Monday, February 28, 2011

L.A. Diary postscript

May I say firstly that on the strength of one substantial strawberry margarita and two double-plus vodkas I am finding myself unexpectedly keen to say a little more tonight, having ended the run on a real high, and subsequently spent some quality time with my beloved comrades-in-arms in a Mexican bar across the street from this curious apartment. My tongue is artificially loose, perhaps; well, good. I'm the one person I know who I think should drink more. It's bad, really, isn't it, but it makes a difference.

The time we spent with our last-ever audience tonight was deeply beautiful -- I really saw the play tonight, saw what it was we've been doing, was kind of moved by that, by Tim's bravery above all, for which I feel so grateful. Also, something happened tonight, in relation to the travel of the box of Maltesers that makes a cameo appearance in the show, that was so touched by serendipity as to be almost unbelievable. It would take so long to explain; you had to be there, and/or "you had to be there": but it was a moment of incomprehensible beauty and loveliness, that occurred in a zone way beyond even the most meticulous rehearsal or crafty authorship. It was something that happened that couldn't have happened in any other medium. It made me re-love in excelsis what we do, what we've done. Even in its most ostensibly trivial accidents, theatre shows us, keeps re-showing us, how it can, and will, and does, change the world for the better. Fuck, please, the idea that this is somehow a hypothetical question.

Mostly I want to say though in this lubricated moment how much I love and admire my fellow actors, and how deep my respect and admiration is for Tim. My post last night was coming from a sore and ungenerous place after a difficult day and, honestly, a difficult fortnight. And that is something that happens; and I think my policy of never deleting a post from this blog, unless I happen to feel (and I don't think I ever have) that it was dishonest at the time I wrote it, is the right one. But yesterday's blurt came from a specific place and time, as does tonight's. This morning I thought a lot about Tim, about the kinds of qualities in him that I was trying to describe and, more broadly, to understand last night: and I realized, it was revealed to me in a huge "aha!" moment in the not-wholly-satisfactory shower here, that so much of what I was trying to deal with last night was about my baggage, my hopes and fears, rather than his. And it seems worth trying to say now that for all that it's been difficult over the past fortnight and often over the past eight months, my love and admiration and respect for all that Tim has done and continues to do is, or should be, untouchable.

I sat in the bar tonight and found myself giggling with pleasure at what this lately has been. I was in a play, a really good and important play, in Los Angeles; and if twenty years ago I'd told my seventeen-year-old self that -- jesus, I shudder to think what would have happened, but it certainly wouldn't have seemed remotely plausible. So, good, good. All is full of love.

Thanks, btw, to everyone who's left comments over the past fortnight: I had forgotten until this evening that I'd made a change to the blog to require comments to be moderated, due to a sharp increase in the levels of spam here over the past few weeks. So, I've broken out those comments and I'll try to remember in future that they're stacking up somewhere.

This morning, we were treading the sands of Paradise Cove, Malibu. I am not a Paradise Cove, Malibu sort of person. But I was, and am, glad of it. I'm realising, somewhat, that all along I should have been saying yes to some of the things I said no to. In the car on the way home from the final show everyone was singing out their memories of good moments, good times, over the past few months, and I realise that my hairshirt refusenik thing -- wanting to go home and work (i.e. save the world), rather than hang out in whatever bar -- is generally unproductive of those sorts of indelible memories. I think I too readily file the outcomes of inebriation alongside Peter Handke's stern assessment of t.v.: "Whoever and whatever is known to you through television is not known to you." Actually, sometimes, having a drink with the people you're nearest to (even when nearest is not the same thing as closest) can make something real happen. I would love to learn to let my guard down without chemical help: but then, hasn't this whole journey been, to some degree, in praise of guardedness? I don't know. It doesn't matter. It does matter. I'm writing partly about this sense I have of wanting to save the world, save people, make things happen, make more happen, more birds more air. It's not wrong. But it's wrong if it takes you too far from the place where your allies are. ...I'm rambling, innit.

We're going to have a good day tomorrow, and get on a plane, and go home. Home to cold grey England, where my work makes fucking sense to me, more sense than anything, purpose as clear and bright as anything, and the bodies I want to be closest to are radiating their beautiful inspiring heat. Home where my nakedness is waiting for me. So I suppose all this post is trying to say is: I'm so glad of The Author, I'm so glad of tonight, and I'm so glad of what's next. What a life. What a life.

Mazel tov!

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.

Monday, February 21, 2011

L.A. Diary #2

Photo: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times

Morning of the first of two days off from The Author at the Kirk Douglas Theatre: feels like a good landing stage from which to try and say a little about how it is.

From fairly early on, we -- or I, at least -- developed kind of a pat answer to a question that was often posed as The Author toured the UK and Europe. No, no, I'd say, the show is more different from night to night in the same place, than it is from place to place. Sure, a particular auditorium might shape responses -- the sense of heat and claustrophobic subterranean confinement at Traverse 2 in Edinburgh, the cool low-key informality of cushion-strewn Korjaamo in Helsinki, the perkiness of the Royal Exchange studio in Manchester -- but everywhere we went, any performance that seemed to indicate a local character or quality of audience engagement would almost always be superseded by one that confounded that picture.

To a degree that remains true of Los Angeles -- certainly we never know what's going to happen from night to night, not least because the play itself is such an amplification chamber for variation. But also there are some clear patterns emerging which are making our L.A. experience quite distinctive: and, actually (and this must be read please with no pejorative or defensive overtone), the most difficult time I think we've had with the show since Edinburgh. Difficult in a good way? I'm not sure. Certainly we can cope with a lot more now: experience has made us more robust than we were last summer, we have a level of deep-seated (and hard-won!) confidence in the work and in each other; and we haven't (...yet...) had to deal with the kind of outright furious hostility that quite frequently emerged in Edinburgh.

Quite the reverse, in fact, and what's funny is, that's kind of what's difficult. On the whole, people here are generous, up-for-it. More than that, they seem weirdly prepared. They may be a little surprised by the set-up they've walked in to but they're happy for us to bring it on. Almost nobody shrinks away from the idea that they may be spoken directly to, and possibly asked to respond. They'll hold gaze, they'll accept the offer. In a way, I think the format of The Author is one that's very recognizable to people here: it describes a social logic with which they're already very comfortable. Without all the organizing signs of power and authority and prestige that blare out of a standard theatrical space, audiences in other places have felt adrift, exposed; here, a model of equality of access and participation is already running in the background. Essentially, everybody here is already the star of their own show, which they're perfoming in 24/7. From the old Latino guys who run the corner shop across the street from the apartments, to the young girl at the frozen yogurt counter, to the starchy middle-aged ladies waiting in the lobby for us after the show, everybody seems to feel at home with the idea that they have as much right to be heard as anybody else. When The Author appears to make that offer to them, not only do they not wig out, they barely blink or pause to take a breath. They're ready with their own story, their opinion, their wisecrack.

None of this -- honestly, none of it -- is a bad or difficult thing in itself. It's kind of beautiful. It's exhausting sometimes, both in and out of the show, but there's something lovely about it, something admirable. What makes it difficult for us, I'd say, is not the audience's readiness to join in, but what happens to their receptive experience when reluctance or discomfort isn't a part of it. They may feel confusion, but they don't feel doubt. Their confusion is not disturbing to them and so it doesn't produce reticence: and I think doubt and disturbance and reticence are a crucial and significant -- I mean, signifying -- part of the conceptual world that this piece is trying to create for itself.

People here are really unguarded. That's the word: unguarded. They're ready to trust you, ready to tell you about themselves, ready to open up, join in, stand up and be counted. Previously, I've felt that this is a play that punishes unguardedness: when I've had doubts myself about The Author -- especially early in my experience of working with it, when we were in choppy waters at the Traverse and quite often people were clearly distressed and angered by it -- those doubts were often about the ways in which, as a play, it could punish those who, for whatever reason, didn't or couldn't keep up with what it was doing, which would certainly include those who were too ready to trust it. This is a play that deplores in its every action the idea of ever taking the mediated world at face value, and requires -- not just invites, but demands -- a resistance to that kind of passive, uncritical acceptance of what's coming across. 

Early on my character reads aloud a (real) newspaper cutting, from the London Lite, about the play we're all about to see, which describes it as "interactive". This is the only place in the world where The Author uses that word about itself -- it's never been described as interactive in any of the marketing or promotional materials that the production itself has released. (It's routinely described as "interactive" by others.) In using the word that one time, the play speaks with extremely forked tongue: it really wants you to hear that the description comes from the London Lite, which, even to an unfamiliar overseas audience, ought to sound like it's probably not a dependable authority on theatre criticism. It wants you to hear the word "interactive" and, rather than straight away mapping that adjective onto the chattiness of these first couple of minutes of the show and the seating arrangement and so on, to be a little guarded. It wants you to think: what does, what might, interactive actually mean in this situation? Those who are asking that question will quickly recognize how the play offers no more than a faulty simulation of the kind of "interactivity" that the London Lite in its dumb shorthand is describing. They might even come round to connecting the observation back to the question: that the interactivity the play requires is exactly this kind of carefully analytical treatment of the experience.

We're very used to having conversations after each performance with whoever's stuck around in need of that kind of discussion: mostly these revolve around maybe half a dozen questions that audiences often, understandably, get snagged on. But here, for the first time, the other day I found myself having to explain the plot to someone who'd absolutely not been able to follow the series of events that the piece narrates. I think that -- more here than anywhere -- there is a tendency to walk in to the room and immediately go: Ah, I know what this is, this is a Happening -- and to seek to engage with nothing more than the novelty of it. Of course nothing, actually, could be further from the truth: it's a very tightly controlled and authored play (as of course most of the first Happenings were, but that's another discussion). The form is crucial, the form is the deepest expression of both the content of the piece and its argument, but the novelty of that form is the least interesting and nourishing part of the proposition.

It's true on the one hand that the piece requires rigorous, careful watching, the friction of reticence and doubt, a resistance to simple going-with-the-flow: and that it does this partly because that's what it's suggesting we need to be better at as spectators and consumers in all mediated contexts. On the other hand, I think I feel increasingly unsure about the idea that The Author makes special demands due to its unique formation. On the contrary, The Author requires the same things of an audience as any production will that cares at all about its relationship with those who attend. It needs you to be asking yourself, calmly but constantly, how best you can help to hold the work. It needs you to want to know what your responsibilities are to the work of which you've consented to be a part, and to handle those responsibilities with care. It requires the same things of its audience as any play: but it's simply -- by dint of being a real theatre work, a distinctively theatrical construction -- more dependent on them, and more likely to be harmed (and, finally, harmful) if they're not present.

It's so odd that, especially here in L.A., it's often the friendliest, most generous, most comfortably gregarious -- the most socially invested -- people who are least likely to give the play what it needs in order to be most fully heard. But then, the more time I spend here, the more it becomes apparent that in order for L.A. to function at all, there has to be an intense investment in the performance of friendliness and social valency, coupled with an actual deep commitment to self-sufficiency: which taken together can support a mode of functionality that can get by on a liberal respect for others' feelings and a concerted disengagement from any interrogation of the premises on which these behavioural networks are founded.

I keep thinking about something that happened the last time I was here, back in 1998. I sat in on an English class, a poetry class. And I've never forgotten the oddness of it. Poetry was being discussed and appraised only and entirely in emotional terms -- actually, not even emotion, but 'feeling'. So: a poem should make you feel things, and the feelings that the poem records or initiates should feel appropriate and recognizable; like, this poem is a sad poem about a cat dying and when my cat died I was sad and this poem reminds me of that so it is a successful poem. At one point I tried to open up a discussion about how, technically, one (not bad) poem the class was studying was achieving its induction of the 'feelings' that everyone was identifying: it was doing something interesting in the way it used rhyme and call-backs in a nicely productive tension with its own scale as a lyric. That technical discussion was simply not available to be had.

Now, this is all very unfair, I know (and this is why it was useful last year when every place we went to seemed to elude typification): there are fine scholars in Los Angeles and there are profoundly engaged anticapitalist thinkers and there are theatre critics who are able to do more than simply review the apparently salient points of a production and blurt something shapeless about their own experience. But the people who've come to see The Author over the past week have been coming out of a culture quite different than anything we've confronted before: and it's both sort of beautiful, often, and, just as often, disheartening and frustrating. An uphill battle in the face of the most kindly-meant unwillingness to distrust us.

Monday, February 14, 2011

L.A. Diary #1

Well, so, it turns out First Class is pretty uncomfortable.

Not physically, of course. You just sort of sit in a pod like the pudgy emigrants in Wall-E, trying to watch tv while people keep coming up and offering you food. I didn't sleep much so I really felt every one of those eleven hours go past but generally it really wasn't an unpleasant time at all. There is, though -- and I can tell I'm going to keep struggling with this, and maybe that's exactly as it should be -- a real discomfort in being asked simply to lean back and enjoy the fruits of completely unearned and unwarranted privilege. I don't want to be an ungrateful toad about any of this amazing experience but I can't say I feel wholly OK with it.

Sorry, I should catch you up. I'm in Los Angeles for the next fortnight, where The Author, Tim Crouch's extraordinary play, of which I am one quarter of the cast, is ending the current arc of its existence with a two week run at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. Right now I'm sitting at a desk in a beautiful apartment in Marina del Rey, it's early morning, there are blue skies and palm trees and the aircon is humming to itself and everything is pretty lovely. We're off to the theatre in a couple of hours for lunch and orientation and the start of our tech. I think we're going to have a great time here. Lots of people have been asking us how we think LA audiences will respond, but if there's one thing last year's tour taught us -- and it may be that this is pretty much the only thing last year's tour taught us... -- it's that audiences everywhere are more different from night to night in the same venue than they are characteristically different from town to town or even country to country. The particular qualities of an auditorium have a very formative effect, the relationship a venue has with its audience certainly helps shape their experience, but what happens on any particular night seems to depend largely on the specific composition of an audience. What's fantastic -- and I think all of us in the cast share this -- is a sense of confidence that, pretty much whatever happens, the play is strong enough to adapt to it and we are comfortable enough with each other to be able to sit with it and survive it. I don't imagine anything we face here will be anywhere near as traumatic as the initial Edinburgh run, when we were still pretty new to the piece and where the context exerted such inflationary pressures on the experience for us and for our audiences alike.

In fact it was at the end of that pretty hardcore Edinburgh month that the invitation to come out to LA with the show fell into place, and because we'd all only signed contracts up to the end of November, I felt at the time that I really didn't want to take it on any further. That, I suppose, was the beginning of the Ungrateful Toad narrative that has shaded this last leg of the journey for me. It became clear that to refuse to come to LA, to ask for Tim and the directors and the other actors to go through the process of casting and rehearsing yet another actor into 'my' role, would be simply too burdensome, and after some serious sleeping-on-it I agreed to stay onboard, assuming that between then and now I'd find a way of being OK with it as an idea. And to a degree that process did take place, in the background, simply by dint of our slowly amassing a further three months' experience of touring the show and coming into a relationship with it that felt both more robust and more ventilated. But checking back in with the script last week, in advance of two days' re-rehearsal at the Royal Court, I was only partly surprised to find the whole thing feeling pretty sore again, and the prospect of re-entering this mode even for a fortnight felt daunting and uncongenial. Those subsequent two days at the Court really helped; especially, spending some time with the directors, Karl James and a smith, helped immensely, and I feel very sad to think that we almost certainly won't all six of us gather together again around this amazing project.

So: it felt better; it felt nice, even, doing a couple of rehearsal runs for small audiences last week, in a quiet little room where every word felt heard and every nuance was really alive. But I still don't quite know, at a deep dependable level, what I'm doing here in this L.A. apartment. I still haven't had the experience, for myself, authentically and originally, of wanting to be here. I haven't found a sense in myself of what my task is here. It may be that that's the task: just to be here, to be OK with being here. Certainly I think there's a big thing for me about wanting to think critically through this experience. In particular, wanting to investigate this sense of discomfort, this monster ingratitude.

Here it is in a nutshell. I didn't want any food on the plane. I was supposed to say what I wanted for lunch. I was supposed to choose from the nice Upper Class menu. (It's "Upper Class" on Virgin Atlantic, not First Class. I always wonder why they choose one particular language formulation over another. "Upper Class".) I didn't want anything. I wasn't feeling all that great physically, I had a throat infection, I wasn't hungry, I'd had some breakfast, that was plenty. But saying "I don't actually want anything, thank you" was such a massive syntax error I almost expected two red fuzz lights to start revolving either side of my pod and a klaxon to sound the alarm. The air hostess who had, I must admit, bravely and steadfastly received the news that I wasn't going to eat anything, returned two minutes later to lay the table in front of me. I ended up having a piece of bread and a glass of water, mostly because it was easier to do that than to keep refusing and not do that. But the issue wasn't that the system found it hard to absorb my refusal, it was that the premises of that refusal were themselves suspicious. When you're offered food in Upper Class -- when it's feeding time in the pods -- the question of whether or not you want food, whether or not your body thinks it's hungry, is so sublimely irrelevant it can hardly be acknowledged. What do you want to eat? I'm not hungry. I didn't ask you whether you were hungry, I asked you what you want to eat. All of which is underpinned of course by the unspoken preliminary factor on non-budget flights: this food is free. You don't have to pay for this food -- either you've already paid for it, or, more likely in Upper Class, someone else has. Come on: eat free food.

Actually of course this is clearly not a big deal in itself, but essentially it's also the contract on which this whole experience is based. I feel a bit like someone's given me a car as a gift: and on the one hand it's amazingly generous and a beautiful thing to do; and on the other, I don't drive, and I don't really want to own a car, and, you know, where in all this am I? Where's Wally? -- I'm sure all this will be somewhat dispelled once we actually start doing the work, once we've set foot in the theatre in a couple of hours' time. But for now it feels odd, for sure. I love L.A.: I came here once before, in 1998, and what I've seen so far has been even more beautiful and bewildering and overwhelming than I remember. Everyone is so friendly, the hospitality is so virtuosic. Everything smells like cheesecake. Though I may be under that impression partly because I bought cheesecake at Ralph's yesterday and have spent quite a lot of the past 24 hours putting it up my nose. But, yeah, I'm pretty excited about what's ahead.

Nonetheless the feeling that's very strong -- and I'm sure many L.A. residents would recognize and agree with this picture -- is kind of like this. I've only had the tv on for an hour, maybe, so far, but already I've seen three or four adverts that all follow a particular pattern. These are commercials for medication -- one for an anti-myalgia drug is especially springing to mind -- where a middle-aged woman describes her painful symptoms, describes her feelings of helplessness, describes discovering this particular drug, and how it's made her feel better, or better enough that she can spend time walking through the park with her family. Cue lots of shots of her walking serenely, pain-free, in the park with her family. And then the next thirty seconds is the same woman, in voiceover, reading the legal disclaimers about side effects. She's still ambling through this lovely verdant park with her happy smiley family while on the soundtrack she's saying: If you find you are becoming suicidal, you must stop taking this drug immediately. If you notice any irregularities in your heartbeat while taking this medication, you must consult your physician. All of this is said not in a super-fast small-print gabble but with the same blithe unconcern of the earlier part of the ad. The effect, the disconnect, is extraordinarily weird. (Judging by the volume of spoofs on YouTube this is obviously a pretty standard feature of the US tv landscape but there's nothing quite like it in the UK -- yet -- and it's really kind of staggering.) So just now, it's hard not to feel like we're all here walking around a park hand-in-hand enjoying our own blissed-out good fortune, apparently unable to hear our own voices in a diegetically remote space saying: You may find you experience psychotic episodes, night terrors and incontinence.

It will be interesting, actually, re-encountering L.A. for the first time since '98, having developed in that time a rather more active, inquisitive critical apparatus for thinking about what cities are as political entities, as blunt expressions of vested power at every turn. What's already coming through much more clearly for me this time is the variety of ways in which the advertised pluralism of Los Angeles disguises the tyranny of its basic fundamental(ist) operations about as successfully as Robert Robinson's comb-over served as a convincing picture of a full head of hair. It depends so deeply on its hospitality being successful. It depends on you picking from the menu. It's not about hungry or not-hungry.

Anyway, we'll see how it goes.

I should say a little something about Bath before I finish this first post. It was pretty odd, arriving back in London about 4 o'clock on Wednesday morning, going straight in to the Royal Court on Thursday, and then leaving for the airport at 7am on Saturday. I feel like I haven't at all processed the experience of doing the Pinter double-bill at the Ustinov. (Which continues through the rest of this week, by the way. Do go and see it if you haven't and you can: I'm really proud of the work.) Nor have I really come to terms with what those few weeks in Bath more generally meant.

Had I had the time I'd have liked to do a post here about spaciousness. The whole experience of Bath, I suppose, was one of spaciousness. Spacious texts; a spacious rehearsal process, working with three brilliant actors and a superb creative team. A spacious flat to live in; a park to walk through every day. Time and space to think, time and space to cook (neither of which I ever seem to have in London), time and space to sleep. This too is a kind of privilege, but at least it was a sort of privilege I knew how to use. I thought a lot about spaces that work and spaces that don't -- thinking partly about the weekend back in London for an excellent, though not easy, Devoted & Disgruntled -- so, thinking about Open Space, and the smaller spaces within that format that open and close and do and don't "work". Thinking also about a Situation Room event that Jonny and I curated on the Saturday night of D&D, a gathering of a few new friends to share work and food and attention and testimony and song-lines: the Sit Room has never looked so beautiful or felt so important. 

And then thinking about all these spaces in relation to the space of Pinter's texts and in particular the space of his notorious marked 'Silence's. Something I learned from The Author is that silence in a theatre is always a collaboration: with an audience, with an ambience. I asked the actors to be honest: not to 'play' silence, but to wait for it, for its real opening-out within the moment of performance. This has nothing to do with duration: a silence might be very short, or it might take minutes to find. (It's emphatically not just a "long pause".) How a silence might sometimes have sound in it. When we rehearsed Monologue -- with the amazing Clive Mendus -- in the Scout Hall, quite often it happened that his one marked 'Silence' -- which he was bravely happy to hold for as long as it took -- would be added to -- not broken but enhanced -- by a bird sitting on the roof singing. This bird -- or a representation of it -- has made it in to the final piece, now, and I always love the moment when it comes in, deepening the silence around and beneath it. Silence as a space that does or doesn't work, in pretty subjective ways. My notes to the actors would generally be phrased as: I agreed with this silence, but I didn't agree with that one. The space you agree or disagree with. Do you agree with the space(s) you're reading this in?, I wonder.

I'm so glad to have had the opportunity to work at the Ustinov on these two amazing plays. I don't know if that opportunity will arise again -- the Ustinov is becoming a producing house, and the new Artistic Director (who certainly has some interesting plans -- which I can't yet discuss here as I don't think their appointment has been announced) will be in a position to direct almost everything that plays in the venue during the year, so there may not be the room for an ongoing relationship. But I feel really pleased to have done it, and not least to have made a start on signalling an interest in directing more plays. It's something I never particularly meant to not do, except perhaps during my time at CPT when it was explicitly part of my role to promote devising and work in nontraditional forms. I hope the Pinters will indicate (in so far as anyone's actually paying any attention) that I can be trusted to do it -- and I particularly appreciated Lyn's word: "scrupulous"! Yes, that's exactly how it felt, scrupulous: exactly how I wanted it to be, and exactly why it was such a pleasure to do. The rigour of that textual engagement released so much sensual comprehension of the language(s) of the work. Good times, really good.

Lots more to do while I'm here: a downscaling revision of Wound Man and Shirley, which I'm giving a little outing at STK in less than a month (see the sidebar); the beginnings of a new solo show for Theatre Royal Plymouth which will have an early outing at the end of April at the London Word Festival; and I really really need to finish my introduction for Better Than Language, the poetry anthology I've been editing, and get it off to the printers asap. I'm not quite sure how it's all going to get done, though I suppose my refusenik hairshirt (with concessionary beach-related motif) will help me abjure the delightful excitements of L.A. -- as will the heavy rain that's forecast -- and do my homework instead. Maybe being an Ungrateful Toad will finally start delivering its benefits.