals stopped howling. Slowly, I began to hear crickets. Then, softly, the voices of the actors reached my ears. I became aware that it was really cold, despite the hoodie I was wearing. As I rubbed my arms to warm myself, a very old memory came back to me. I was sitting in a movie theater in Corpus Christi, Texas – I was around 7 years old. There was a clock jutting out of the wall, to the side of the screen, near the exit. It’s hands were illiminated – just before 3pm. I remember’d thinking that time didn’t matter as long as the movie was playing. Time – with it’s brutal potential to hover like God over us – could be obliterated as long as we continued to tell Our Story. That was about as Cosmic as I got last week.

Come out and see a show! Griffith Park, 7:30pm, Thursday thru Sunday until August 31st.

Come out and see a show! Griffith Park, 7:00pm, Thursday thru Sunday until August 31st.

She Stoops to Conquer opened Thursday night. I heard people really loved it. I would think so. It’s a big, busy, fun farce that has a lot of heart and it’s performed and directed really well. You actually believe you’re seeing the cattle enter the pencil sharpener. Some things came together perfectly, some didn’t, but the things that didn’t were probably not even noticed by the crowd. And any mistakes that were noticed were hardly minded at all. My friend, Claudia – a performer in the play – lost her skirt onstage. It got caught on the door. “The crowd got a good laugh when I slowly pulled offstage from behind the door,” she said. How do you start over after something like that? There’s only tomorrow.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

The Light behind Reality.

The Light behind Reality.

That’s the famous sililoquy in Macbeth, spoken by the title character. Macbeth is Idependent Shakespeare Company’s next show of the summer. It opens next week. It’s much heavier, much darker than She Stoops to Conquer, but immediately after humanity’s last recorded syllable, all our dramas and comedies will have appeared to be the same tale.

I fixed a few things on the set before the show on Friday, but left before the curtain went up. The heat of the day had gone, but the concrete at the bus stop released all the heat it had absorbed during the day. It was that dusty end-of-day summer heat that – even without a speck of dirt on your person – sinks into every wrinkle and crevace on your body and makes you feel nasty. I praised all the All-Mighties when I boarded the air-conditioned bus, then stared at all the little heads before me with all those little thoughts and all those little tomorrows. But for some reason, I slipped into Dark Yesterday. Soon, I was thinking of ways I could’ve made the set better. This, that, not that, or even that, Jesus, that would’ve been much simpler, you idiot! From there – naturally – I began to think of ways I could’ve treated ex-girlfriends better, then to things I should’ve told my father and close friends before they died. Then came the flood of a million other shoulds and shouldn’ts until I found myself reaching out in the blacknight water for life-preservers of memory – those moments when only just words were spoken and just actions were made in the moment.

A blurry fountain. No, I did not take a picture of her boob.

A blurry fountain. No, I did not take a picture of her boob.

I couldn’t find those moments, however, and when the bus stopped, all I had to save me from the stagnant waters of The Past was a young Mexican-American mother with a boob hanging out of her blouse. I let her exit the bus before me. She was holding an infant – and with one arm fastening child-to teat, and the other lugging her grocery bags, baby bag, purse and stroller, she stepped out on the curb and waited for another bus. She wasn’t even home yet, she had at least one more bus to go. Or, maybe she wasn’t going home. Maybe her tomorrow had already begun. Wherever she was going, she looked too busy juggling that baby to be stuck in The Past.

Be well…