Last Thursday, I realized I was officially running out of time to see West End theatre and decided to buy tickets to see Imelda Staunton (Professor Umbridge of Harry Potter movie fame...also, she went to RADA!) in Good People at the Noel Coward Theatre. Good People is an American import written by David Lindsay-Abaire who also wrote Rabbit Hole and Shrek: The Musical. The play is aggressively American and takes place in two extremely different socio-economic spheres of Boston. Jason came with me, and we were consistently the only people laughing. I think we just related to the sense of humor better than the British audience. The play was one of the funniest plays I have ever seen, but also had strong social commentary about one's ability to overcome a low class childhood in the slums. Margie (Imelda Staunton), mother to an adult, disabled daughter, loses her job and finds an ex-boyfriend who has made a cushy life for himself outside the slums Margie never left. It's actually really hard to explain without ruining the plot, which has one of the best character-background twists I have ever seen, but it was a brilliant, funny, biting play. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Side note: The American dialects were SPOT on. They worked with several nuances of a Boston accent as well as a D.C. dialect. Really really good.
On Tuesday March 18, I went to see Pilobolus dance comapny's Shadowland. Pilobolus is a ground breaking modern dance company that is some of the main inspiration for Inlet Dance Theatre, where I danced last summer. You may have seen them perform at the Academy Awards a couple years ago - they're the weirdos rolling around the floor and forming shadow sculptures out of their bodies behind a screen. They did something for March of the Penguins and then made a giant, human Oscar shadow.
Anyhow, Shadowland follows a girl who gets sucked into a land of shadows, ends up with the head of a dog, and has a lot of really weird encounters with strange shadow creatures along the way. The dancing was amazing and the shadow work is stunning. It allows them to create almost cinematic depth and perspectives. Technical feats aside, though, I didn't enjoy the production. The story was too strange, and I didn't understand what the point was. I didn't know what they wanted you to feel at the end. The Shadowland was scary and esoteric, but then they would interrupt the headiness for cheap laughs. It was like watching somebody trying really hard to be whimsical. Whimsy just can't be forced.
Cat, Bridgette, and I spent the night in Covent Garden after school. It has already been a long stressful week (yes, I know it's only Tuesday), so it was great to get out and interrupt the daily toil of line memorization. First stop was a little Vietnamese restaurant for dinner followed by frozen yogurt at Snog. We quickly befriended the really, really attractive employee, Jim, and then learned he is an actual Abercrombie model. Not only did he know where Ohio is, he had been there (for an Abercrombie photo shoot). Not only was he super friendly, he gave me a loyalty card. Now I HAAVE to go back!
As exciting as that was, what followed was even better: an evening at the theatre to see Angela Lansbury as Madam Arcati in Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit! Needless to say, she was amazing and just as Mrs. Potts-esque as you would hope. The show was incredibly well done and very funny. We were way up in the balcony, but I have almost given up all preoccupation with good seats when you can get them as cheaply as I do. The entire ensemble did a great job.
P.S. Just added Urinetown to my list of shows I will be seeing while I'm here! We love deals from TimeOut London!
I FINALLY went out! After weeks of being in London, I finally experienced some of the night life. On Valentine's Day! Bridgette, Cat, and I went to see The Lady From the Sea at RADA. It was brilliant. I think I liked it better than The Daughter in Law. Lady... is by Ibsen and is therefore very naturalistic. Like A Doll's House, it explores a wife's unhappiness in a marriage. It is hard to explain because it is so layered and complex, but it was a beautiful production (Even the scene changes were enjoyable to watch!). It was a very passionate show, and the actress who played Ellida, the wife, was stunningly unstable.
After the show ended, we hung out at the RADA bar until it closed. Then, we headed over to another bar frequented by RADA students. It was really fun! They had good music and a dance floor, and I am finally starting to meet some more RADA students. We stayed there that bar closed. I, as the only sober person in our caravan, was ready to go home, but others were dead set on going clubbing, so I decided to stick around for the adventure. We ended up at KOKO in Camden. It was...interesting. I spent a lot of my hour there distracted by how cool the architecture was and jostled by a huge number of tightly packed writhing people on the dance floor. It was definitely worth the experience, but I'm not sure it's something I'll do again. Anyway, I"m glad to have been the sober voice of reason for the group for at least part of the night. I feel like someone has to be that person.
Week 4 is done! Yesterday, we presented our exploded version of Aeschylus' Agamemnon. An exploded version of a play is a production in which relevant outside texts or historical information is inserted into the script in order to make a more comprehensive, educational show. It's a little bit like writing a research paper in show form. In our case, we inserted a short scene from Iphigenia in Aulis, another Greek tragedy that ties in with the Agamemnon story. We also added short, documentary style blurbs about various elements of Greek society. We explained the mythological time line and backstory to the play as well as addressing how the play would have been performed in ancient Athens. We even began the show with the same rituals and speeches that would have proceeded the play at its premiere in 458 BC.
Overall, the experience was very positive. It was a lot of hard work over the past three weeks, and there were points when rehearsal was a drag and the challenge of playing 4 parts (chorus, Calchas the Seer, Herald, Cassandra) was almost too much to handle. At the end, though, our audience of our professors really loved it. They said that they were impressed with our level of focus (next door to our classroom performance space, people were loudly rehearsing Sondheim songs) and commitment to the work. Our movement teacher, Vanessa Mildenberg, congratulated Bridgette and me on the way we physically echoed each other in our dual interpretations of Cassandra.
It feels good to be done with our first time mark and our first show. Monday, we begin rehearsing The Knight of the Burning Pestle. I know NOTHING about it except that it was written approximately when Shakespeare was writing plays. Our scene study professor, Vivian Munn, will be our director on this next project. He has been a great teacher, and I am very excited to begin.
Just bought incredibly cheap tickets to see Angela Lansbury as Madam Arcati in Noel Coward's Blythe Spirit. She won the Tony for this role in 2009. I am so excited! We also got tickets to see Pilobolus dance company. They are incredible and are an inspiration to Inlet Dance Theatre, where I danced last summer. Ah! SO many good performers to see in this city.
Tuesday: Nick procured cheap tickets for the 8 of us to see the trio of Samuel Beckett plays at the Duchess Theatre. Not I, Footfalls, and Rockaby are each 1-woman plays which, together, run about an hour in performance. Just one actress tackled all three works. She was amazing. Not I is particularly strange and challenging. The monologue is to be performed as quickly as possible. Beckett wanted it performed in 11 minutes. The fact that this actress could do it in 14 is a record, I believe. Only the actress' mouth is illuminated for the entirety of the piece. It is hard to focus on and your brain plays tricks on you. Is her mouth moving? Wasn't she 10 feet to the left 2 seconds ago? They even blackened the exit lights in order to complete the effect of the lit mouth amidst oppressive clouds of darkness. It is a really interesting piece. You can watch it here. I don't necessarily encourage you to watch the whole thing, but you can get a sense of it.
Wednesday: We were assigned RADA Buddies and had a little mixer to get to know the RADA students. They were very nice, but the experience itself was rather unremarkable. What was remarkable, however, was the opening night of RADA's production of DH Lawrence's The Daughter in Law. The actors were stunning, and I was very impressed. I think it is the best show I have seen since arriving in London. The performances were very truthful. I can't believe that some of the actor are just a couple years older than I am. It reminds me a) how difficult acting really is and b) how much more I have left to learn! They were inspiring, and I can't wait to see Ibsen's The Woman From the Sea, which also opens at RADA this week!
Saturday morning, determined to see some good theatre, Bridgette and I woke up at 6:15 and headed out to queue for Matilda the Musical. Just like rush tickets in the US, most big London theatres offer dirt cheap tickets IF you get a good spot in the line that forms early in the morning in advance of the opening of the box office. While waiting for several hours, we befriended several girls in line behind us who are studying at the British American Drama Academy (BADA) from USC. It turns out that we share several professors! They were extremely nice, and I hope that we will meet up with them again before we leave the city. After hours of waiting, Bridgette and I did procure the last two tickets to that evening's performance of Matilda! Unfortunately, we didn't get the £5 tickets, but we had woken up at 6:15 in the morning and, by god, we were going to see that play! Also unfortunately, the girls behind us in line weren't able to get tickets, but I think they saw another show, so all is well that ends well.
Matilda was STUNNING. The little girl who played Matilda, Georgia Pemberton, is not yet 11, but carries the show with whimsy, spunk, and a phenomenal voice. The chorus of children are really outstanding, all armed with the ability to strongly complete their movements and send energy past the reaches of the limbs. They all radiate the childish charisma needed to counter their often disappointing adult role models. I am honestly devastated that I will never be able to be a child in this show. They are given so much fun material, great songs, and brave characterizations. Alex Gaumond, a man, plays the evil Miss Agatha Trunchbull. He is brilliant in his portrayal of a comically nefarious grinch. The whole show glistens with quirkiness. The set brilliantly mirrors motifs of the story, particularly the importance of books. With smooth use of stage mechanics, the scene changes are so inconspicuous, they are almost a joy to watch unto themselves. Basically, the show was amazing. I would highly consider seeing it again before I leave if I could get cheap enough tickets.
So, we queued in the morning for tickets, but the show wasn't until the evening, so Bridgette and I got lunch at a little cafe in Covent Garden, Cafe la Roche. Cat agreed to meet us in Piccadilly Circus, but Bridgette and I got distracted on the way...
Click here to see what else we saw!
Finally accompanied by Cat, we briefly wandered around Piccadilly Circus. Our best find was Carpo, a gourmet dried fruits, nuts, chocolate, and coffee shop. Cat and I each got a couple chocolates to try. It has been funny to see how much of a language barrier there is for us in London between the different dialects of English and all of the immigrants/foreigners. Example: I asked one of the employees at Carpo to describe one of the chocolates and this is what I got... "It's a little bit like a raisin....but from inside the gum....you can really taste the mountains." Well, with a description like that I knew I had to give it a try. It was great, but I have never licked a mountain, so I guess I'll never know exactly what she meant.
As you can see, Bridgette, Cat, and I grabbed a hop-on/hop-off bus tour! The tour came highly recommended by Jay (Hi Jay!), and he was right (Thank you!). For a flat rate, we got to take several different bus routes around the city. We were also offered cheaper student rates at the attractions along the way. Some we had seen already, others weren't too interesting, so we decided to just buy tickets to Kensington Palace. The tours around the palace are self-guided. You follow 4 tracks they have set up: Fashion Rules (obviously our first stop), Queen Victoria, the Glorious Revolution, and the state apartments. Not only was the building gorgeous, but the museum was set up in a way that combined whimsy with the historical facts. For instance, in many rooms there were window seats with pillow cushions embroidered with the words "Sit here to hear the walls whisper." When you sat down, it activated a small speaker which would whisper gossipy conversations that may have happened in that room 250 years ago or surreptitiously fill you in on historical details. It was a very active way to introduce new information. I really enjoyed the museum and wandering around the gardens a little bit. We even saw a rainbow!
Sunday was an awesome day. We went to Frae, a shop specializing in frozen yogurt, smoothies, and belgian waffles. Mine looked like this:
We spent another couple hours dashing in and out of vintage shops in Islington trying on silly clothing. We came back to Nido for a couple hours and then returned to Islington for thai food for dinner!
Everything is going really well, but it is still EXHAUSTING. I really love school, but our first show is a week from tomorrow and we aren't even completely set with who is playing which parts! Line memorizing is going to be the #1 chore of this weekend, considering we got our grocery shopping done tonight after class. Yay Tesco! Our fridge is now completely overflowing with fruits and vegetables. After January being the longest month of my life, I cannot believe we are almost a week into February! I'll be home before I know it!
Today was our orientation day at "the Academy" aka RADA. Dee Doyle, one of their office secretaries, picked us up from Nido and led the way on our hike to RADA. It really is pretty nearby, probably ~20 minute walk or less once we get used to it. Once there we met Sally Power (head of short term courses at RADA) and Nick Hutchison (in charge of our particular semester experience and the director of our final show of the semester). They ushered us through these huge metal rimmed glass doors, that look like they should protect the Crown Jewels, and into the RADA bar. Over tea/coffee, we got to know them a little bit - although Nick never straight out asked for our names, so I'm not convinced he's going to be able to tell us apart on Monday. He did hear us accept our security badges when our names were called, so hopefully he has a really good memory.
In any case, Geoff Bullen (head of the BA Acting program) took us on a tour of the main Gower Street building. He is wonderful; you can clearly tell how much he cares about the school. He reminds me a great deal of Tom Fulton from the Chagrin Academy, especially when he gets a little bit lost and long-winded about the history of RADA. The building is really neat. The front half used to be a townhouse and the back half was just a building. Of the three theatres, we only got to see one today. It is a very flexible space that has clearly been remodeled recently. Fascinatingly, the chairs have been chosen and designed so that they acoustically function the same whether there are audience members seated in them or not.
What the Hell Are We Studying?*
*Excuse my French, but Nick apologized in advance for the faculty's use of foul language. However, it was not in advance of Geoff Bullen swearing up and down the building as various doors were locked or theatres were in use. Too funny.
Ok. back to business. Our course is called Timemarks of European Theatre History. We begin with the ancient Greeks, Aeschylus to be specific. We study the history and work on a casual presentation/performance of Agamemnon.
Then we jump 2500 years to 1642 when the Puritans shut down all the theatres in England. We will do a similar presentation performance of The Knight of the Burning Pestle. It sounds hilarious, but I know LITERALLY nothing about it other than what Nick said today.
Our next unit jumps 16 years to Moliere. During this unit, we will work on Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. It's punny because it translates to The Middle Class Gentleman. Nick was very clear that, while we could focus on plays about royalty or the upper class, he thinks it is much more interesting to do plays about the middle class and how normal people were represented in theatre. I think I agree.
Our final unit is on Brechtian drama of the 1920s-ish. We will probably be performing The Trial of Lucullus by Brecht on a real stage with lighting design and fancy stuff like that. The issue is that the play was initially written as a radio play and then turned into a stage play for 20 people. We only have 8 students in our program. Sooo, Nick has to do some work on adapting this play. There seems to be the possibility that they change the show selection depending on his ability to make the play work for 8 actors.
All of that sounds wonderful, and it will be a LOT of work. Classes go from 10 am-6pm every day. It is a ridiculously long day, but I was anticipating our days to be 9-6:45, so I'm thrilled. All of our classes will be held around the corner from the main building. They have scheduled us to be in the same studio for all our classes all semester. They seem to think that is a great thing, so I'll bite and go along with that. These classes include clowning, singing, dancing, voice, physical performance/movement, assimilation (which is Alexander technique), and some history lectures. Because they want us to have a multifaceted exposure to the history we are studying, each focused class will base its curriculum around the timemark unit. For instance, our dance teacher is an expert on period dance. We will learn about dancing theory and choreography from each period of time. Similarly, we will work on songs in the style of each timemark in our singing class. It sounds very interesting and unusual.
Tonight, we are going to the RADA bar to see the RADA students perform in a cabaret. Should be a fun night!
Before I forget how much I did not like this play, I thought I would blog about it. Starring Brendan Coyle (aka Mr. Bates from Downton Abbey) and Rupert Grint (aka Ron Weasley), the play was an abrasive and weird story about a bunch of rock-n-roll mobsters in Soho, London during the 1950s. The acting was decent, but I did not like the script or the plot. The beginning was hard to follow because my ear wasn't used to the dialects. Even as it continued, I felt like the pivotal unseen characters were not well defined. It takes a LOT of skill to create fully fleshed out characters solely by what other characters have to say about them. Someone once said characters are developed by: what other characters say about a character, what that character says about him/herself, and what that character does. With only one of the three manners, those characters never seem real (even when their dead body is displayed in trash cans - yes, multiple - onstage). Like I said, it is a really severe play that thinks it can define itself as a comedy because of a few scattered laughs in Act One and a character who, shot in the head, continues to lurch around the stage and babble like an increasingly broken record for about a minute before finally collapsing. At least tickets were only £15. Not bad at all for professional theatre with big names! But, programs were being sold for £4 ($6.55). NO THANKS! As someone who collects playbills, this was a little disappointing. Also, I should mention that we were in the back row of the steepest/highest balcony I have ever seen in my life. Oy gavult. Scary. We had to be on the edge of our seats in order to see anything, but, let me assure you, it was not the gripping plot that had me leaning in.