Tag Archives: theater

1960. A standing ovation

Ricky was in his last year before going to High School. And what a thrill it was when he was selected to play the lead in the school‘s annual stage production!

He was to play a pirate. Short Tom Paddy was the King of the Pirates. Ricky would have a patch over an eye and wear a head scarf and have a parrot on his shoulder. Not a real parrot of course, because who would want a real parrot to fly off into the audience during a performance? But a stuffed parrot; a fluffy toy parrot.

Mr. Adams the teacher said to Ricky, “Ask your mother to bake half a dozen muffins”. Parents were always keen to help out with props and the like. In fact, since it was a little country school the whole population attended such concerts and everyone got involved. It was a community exercise! And so Ricky’s mother gladly baked some muffins, and arranged them on a fancy plate.

The performance began. Everyone was there – except for old Mrs. Leach who had a patch of the gout and couldn’t attend. There, sitting on a table in the middle of the stage, were Ricky’s mother’s muffins. The girl playing the part of the Captured Princess said, “Help yourself to a muffin, Pirate Short Tom Paddy”, and so Ricky grabbed a muffin and began to eat. It was dry and solid. After all, the muffins were over a week old. It took a good four minutes to finish the muffin, and the Princess said her line: “I see you have eaten all six muffins.”

“No I haven’t,” said the pirate, “I’ve still got five to go.”

It must have taken twenty minutes for Ricky to finish all six muffins. With every bite, with every chew, the audience became more and more helpless with laughter.

“I see you have eaten all six muffins,” repeated the Princess.

Ricky’s efforts got a standing ovation. It was the most enjoyable production in years!

1942. Mousy Cameron’s cake

Cameron’s personality could be described only as timid. In fact, years ago when he was at school, his nickname was “Mousy”, with his little spectacles resting on his little pointed nose.

These days he lived alone in a small apartment. Things were nice enough. He was content enough. His greatest interest was to attend theatre productions by the local amateur theatre society. Of course he never auditioned for a part; nor did he volunteer to help backstage or whatever. His way of supporting them was to attend the productions and to laugh and cry and applaud heartily, whatever the occasion called for.

One evening the organizers were raffling a cake. The evening was dedicated to productions of plays by youth. The cake raffle was to help one of the youth teams travel to a neighbouring town to stage a performance. It was a worthy cause, and Cameron took a generous number of tickets. He’d never won a thing in his life, but a donation is a donation!

He won! He couldn’t believe it! It was a simple joy, but it brought him great pleasure! A chocolate cake! He would enjoy a slice each evening for the coming week.

As he left the theatre a young guy from the local high school grabbed Cameron’s cake out of Cameron’s hands. Teenage boys began passing the cake to one another like it was a football. Ha! Ha! It was fun – that was all. Cameron stood there all timid and mousy. He said, “Please could I have my cake?”

One of the youths threw the cake and it smashed into a concrete wall.

Cameron went home. It was just a cake.

1900. Cattlestop Theatre

Over the years, when this blog hits a round number, it deviates away from blood, gore, and murder, and plunges into an abyss of niceness and personal aspects of this and that. Today’s round story Number 1900 continues the tradition.

On the property where I currently live are three disused what we call “cattlestops”. Some countries call them cattle grids, and other countries don’t call them anything because they don’t have them. In New Zealand a cattlestop is a series of old railway lines set in concrete over a pit. The aim is to stop farm stock from crossing over from the field or house onto the road. It takes the place of a gate and saves getting in and out of the vehicle each time one needs to drive through. Of course, these days there are remote controlled automatic gates, but creating a cattlestop from old railway lines is possibly the more aesthetic option. The three on the property here are old, and gravel over time has partially filled them in.

Years (and years) ago I taught at an all-boys boarding high school (aged 13 to 18). There were about 450 boarding students and about 250 day scholars. The high school had an attached farm. There were reasons for the farm which, if I may deviate further, goes back into a history long forgotten. The high school was a Roman Catholic school. Years ago as a kid I remember seeing advertising signs:

JOB VACANCY
CATHOLICS NEED NOT APPLY

These days such a sign would be illegal and offensive to most. Back in the old days it was often difficult for Catholics to find jobs. So the Catholic school system concentrated on a “classic education” with Greek and Latin, with Agriculture thrown in for those less academic. It’s why (at least in New Zealand) there were a hugely disproportionate percentage of doctors, lawyers, judges, and farmers who were Roman Catholic. It was a way around not getting rejected for “Catholics need not apply” jobs. This was all in the dim, dark ages, and Latin and Greek have subsequently been thrown out the window in this more enlightened age; but it does account for the fact that this high school and a number of others were attached to large farms.

It also accounts for the fact that this school where I taught had a cattlestop!

One weekend, armed with help from a squad of students, I decided to convert an old army hut into a theatre. It was right next to the cattlestop. We hammered a stage into shape and hung lights. The theatre could seat about fifty. Sister Frances-Marie from a local convent arrived with rolls of black fabric and a sewing machine, and by the end of the weekend we had a brand new shining theatre, curtains and all!

Me (obviously pre-coloured photography) starting to build the theatre

We called it CATTLESTOP THEATRE! Its motto was “It might stop the cattle but it won’t stop the bull”. An enterprising student, considerably brighter than me, translated it into Latin and hung it on the theatre door. (I can’t remember the Latin).

The first performance in the theatre was a short play by Eugene Ionesco called Foursome. I had stumbled across a translation of it in a magazine and subsequently have lost all copies. (I have never found it published in a book, but if anyone knows where I can get a copy or what the name of the magazine was, please let me know! It had the repeated phrase in it throughout of “Mind the potted plants!” and the characters names were Martin, Durand, Dupont, and Pretty Lady). We charged 5 cents per entry on a Sunday afternoon, the students doing one performance after another.

A scene from Ionesco’s “Foursome”

The highlight of all theatrical occasions came the following year. Reverend Sister Mary Whoever of the local St. Mary’s High School for Girls thought it would be wonderful to have an evening of Classical theatre by the Ancient Greeks. The boys began with an abridge version of Sophocles’ Antigone. It was well received. The St. Mary’s girls followed with a scene from Aristophanes’ The Frogs. It too was well received.

Performances briefly came to a halt for a cup of coffee and a cookie. Reverend Sister Mary Whoever was ecstatic! Such a wonderful cultural collaboration! Quite the best thing since the invention of the popup toaster! Such…! Quite…!

The boys, old enough and educated enough to take things into their own hands, filled the second half of the evening with scenes from Aristophanes’ The Wasps. One need not dwell on the size and placement of the wasps’ stings in the boys’ costumes, nor of the adaptation of some of Aristophanes’ more pithy double entendres. Reverend Sister and the girls left in a great haste, and thus ended the evening of wonderful cultural collaboration. A number of these students of good farming stock have ended up as excellent Classical scholars; and a number of excellent Classical scholars have ended up as farmers.

Indeed! It might stop the cattle but it won’t stop the bull! Cattlestop Theatre had a long and flourishing life, until time and weather began to rot the old army hut into oblivion. The sad part of this past memory of halcyon times is this: today one wouldn’t be allowed to do it.

1870. Quotations and Announcement

I said a day ago that this week I’d do a couple of self-indulgent postings. This is the second. It could be fun, since it will rightly never be done in real life, to pretend astonishing fame and glean quotations from various theatre plays I’ve written over the years and present them as if in a quotation anthology!

No sooner were these words out (and this is true!) than an email arrived saying that six of my poems had been selected by a publisher in Wisconsin for an international anthology! I had been invited last November to submit some poems. More about that at a later date. Thank goodness my portrait shown below had already been hung in the National Vallery otherwise I’d need to go for a more pretentious look. In fact I had a terrible time taking the selfie this morning while everyone was still asleep. I didn’t want anyone to see and think that vanity was a motivation. My right hand is on the computer mouse to press the button. What a relief I had a post-lockdown haircut yesterday. But enough about me – here’s more about me!

Famous Quotations by Cloven Ruminant
whose portrait hangs in the National Vallery

I don’t know fancy names for coffee. Just give me the stuff with the fluff on. – Café Play (1998)

It’s a great mystery – how we pass by. It’s sort of… meaningless. – River Songs (1994)

I just killed what would have become the ancestor of the first intelligent moth. – Here Legends Lie (1993)

There was no need for you to tell me that what I was doing was a waste of time. I have to do something. – Voyage in a Boat (1989)

A real man does shrimp cocktails and garlic bread. No, no. Not my Arnold. Over done. Over boiled. – Deep End (1992)

So you’ll be sitting on the veranda in the still of the evening will you, barely changed from your wedding gown, and be admiring each other’s brains? – Cloud Mother (1990)

There’s a great silence before a funeral. As if heaven waits to let them in. – Sheer Silence (1999)

Just because I say I want two budgerigars doesn’t mean to say I want two blue ones. – Café Play (1998)

It was a satire – like “King Lear”. – Zachustra (1993)

I’ll not be sitting here day after day taking all this muck from two tarts when you could be up in the rigging swinging with a sailor and doing whatever it is your profession demands. – Cloud Mother (1990)

It’s all very well for Thingy in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to fall in love with Who-dacky by taking a bit of stuff but with… you think I’m wandering don’t you? – Um (1997)

There’s so little we know. About what goes on. It’s best to be guilty. – The Chimney (1996)

All straight lines in the universe are human lines – have you noticed? – and I can’t stay on a straight line. Straight lines are perfection, and I can’t be perfect. I can’t. – Secundus (1992)

I don’t want a happy marriage. I want a tragic marriage. It’s very fashionable. – Fishbone in the Blancmange (1997)

Although he was computer savvy, he died drunk, unhappy, friendless, twisted and embittered. – Weave a Web Blog (2020)not from a play but I thought I’d throw it in because it’s rather amazing to discover that it’s more than 20 years since I wrote a play. The “quotation” is not biographical!

Thanks for reading. There’s over 60 plays (I think) if anyone these days ever wants to do one!

 

1700. The hand we’re dealt

Look at that! 1700 is a round number if ever there was one! Usually for such a significant number I deviate into some true narrative or other. This time I’ve hit a complete blank. I don’t believe in “writer’s block” but I must admit that these last ten or so postings have been like trying to get blood out of a stone. I wanted to get to Story 1700 before Christmas and then have some time off until sometime in the New Year. And so I’ve drawn a blank. Let me think…

Well I’ve thought of something… but I don’t know if I should chat about it or not. Counting up it happened 33 years ago!

The photo incidentally is not of what I am going to talk about – it’s of another group unknown to me, but it gives the general drift.

I dare say those involved have long since moved on. I was teaching Music and English at St John’s High School in Hastings, New Zealand. Hastings had a pretty “varied” population. St John’s High School was a boys-only school and the only High School in the city that would accept students who had been expelled from other schools and couldn’t find another school to attend. That’s how I ended up teaching a class of 24, 14 of whom had a “history”. They were all aged 14. Montzie, for example, had a criminal record since the age of six.

The school didn’t have a great number of resources. My classroom was an old shed set apart from all other classrooms and in the middle of a field. We called the shed “The Shack”. The record player and all the stuff for music were in The Shack. The trouble was: The Shack couldn’t be locked. I told the class that if anything was ever stolen from this shack I’d “have their guts for garters”. (I also had to explain what garters were).

“Don’t worry,” they said, “we’d never steal from you.” We were the only school Music Department in the whole city that hadn’t had all its electronic equipment go missing. And then it happened. One night, the classroom was stripped. The policeman was very nice about it. He took notes and said he’d keep an eye out. That wasn’t good enough for Montzie and friends. Did not the policeman want to know the names of those who took the stuff? Did not the policeman want to know the place in the city where these thieves stored their stolen goods? The policeman was kind of stunned!

With such information it still took six months for the police to act. In the meantime insurance paid for new equipment and when our goods were returned we had two of everything. And Reuben, a master of the “five-finger discount”, would most days bring five or six long-playing records that he’d “got from the shops during lunch break” to replace the records stolen. I explained it was wrong. It was above his comprehension. He was helping out. (And I might add that not even the shops wanted to know because the packaging had been removed).

Many other things happened during the year which can wait another time, except to say I am a master pickpocketer; for they passed on skills you wouldn’t believe. I was never party to their activity, but they were surviving in the only world they knew.

The highlight came when I was selected (because I was pretty good at it) to represent New Zealand at an International Youth Theatre Festival – with theatre performances from Germany, England, India, South Korea, Australia, United States and New Zealand. It was inordinately expensive to get a theatre team to the festival and to survive a week. That is when I started to write little musicals for elementary schools and market them. Within two easy weeks, we had enough money to travel. I suggested we do a performance about New Zealand’s many endangered species. And would you believe? The class wanted to dance it, and from all the five-finger discount stolen records to dance to they chose extracts from Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloé”. At least I’d taught them something!

It was street-dancing. They did the choreography themselves. It was an outstanding hit! The boys were so well behaved and more charming than I could believe. At the end of the performance the audience didn’t clap; they stood and sang a song they all knew. It was very moving. The newspaper reviews were stunning.

I dare say these kids would be heading for their mid-forties now. Those who aren’t dead are possibly in prison. I know a couple have done murders and some are destroyed by drugs. A teacher can’t keep in touch with everyone.

But they were one of the nicest and most talented group of kids I’ve ever taught. A pity they weren’t dealt much of a hand.

(A Happy Christmas and New Year to all! See you some time in 2020!)