In three days, I compacted a summer's worth of touristy stuff that I'd been saving for when my mom came to visit. We took the tram up to the top of Mt. Roberts (78% of the tourists here are Russian or Austrailian), which kinda demystified my heroic climb to Dan Moller Cabin. But it was a bright clear day and you could see the entirety of Douglas Island, which, due to something called isostatic rebound is going to reconnect with the mainland up north. There was plenty of over-priced kitch to buy and a bald eagle named Justice sat in a cage on display. I don't know why -- you can see tons of them here any time. Learned a bunch of stuff. Justice has a deformed right eye that glows as a grotesque symbol of ... something. Turns out Bald Eagles aren't very good at flying. They build large landing ramps for their nests because of this. Insert your own ironic commentary here.
The next day it was raining again, so we went to the Mendenhall Glacier which you can actually touch as it recedes back into the Juneau Ice Shelf. Due to global warming, it's vanishing at some absurdly scary rate. A map showed the size of the glacier throughout history. A friend told me that when his grandmother came here, the glacier was right at the front door to the visitor center. Now it's a good 20 minute hike away from the visitor center. There's a glacier-fed diving hole nearby and our stagehand, Zori, wants to take us there to jump in sometime. Ha ha! Sure, why not?! The sun almost sets at 11:45pm and already starts to glow behind the mountains at 2:15am. Returning home at that hour strangely feels like you've been out drinking for seven hours. Anchorage is closer to the 60th parallel and we'll be there on the solstace for this barnstorming tour in June -- can't wait to see that.
And on Friday, we went whale watching with some free tickets (and more Austrailian toursits) courtesy of a lovely woman who owns her own boat and happens to have season tickets to the theatre. We saw eight whales -- four pairs of mothers with their cubs. A bunch of sea-lions, and countless eagles. The naturalist from a cruise ship Infinity joined us and wouldn't stop talking the entire time. Yes, his expertise was welcome, but you'd think he'd get tired of all this and stop shouting at the top of his lungs whenever a whale appeared: "THERE we GO! Two HUNDRED mile-an-hour BLOWHOLE EXHALATION! LIFE is GOOOOOOD!" That's a direct quote. The captain was a guy named Captain Larry. Larry has what can only be described as a sixth sense when it comes to humpback whales. He gently steared his boat out of Auck Bay and could read the ripples in the water (without the help of sonar or GPS) to tell when whales were approaching. Larry is something of a local celebrity, as it turns out. He was on some MTV extreme tundra challenge show or something.
I also learned that Juneau High School is built on a patch of land that no one wanted because it's in an avalanche danger zone. There's a movement afoot to build a new one, but no one wants to support it. Can you believe that shit? The principal sends out letters cautioning the parents against our play, out of fear of a copycat killing, when the whole place could be destroyed at any moment by falling ice. Yeah. Sorry we put you in danger, skippy.
We've been getting great houses now -- which is a rarity with the good weather. But it's still light out when the show finishes at 10:30pm, so I guess people don't miss too much of the bright sky when they come in for our crazy little opus at night.
I remembered I had a wayward * on the words New York in a previous post. And I wanted to follow up with something:
I don’t get to the city as often as I’d like (or as often as I should) and as a DC actor who’s seen too many crappy Julliard kids infiltrate the scene from up north, I’ve carried a petty chip on my shoulder for too long. I used to think that being a New York actor was a silly, nominal distinction -- not necessarily evidence of success or (from what I’ve heard) artistic satisfaction. Of all my friends in that city, I think only one of them has what they’d call a satisfying life in the theatre. And he does lighting design. And I used to think that DC was as close as you could get to a self-sustaining “regional” theatre town. The word regional is kinda insulting in its own way because it implies that we’re just the outlaying provinces of the Center of the Universe, suckling at the benevolent teat of momma Broadway.
What I love about DC is its identity crisis. “Northern charm and southern efficiency”? Yeah, that’s true. I always thought of DC as a place where people come for a brief period of time to make very permanent things. Laws, news, monuments and museums. And if NYC is the melting pot at its best, then DC is … well, a kind of chunky stew. We’ve got a theatre company for every demographic you can think of: African-American (1), Gay (1), Jewish (1), Latin (2), Asian (3) and so on. But there’s not a lot of cross-pollination in either the talent or the audiences. Collectively, we have all this at our disposal -- but has anyone been to all of them?
And then we have three theatres with Shakespeare in the name. There’s nothing wrong with all this, but I think the tribalism and the classicism are inspired (consciously or not) by the fact that we’re in DC. You will see theatre that is either dutifully rendered or demographically balanced. You will see Hamlet at the Shakespeare Theatre, pass by the Navy Memorial on your way to the parking garage, return home to Missouri, and consider yourself done.
And so what if there’s no such thing as a commercial production in town? True, Studio Theatre comes close with their ceaseless extensions and double-extensions. Despite the “House of Pain” rap it gets from actors and staff members, I still gotta admire the Zinoman-Industrial Complex for its shrewd business sense. For me, the fixed rotation of plays keeps the blood going. Now that I’ve been doing the same show for the better part of five months, I don’t know if I want to be locked into a long-running commercial production as … lord knows what. I’m sure I’ll come back to eat those words if I ever make the leap north and fail, but for now I couldn’t be happier with the breadth of work I get to do in any given season. My training was in the liberal arts mold and I carried a psychology major far too long in the process, so I still learn more from each show than I give away.
But I think the one component missing from the DC theatre scene is indigenous playwriting. Many theatres have a play development mechanism in place -- Arena, Woolly, Signature, Charter, Round House, Rorschach, and the Kennedy Center. But with the exception of Charter and Rorschach, the submission specs require a level of advocacy that only established, represented (often NYC) writers have. That’s fine, I guess, but here’s my real problem. TCG and Samuel French will gladly write the world premiere cast into the front page, but they won’t publish the damn thing until its had a New York premiere. In other words, even though a play was birthed, developed, and officially premiered down south -- it’s still not technically born until it’s been through any theatre in New York. The disconnect between development, production, and publication is what irks me. Granted, Anna In the Tropics catapulted to prominence before anyone in NY had seen it, and Chicago and Seattle house more contemporary playwrights than NY … so maybe the final challenge for all us “regional” houses is to declare a new work open when it opens. Not when it filters through some Byzantine rite of passage.
I’ve been watching this process with columbinus. We’ve opened and opened again. But we’re clutching at a possible New York workshop before that bottle of champagne cracks. Why? PJ’s already received dozens of requests to produce it a schools, universities, and smaller venues across the country. And the idea that this story will have a life beyond the seminal production excites me. But when it comes to having a sweet-smelling, handsomely bound copy of the damn thing, we have to wait for the Big Apple Blessing.
Oh well. Another thing I love about DC is how ridiculously artificial the town is. I’m talking geography here. Even though I’ve lived there for six years and still get lost driving to my own apartment -- I kinda like the mobius strip mentality m. l’Enfant had going … after he drank four bottles of port and started throwing blind darts at his design to decide where the traffic circles would go. Maybe it’s my weakness for German expressionism in art, but the image of this rigid, immoveable diamond -- where money and corpses vanish every day -- never fails to make me laugh when I look at it on a map. We don’t know what the fuck we are. A territory? A state? A ten square mile gift boutique? Never mind the half-million unrepresented black people who live here! As far as the rest of the country is concerned (or as far as they know from Fox News) we’re a pissy little fiefdom that houses foreign diplomats, government employees, and poor people! Not exactly the crop of folk who get respect in W’s America.
I always wanted to make a movie that takes place in DC and Johannesburg. There’s another crazy, violent, artificial town forged by wacky white people! Like DC, Jo-burg is grafted onto mother earth where she clearly didn’t want anyone living. We were stamped into a swamp to unify the country, geographically. And Jo-burg was burnt into a dustbowl to consolidate the colonial diamond/gold mining business. Jo-burg is the largest city on earth that isn’t near a natural water supply. London, Paris, New York, LA, Rome, Tokyo, Jakarta, Cairo … you name it. At least they had water. A South African writer, whose name eludes me, tried to explain: “That’s why we’re all crazy here. We’re thirsty!”
So anyway, the movie would be set in the 1980s and would compare life in two artificial cities. The Reaganite complicity with the Afrikaner government would make an good bridging narrative. In the end, the protagonist will escape to Cape Town and live happily ever after. I remember the garden route backpacking trip I took with my friends back in ‘99 -- chasing down the locales for all of Fugard’s plays. That reminds me! We could warp between Bethesda and New Bethesda in the movie! Close-up on one of Helen’s statues as we cross-fade to a lawn jockey in suburban Maryland! DAMN! The symbolism writes itself! Now we’re cookin’! Can I get a green light from the hizzy, please?! No, hear me out! My pitch:
“In a city built on diamonds …
In another city … shaped like a diamond …
In a world … of … diamondy … shaped … things!”
And then something would explode. Also, there will be breasts. Working title? Birth of Bling?