Tag Archives: theatre

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!

 

1774. The Perfect Book Tag

Imagine my excitement in having just returned from taking the dog for an extended walk (and in the process collected a bucketful of wild mushrooms) to discover that someone has challenged me to complete The Perfect Book Tag (even though I’m a free spirit and not taggable). That someone blogs at Dumbest Blog Ever; a blog that is self-described as Stu(pidity) on Stareoids. The postings range from the erudite to the enjoyably stupid, from the sublime to the cor blimey. The blog is well worth the visit (I reckon).

This posting sees a departure from the daily story, and is a bit longer than usual. Of course nothing is perfect, not even myself when I was eleven, but these are some literary works I have enjoyed over the years.

Some snippets of these reflections you may have heard before. I’m not averse to repeating myself. I’m not averse to repeating myself. I hope the selection (which borders on the classic and boring) doesn’t show me up to being a tedious snob. I’m not averse to repeating myself.

The Pretty Good Genre
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor

This is the title of O’Connor’s collection of short stories, and contains the best short story ever written – also entitled A Good Man is Hard to Find. Even though you know from the start what’s going to happen your hair stands on end as it happens. The writing is both funny and horrifying. I’ve always been a fan of Flannery O’Connor and a big fan of the short story genre.

“She looked at nice young men as if she could smell their stupidity.”

The Perfect Setting
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange and the Yorkshire Moors are the perfect setting for this extraordinary novel – which surprisingly a lot of people haven’t read. The plot IS the setting. The setting IS the characters. The setting IS the theme. Everything in this novel is integrated into the one thing. Perfectly constructed. I guess I’ve read it maybe 50 times or so.

“I said his heaven would be only half alive; and he said mine would be drunk.”

The Pretty Good Main Character
The Book of Thel by William Blake

Thel is the character in this longish poem by Blake. She is too afraid to come into existence, because that begins the journey towards death. Thel is ephemeral.

Ah! Thel is like a watry bow, and like a parting cloud,
Like a reflection in a glass, like shadows in the water,
Like dreams of infants, like a smile upon an infant’s face,
Like the doves voice, like transient day, like music in the air.

The Pretty Good Best Friend
A Certain Age by Cynthia Jobin

Many readers will be familiar with the poetry of the late Cynthia Jobin. She took a keen and positive interest in so many bloggers and posted her brilliant poetry on her blog. Her final poem Night Draws Near, Brother Ass is heart-rending. I was unaware she had died when I received in the mail from her a collection of poems by William Stafford called Even in Quiet Places.

Let me down easy
the way hints of winter
fall exquisitely today
scattering icy lacy flowers
from a cloud bouquet

The Pretty Good Love Interest
Clarissa by Samuel Richardson

I’m not heavily into love stories, although I have read a great number of novels by Danielle Steel and enjoyed every bit of them. Shhh! But I chose Richardson’s Clarissa because it’s one of the earliest books written in English and I got through the hundreds of pages of love letters never once being able to work out if “they were doing it”. It was all insinuation. Clarissa Harlowe is abducted by Robert Lovelace. That was the gist of it, and I found it pretty riveting really. Besides, I had to read it for exams at university.

“Love gratified, is love satisfied — and love satisfied, is indifference begun.”

The Pretty Good Villain
Richard III by William Shakespeare

I know it’s predictable but it’s inevitable. Richard III is one of my favourite plays. That horrid movie with Ian McKellen missed the point because the film omitted Queen Margaret’s great cursing scene. Each curse comes true, bit by bit.

Thou elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog!
Thou that wast seal’d in thy nativity
The slave of nature and the son of hell!
Thou slander of thy mother’s heavy womb!
Thou loathed issue of thy father’s loins!
Thou rag of honour! thou detested—

The Pretty Good Family
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

My sisters adored this novel in my childhood. Once I grew up I was old enough to be seen reading it. When I studied in Boston, USA, I would go to Walden Pond in New Hampshire. The Alcotts, Hawthorne, and Thoreau lived within walking distance from one another. It must’ve been something in the water.“I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now.”

The Pretty Good Animal
The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck by Beatrix Potter

I loved this story as a kid – and still do. I think it was because Jemima wanted to hatch out baby ducklings and I kept ducks as a kid and was forever hatching out babies. I didn’t mind the fox in the story because in New Zealand we don’t have foxes. There is something quite magical about a bird’s egg!

“Quack?“ said Jemima Puddle-Duck, with her head and her bonnet
on one side.

The Pretty Good Plot Twist
The Leader by Eugene Ionesco

This short ten minute play by Ionesco is one of my favourites. Mind you, all of Ionesco plays are my favourites! The leader off stage is watched by fans on stage. They go ape-shit over him/her. They go goo-gar. “He’s patting a pet hedgehog! He spits a tremendous distance.” (Incidentally, the actor who said those lines in a production I once directed became the Prime Minister of New Zealand in reality!) When the leader does appear at the end he/she is headless. “Who needs a head when you’ve got charisma?” Ionesco used to write to me but his letters stopped once he died. Strange.

“Shut up! Shut up! You’re ruining everything”

The Pretty Good Trope
Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame

Janet Frame was a New Zealand novelist and this was her first novel. It tells the story of a women with mental problems, who gets shut away in a mental hospital and watches the mountains through the keyhole in her cell. (The story is a lot better than that). Throughout the novel, Frame creates associations with images, so at the end of the novel she only has to mention all these jolly images and you burst into tears! (At least I did).

“She grew more and more silent about what really mattered. She curled inside herself like one of those … little shellfish you see on the beach, and you touch them, and they go inside and don’t come out.”

The Pretty Good Cover
A Guide to Folk Tales in the English Language by D.L. Ashliman

I bought this book for about $250 around 25 years ago. It has a summary of 2,335 folk tales. Back then I earned a living writing for children to perform on stage so such a book came in handy! I don’t care too much about covers, although for a novel I don’t appreciate an artist showing me what a character should look like. That’s the writer’s task. It’s why I’ve never seen any of The Lord of the Rings movies – they ruin the imagination. I like this cover. It’s plain, and in another life I learnt the skills of a book binder and could create plain covers like this!

The Pretty Good Ending
The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge

I think this is my favourite all-time play (at least for today). At the end Pegeen Mike whispers: “Oh my grief, I’ve lost him surely. I’ve lost the only Playboy of the Western World.”

“… it’s great luck and company I’ve won me in the end of time – two fine women fighting for the likes of me – till I’m thinking this night wasn’t I a foolish fellow not to kill my father in the years gone by.”

Thanks for reading!

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!)

1388. A multifarious conundrum

“Oh what a multifarious conundrum,” said Stephanie to her good friend Juliet.

Juliet did not know what a multifarious conundrum was, so she sort of laughed and said, “Yes! It can get like that.”

“The trouble is,” said Stephanie, “when I go somewhere it’s always the same. The same thing. And it gets tiresome.”

“It certainly does,” said Juliet, not having a clue what Stephanie was talking about.

“A bit of this and a bit of that. All in all, there are so many aspects to consider,” said Stephanie.

“Yes,” agreed Juliet. “Sometimes it’s hard to know if you’re Arthur or Martha.”

“How do you mean?” said Stephanie. “I don’t understand.”

“Well,” said Juliet feeling caught, “it’s sort of like not knowing where to move next, how best to cope with the complexity of the situation.”

“I don’t understand what you’re talking about,” said Stephanie. “It’s not like that at all for me.”

“Oh well,” said Juliet.

“Oh well is not good enough,” said Stephanie. “I asked for a bit of sympathy and all I get is an ‘Oh well’. I really expected more. Quite frankly, Juliet, I find it disconcerting. I thought you’d be more sympathetic.”

“Oh well,” said Juliet. “I was trying to be helpful.”

“Helpful my foot,” said Stephanie. “I thought you were my friend. I’m off. Call me when you can think straight.”

Stephanie walks off.

“Good,” said the Director. “Let’s run through that again. This time, try to make it less snarky and more smarmy.”

866. Shakespeare’s bad hair day

866hamlet

William Shakespeare was in a bad mood. He’d finished writing a play called Hamlet. He’d spent ages copying out the parts. You try doing that with a feather. The entire cast can’t rehearse using just the one script.

Done! All done! And then he gets a message from the director. Some of the bits need to be workshopped.

Shakespeare detested workshopping. It was like having his play redesigned by a committee. Things always boiled down to a compromise. What happened to artistic integrity? And it meant, when all was workshopped and done, he’d have to write out the revised parts all over again.

Shakespeare went along to the theatre. Zounds! Robert Langrope was there. He always had lots to say. He put his mouth into drone and would prate one boring suggested revision after another. Of course, the play’s director had a thing for young Robert. He couldn’t help but think that everything Robert said was wonderful.

“This line here,” said Robert to Shakespeare. “To live or not to live, that is the problem. Would it not be better to say, To be or not to be, that is the question?”

Quite frankly, Shakespeare had a gutsful. He’d been there all afternoon.

“As you will,” said Shakespeare. “Do what you damn well like.” He stormed out.

841. A final bow?

841bow

Alex was into amateur theatre. It couldn’t be said he had the lead role in the latest production. In fact, it couldn’t really be said that he had even a minor role in the latest production. Towards the end of the play, Alex had to carry the front end of a bier onto the stage and place it down solemnly. Someone else carried the back end, and then they would walk off. The body on board had to breathe as little as possible to make it look like a corpse.

Alex was nervous about appearing on stage. After all, despite all the hard work by the cast, the production had a season of just the one night. He’d waited in the back room for three quarters of an hour for his moment to arrive. He played cards while he waited. He’d never been on stage before. He had sweaty hands. What if he dropped the body or something?

Then he heard clapping. It was applause coming from the auditorium. Clearly the audience was enjoying the performance.

What’s this? A standing ovation? But it’s not finished yet, surely?

Alex’s moment of glory had passed without him.

38. Ms Warple, drama queen

38play

Jack was sixteen. He disliked school immensely. In fact, he had spent most of the semester trying to get booted out of school. He particularly disliked one of his teachers, Ms Andrea Warple. Ms Warple was into theatre. She was SO dramatic. She had become obsessed with the stage from the moment she had played the part of the Cannibal Queen in the local repertory society’s annual production. She got a standing ovation. Now she was an expert, and SOOOOO dramatic.

“You see, students,” she enthused to her class, “you must be born into the theatre, you must breath drama, it must become a way of life. I can teach you how from personal experience.”

With that, she set an assignment for her students. Each must write a five minute play. Each must be a character in their own play.

“And I promise you. Each play will be staged. I shall direct them myself and turn them into masterpieces. I shall act in them personally if you make me the main character — to show you how it’s done.” Her sumptuous bosom heaved a sigh of satisfaction.

Jack wrote his play and handed it in. Here it is:

The curtain opens to the sun rising over a primeval forest. A Tyrannosaurus rex enters. A Pterodactyl flies by. A passing Triceratops comes up through the audience and on to the stage. A Brachiosaurus grazes in the corner.

Ms Andrea Warple enters.

Ms Warple: Help! Help! I was in the shower and a time warp occurred. I have been flung into this prehistoric primeval forest. Has anyone seen my towel? Has anyone seen my clothes?

Jack enters.

Jack: (pointing) Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

The End.