Sunday, February 27, 2011

L.A. Diary #3

"A perky lad with a bad haircut and loud clothing" -- on CG

So we're into our final 48 hours in L.A., and the end of The Author (or, at least, my involvement with it) is less than 24 hours away; and this is probably the last opportunity I'll have to post here until we're all done and dusted. It seems significant in a way that it doesn't feel too premature to be essaying some final thoughts already: after all, almost anything could happen in tomorrow's final performance and it wouldn't much alter how I feel about this trip, this place, or this play.

This second week has gone by pretty quickly and the performances have felt better: not easier, but generally more successful. I think that's partly about being back in the groove after some time away; but I also think the composition of the audiences changed this week. Last week the CTG (our kind hosts) got pretty busy with papering the theatre -- making tickets available free or through special offers; this week, we've close to sold out every show without that being necessary to anything like the same degree (as far as I know). And that of course makes a huge difference. There's an audience that actively wants to be there, that's positively elected to have this experience, whether or not they know anything about it in advance. This changes everything, in ways that reach far beyond a simple note of enthusiasm in the room. As Jonny and I often remind each other, there's a huge difference between an audience that's clenched and an audience that's dilated (!), in their capacity to attend, to participate, to encounter themselves; and in relation to a piece like The Author which does what it does partly by trying to be seductive, an audience's receptivity is, in a sense, the conceptual space where the work happens. And, as I said in the last instalment, this receptivity is not (in this case, anyway) about openness, but rather about negotiation, a balance of willingness and carefulness.

This has a lot to do with the ability of the audience not only to hear the play but to experience themselves as an audience. This week, audiences have been readier to meet each other in a common place. Last week, for example, they found it almost impossible to abide a silence; certainly they couldn't fall quiet together, as audiences in other places more easily have: here, as soon as audience chatter would start to fade down (as it naturally does in places in the show), there would be resistance to that group dynamic, from people in the room who were still thinking of themselves principally as individuals, and determined to privilege their individual response over the sharing of a place and time with others. At one point last week Tim had to put his hand up in order to be able to speak, when in every previous performance everywhere in the world the audience would (eventually, at least) quieten down and create space for him. This week, all that kind of stuff has been far easier. And in tonight's performance -- a very live one, jarringly so at times, but manageably and quite beautifully -- those individuals who stood out (in particular a man who twice made baffling  but perfectly controlled interventions to declaim, first, a poem, and, the second time, a kind of Beckett-inflected riddle) seemed salient not just because they stuck their heads above the parapet but because they really seemed anomalous in the context of a much more coherent body of audience.

As I was writing that paragraph, Karl James, one of the two directors of The Author, has emailed us with kind and very touching end-of-term words, including something borrowed from last night's BBC2 Ken Dodd documentary (memo to self: must catch on iPlayer on return!), in which apparently Doddy distinguishes between theatre that does what it does to its audience, and theare that does what it does with its audience. Certainly I recognize the distinction and agree that it's the second kind that is what's required. I do think the four of us have been pretty successful as actors in being able to be with an audience; I also think what's made that crucial is that there is an element of tyranny in the play itself, an extent to which The Author as a script (notwithstanding some of its scrupulous notes and embedded directions) actually does do what it does to an audience: that's at least somewhat in the nature of a play text, anyway. I'm sure Tim might be as anxious as I would certainly feel about the prospect of productions elsewhere that didn't go out of their way to put the taking of care -- the company taking care not only of its audiences but, crucially, of each other -- so resolutely at the heart of the work. It's hard sometimes not to look at Tim's energetic hawking (tongue-in-cheek to some ineffable degree) of the published script without feeling a little unnerved by what The Author is when it's a book. But, thank Jah Rastafari and praise be to Wolverine, that isn't going to be my problem.

I wonder how I'll feel tomorrow night, finally, after eight months, saying everything in the knowledge that it really is the last time. Speaking tonight to some audience members after the show -- people have been very ready to talk afterwards, while I'm still in my seat in the auditorium: it's been lovely, mostly, the best bit almost -- it crept up on me a little, I was quite moved to find myself saying what a privilege it's been to work on this piece: and it genuinely has. I feel hugely enriched, enlarged, by the experience; I've learned so much; I've been in the company of some amazing and profoundly gorgeous people, I've been to places I never thought I'd go to (never mind Budapest, I was dazzled enough by Kenilworth), I've had the opportunity to be brave -- which is always an awesome gift -- and I've laughed a lot and when I've cried it's mostly been for good reasons. At the same time, you know, this fortnight's been odd, not particularly welcome: great generosity and hospitality has been extended to us, and much Southern Californian beauty and spaciousness has opened up around us; but this fortnight's been about Tim's ambitions for his work, not about mine, and tonight I feel a pretty unexciting disconnect about that. It's a difficult gig, after all, and Tim's a complicated man, and I don't know that my weirdness is very happily contiguous with his weirdness. But, the rigour of his work makes him important as an ally, and it's been rewarding to spend this time with him: and part of feeling intensely relaxed about moving on from all this in a few hours' time is knowing that, for all its uniqueness as a piece of work, many of the tasks that The Author sets itself can be carried on and examined further in all kinds of other formats and contexts. That's a nice feeling to fold in to my absolutely ravenous hunger for London, and for my work, my territory, my friends. Buckling myself into my Upper Class pod on Monday evening is, this time, going to feel blissful, I think. Bring it on.

But before then, we have a last full day ahead: Tim's driving us to Malibu, we'll eat, there'll be beachy stuff to do, T's hoping we'll see dolphins (as we did on Monday, from the car, driving up the 1, the coast road, north to Santa Barbara), the sun may even come out and stay out, who knows; after the show we're going to a great Lebanese restaurant over the road from the theatre, where we ended up the other night, it was good, they took good care of us. 

Recreationally, probably the highlight of the trip for me was a rainy afternoon (not quite long enough, really) at the extraordinary Museum of Jurassic Technology, just a few blocks from the theatre. You enter through the doorway of what looks like an unremarkable suburban house: inside is an extraordinary series of displays, pitched halfway between a quirky museum and an exquisitely crafted, theatrically conceived art installation. The Museum's remit takes in natural history, folklore, outsider crafts, esoterica, fringe science and a whole array of mind-expanding miscellanea. Here are artworks in the eye of a needle; mice on toast (for medicinal purposes, obviously); stereoscopic x-rays of flowers; extravagant theories of memory; local trailer park treasures; upstairs, a room containing painted portraits of every dog that's ever been in space. It's such a treat to visit a museum and leave with more questions than you arrived with; anyone who's ever loved Tom Waits, or Akhe, or Marquez, or old encyclopaedias in second-hand bookshops, would be absolutely entranced, I'm certain. I remember my old buddy Jeff Cain (who I saw while I was here, though all too briefly) telling me ecstatically about the museum years ago, and it was such a delight to visit after all this time, and to find it so modestly life-enhancing.

What I didn't have time for, sadly -- another of Jeff's recommendations, and in the same locale -- was the Center for Land Use Interpretation: but I've been enjoying their web site, and particularly, today, the gallery of topologically-inscribed "sentiments" in the Morgan Cowles Archive: which provides the following, gently apt end-note.

Next time you hear from me here, I'll be in London, and grinning.

1 comment:

David Fraioli said...

hey perky lad, i really enjoyed your performance.
i was at the 4:00 on sat.
wish you the best, and hope you come back to LA.
I wanted to say hi after but you disappeared.

Thrilling to be in that theater with you all.
Safe travels and continued braveness.