Thursday, April 28, 2005

The End of the Road

It’s not just a phrase, it’s the truth. We drove there yesterday afternoon before tech rehearsal started. Since the town is water and mountain-bound, you can’t drive too far in any direction without swimming or flying. No roads in or out. So we followed the main drag south for forty-five minutes, through mountains and construction sites where the municipal government is still trying to make the cliff-side carvings safe for vehicle passage. We drove past a sign that read:

“TRAVEL BEYOND THIS POINT IS NOT RECOMMENDED.”

Isn’t that great? I love how simple and polite it is. The Juneau government can’t technically forbid the pioneer spirit, but they can issue vague recommendations that you turn back to the city at the first sign of falling rocks.

“IT WOULD BE MOST ACCOMMODATING OF YOU TO TURN AROUND NOW.”

So we found a lovely little oasis at the end of the road. The path curved down to the water where a handful of people were camping and boating. A rocky beach lapped up against the channel. And, finally, it was windy. Windy enough to whip out the Ventura HP stunt kite for a quick dive around the sky. I love this thing. And not in a nostalgic, Peter-Pan, quarter-life-regression sort of way.

“WOULD YOU KINDLY CONSIDER ANOTHER ROUTE FOR YOUR TRAVELS TODAY?”

So at long last, the kite flew. It’s not that large, but it has a double-harness gizmo on the frame with two guide-lines so you can gently tug it into dive-bombing at 45mph or simply let it hover on its side, two feet above the water, motionless. It’s not that hard to learn, either. It’s on a par with making quiche or oral sex.

“MIGHT WE SUGGEST YOU VISIT THE GLACIER INSTEAD? WE HEAR IT’S A LIFE-ALTERING EXPERIENCE.”

And there’s the zen angle and the isn’t-it-just-like-sex angle. But when I take the kite out for a spin, I think back to Kerouac’s description of his friend the parking-lot attendant in action. You’re driving a creature. Because you need equidistant strings for both your left and right guide-lines, you have to extend the line to its fullest before takeoff -- no gentle strolls a few feet above your head when the wind is low. No, it’s all or nothing with this bird. So when the air obliges, all it takes is a quick yank upright and she bolts seventy five feet above your head in about three seconds.

“SERIOUSLY. THE MAN WHO PLANTED THIS SIGN WAS EATEN BY TWO EMACIATED MOOSE.”

As if the sight could get any better. I’m not doing a good job of describing the mountains and the air, so try to imagine … well … more of them. With 72 degrees of sun to make sure you don’t miss a single snow-cap or island. My filming has tapered off in the past couple days because there’s only so many ways you can shoot a mountain with 800x digital zoom. So I’m going to start interviewing the locals. Two have already slipped past my wily lens and I’ll be damned if I don’t have the camera the next time a fat curmudgeonly boat engineer (named Bob) decides to tell me about his three-day fuckfest with “some crazy woman who just wouldn’t quit.”

“MOOSE, I TELL YOU!”

Tech has been lurching on. I didn’t realize how complicated a sound design could be -- all due respect to the wizard Marty Desjardin who hooked us up the first time. Perseverance had to buy new faders and dimmer packs and computer consoles to accommodate the hundreds of cues and cross-fades it took to do the show. Which is a good investment for them, but makes for lots of downtime backstage. I’ve been reading Life of Pi, at Kimberly’s insistence. Will move on to Carter Beats the Devil after that. And somewhere between the two, I need to dig into Equus again since we might slap together a two-week summer run of that before I leave.

You know, for the tourists. They’d dig that. Light, summer fare.

Why this sudden frenzy? Because Curious Theatre in Denver is really living down their namesake by sticking to tame certified off-Broadway hits instead of loading in for our show. We got the official word the other day and even after PJ offered them the rights, the design, and eight wound-up actors ready-to-go for a guaranteed hit … AND raised $7k in three days to patch over the other costs … the management at Curious is still sheepish. That was the brass ring for us. A Denver production before we loose our hair. Now the Denver Theatre Center (which is much bigger) might team up with the New York Theatre Workshop next season, but … that’s one year, two re-writes, and five commercial theatre producers from now. So who knows where we’ll be.

In the meantime, I’m still drinking up the days on the wharf and getting gobs of writing done on the side. The key to budgeting yourself in an over-priced tourist town is to avoid drinking for recreation. The alcohol here is weak, overpriced, and unsavory. Like Edward Albee’s writing. Ha ha! No, fill in the blank.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Midnight

We found a grill and hauled it over to the beach. Dan Frith -- MC and free-lance barbequer extraordinaire -- gave everyone assignments: "Gene, you're on burgers. Flannagan, marshmellows and chocolate. Miller, beer and ice. I've got chicken marinading as we speak. Okay, BREAK!"

Or something like that. We built a bon fire on the sand using flats and platforms from the last show's set. And for a good five hours, we watched as the last embers of The Long Season lept up in six foot flames while grillmasters Gene and Dan served up plate after plate of sausage, chicken, peppers, and hamburgers. Somewhere around 11pm, a beachside rover named Dean came over carrying a giant tree. He donated it to our fire in exchange for a burger and sat talking with us for a while. Dean would periodically vanish, only to return with another superhumanly large piece of firewood.

We watched the sun set behind the mountains and finally vanish ... though not completely. The sun sets in the far northwest corner of the sky and even when it's out of view, you can still see a rather bright dusky outline around the mountains. The cool thing is, you know it's not the light of a city or any other ambiant, man-made light source. It's the sun we're watching at 11:30pm, already fast at work bringing morning to central Asia. And here we are, perched next to the water, listening to Bob Dylan and A-ha. In the south, the moon lurched into view, jaundiced and full. And we stamped out the fire to find another venue.

To our surprise, the theatre was unlocked. Everyone leaves everything unlocked out here: cars, houses, business establishments, chastity belts. I guess there's only so far you can travel with stolen goods. And you risk selling it back to the schmuck you might have stolen it from, so nobody worries about that. We wheeled our cooler into the theatre lobby at 1:30am and found the set painter still at work, finishing off the floor for rehearsal on Tuesday. We went down into the innards (sp?) of the building where the dressing rooms are. The lower level is like the basement set from The Silence of the Lambs: low ceilings, racks of costumes, hanging wires, flickering lights, an inflatable mattress, and a giant roll of red carpet that Gene is going to lay down for the theatre today. We sat on the floor and continued drinking until a game plan for driving home with five people in two cars emerged. It took a while.

This morning, people are out in tank-tops and shorts. They lay out on the wharf, tanning. You can tell that even the people who live here know they've got something the travelers don't. The cute barrista, Asia, is holding off her college admission until she knows what she's passionate about. And she's going to hang out here until she finds out. Sounds like a good plan for now.

The state legislature is in session, so there's an odd infusion of serious people in business suits. I forgot that Juneau was the capital for a while. I'm told it's the only capital city that doesn't have a domed capital building (or any particular building) and that they're having some sort of contest to design one. Anyway, it's weird to sit in a coffee shop and hear policy-makers at the table next door. Sure, it's different than DC: the Juneau wonks are talking about the referendum on domestic fur trading and it's impact on the green-towed lemur population or something. Whereas in DC, the chatter at the table next door would probably be about ... anything else.

We're told the cruise ships start to dock around May 15. That'll be interesting. They light up the valley when they enter and exit at night. I look forward to having a good three weeks of residency under my belt so I can scoff at "those dang outsiders" ... however unjustly. No. I know that I wouldn't want to live here. But I'm thankful for the chance to stay for more than fourteen days. I realized recently that I always wanted travel in my life -- I've always known that. But the major interference isn't fear or money or even laziness anymore. It's the desire to be more than vagrant in the world. It's not worth it unless I can sink in for a good stretch of time, with some mission apart from the acquisition of keychains. To come close to having lived somewhere, not just visiting. I suppose it's easy to vanish for a week, fly to Tibet, get your photo with the Dalai Lama, hit the Hard Rock Cafe Mongolia and cash in the frequent flyer miles as evidence of a sojourn accomplished. But it's not enough.

Even being here on the beach last night, playing in the sand. I thought back to the couple days I spent on the Atlantic before I came here, playing in the sand. But I couldn't feel the miles between the two. Jetlag was the most salient reminder of a voyage traveled. And that's gone. So we crave a different night sky -- take me someplace where the gravity is different, not just the drinking water. I need to remember where I'm coming from, and exactly how far I've come.

We have the day off today. No rehearsal until tomorrow night. I can't believe I've only been here a week. But I guess that's normal. I'm going to try and hook up some photos on this thing so I can stop jabbering about the landscape and just show you.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Second City

I feel like I'm in a whole new city when the sun comes out. I went down to the beach yesterday to see if my stunt kite would fly -- alas, no wind. But the windless, waveless beach was its own spectacle in a way. Here were these giant chunks of earth sitting in front of me ... and here was this crystal clear channel between my side and their's. And to close your eyes, you'd think you were back home in the back yard (that still Chesapeake heat you can practically swim through). And then I open my eyes and ...

Every family has a dog. The one at my host family's house is named Ginger and she's an octogenarian golden something-or-other whose main hobbies include sitting in piles of dirt and yoga. Seriously. This dog performs a hilarious regimen of morning calisthetics that strangely resembles hatha yoga. She lies on her back and sends one hind leg arching out until it causes the whole four of them to sprawl out facing the sky. It's a very unnatural position, for humans as well as dogs, but I guess it helps her stretch out.

I've been given a Ford Festiva to drive while I'm here. You know, the small car you can steer by leaning on the driver-side window? Yeah, that's my babe-magnet. The first morning I had this car, I had to drive across the 10th street bridge to get to town. This was scary enough because the channel below was swarming with white-caps. Wind and rain beat the side of the car in horizontal sheets from the south. And I'm trucking on, with all four cylinders blazing when all of the sudden the hatch-back FLIES OPEN mid-way across the bridge. This was cool in a way because it gave the struggling Festiva something of a para-sail to make it across the bridge. This was scary in a way because it gave the same car AIRBORN CAPABILITY. So for a brief moment, I felt like I was gliding about 2cm above the pavement.

It's amazing what catches our attention out here. A few nights ago, we were hanging out at Jeanne's place, outside smoking a cigarette, when we noticed a spider had built an elaborate series of webs around the deck light. This was one smart motherfucking spider, since the deck light was a constant landing pad for every mosquito in range. I'm not kidding here: six of us sat watching -- in a circle -- as bugs landed in the web, one by one, and were gradually eaten by the spider. We gawked at the sublime justice of the Circle of Life for about 25 minutes.

On a related note, no one has found any pot yet.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Poe's Heart

Versus the mountain-climber. Huzzah! I wrenched my knee at rehearsal today (haven't had a fight call in ten days, but screw it). That didn't make the climb up Basin Trail any less tempting. We turned a corner from downtown Juneau right into the mountain. I don't know how to describe it, but it's like walking off a movie studio lot where they're filming The Bear and stepping right into a cafe to grab a coffee. The collision of city life and unspoiled nature is great for spoiled urbanites who secretly crave silence like me.

So a wonderful woman named DJ (who happens to be Perseverance's fianace director, I.T. expert, and five other things) piled us into her mini-van with her dog, Cedar, and took us to this trail. We walked past an abandoned gold mine and up the mountain to perch next to a raging waterfall.

Not much you can say at that point. Every time I turn around here, the earth announces itself like a diva.

Well, maybe diva's the wrong word. Like a ... well ... what do you call the feeling? One of our host fathers tried to liken the spectacle of the Northern Lights to "that first time you drop acid ... you know ... where you feel insignificant and omnipotent at the same time?" Yeah, something like that.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Ruling Planet, anyone?

More work, this time we got all the way to the end of the play and will do it again tomorrow. It went by so fast. Don’t know if that’s a sign of auto-pilot acting or of genuinely being in the moment, but … I didn’t know the scene was over until it was over. I fear the former.

The sun.

The blessed sun finally appeared today. We ran into the streets to catch a patch of that fiery ball in the sky … like the ogres in Plato’s cave. So brilliant. There are many cafes and many bars and actually many places to get wi-fi. But not all three at once. Pick two, as usual. Whatever. It should take more to make me uncomfortable. I bought a bunch of groceries today and have been faithfully making my breakfast and lunch every day, so that saves major cash (food is so expensive here, dining out, groceries, franchise garbage -- everything). The only vaguely touristy thing I want to do is climb the mountains.

PJ seems really relaxed up here and is even thinking about cutting back our rehearsal time because he’s so happy with the state of the production. Perseverance’s performance space is incredibly nice. Good chairs, good configuration, good space, everything. The story of how Molly built this thing is … one of those ceaseless, brilliant, inspiring stories about warrior artists that is, let’s face it, all the more spectacular because she did it in the middle of a mountainside Alaskan city with 32,000 people. A friend donated 50 theatre chairs and she brought them here on a barge, shoved them in a vacant building, wrote a play with locals, made a smash, and then grew from there. To the point where the theatre now has a permanent 500k matching funds endowment and is ready to break ground on another $1million expansion. The theatre staff built the fucking theatre. With their bare hands. In the rain. Paula Vogel had a longstanding collaboration here with Molly (both went to Catholic U) and Paula developed not only How I Learned to Drive, but also The Baltimore Waltz, and Baby Makes Seven here, I think.

Lot of boisterous women and sullen men here. One can understand why: the male to female ratio is something like 8:1. A slogan has emerged from this dynamic:

“The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”

It should be inscribed on the city emblem. In Latin. According to our AD Sarah, the women are intensely protective of their men out here. You’d think it would be the other way around.

The air still breaks into your lungs with its shamelessly pure heft. The mountains on either side of the city still gives you the effect of being hiked back on an elastic tight-rope that threatens to snap from its anchor and send you flying into the sky. And the sky. Is downright fearsome when it comes out.

The men wedge themselves into the corners of the bars and wear Marlboro smoke as a protective shield to block a furtive eye-scanning that belies the totem-stoic posture. They’re hungry. Meanwhile, the women shriek and laugh with abandon -- the city is an over-sized sorority house for the chubby, the toothless, the gorgeous, the indigenous, the young, the middle-aged, all of them. If any transaction is to take place, it’s on their terms.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

We went to Sandy Beach today for our own memorial service. I read lyrics from Louise Hoffsten’s "Box Full of Faces," others shared their memories and thoughts on the project and the day. Six years ago. Shit. I was at the bank cashing my one-and-only paycheck and CNN was playing a 20 second retrospective that consisted of their own footage outside the school that day. This was followed by the announcement that the school won’t be having a memorial service this year because they spent all the money they had on re-building the atrium and couldn’t even afford the monument they were going to build. Short by one million bucks, apparently.

PJ sent off the numbers to Curious Theatre in Denver and it sounds like the theatre only has to pay for the actor’s salaries and build the set. This is a super bargain, so I'm told. Still, we’re waiting. Blake is waiting, Molly is waiting. What’s with these people?

It’s the third day of rain here, and I’ve only been here three days. I don’t mind it as much as the rest of the group. Dan keeps going on about his vitamin D deficiency and I think he's onto something. It's like Cloud City from Empire.

I filmed a lot today. Drank up two tapes at the walk to the memorial and later on at rehearsal, soaking up more table work and some of the re-blocking for act one. Will try to do more tomorrow. People don’t seem overtly pissed that I’m doing this. I should take some time to review the tapes later this week to see if I’m onto something or if I need to buy a microphone. I found a bald eagle on a distant tree today. One of the theatre employees mentioned that there are several bald eagles ready for filming … down at the garbage barge. Ain’t it perfect? I HAVE to film that. I think I’ll make prints of the stills and sell them to BOTH conservative and liberal groups back in DC.

Getting the play back on its feet was harder than I thought. When I have a few days off from the show, I feel great and rejuvenated. But this is taking quite a bit of energy to find again. In the small rehearsal room, I feel older. Too close to the audience. I also got to watch lots of the first act fun that I could only glimpse for the last couple months. The rest of the group really is quite spectacular -- it's been a while since I've been able to see them up close. Gene made an amazing turnaround with an already bad-ass monologue. He did it in a completely different way -- same words, but with about four new layers to it. I taped it, thank god. Anne, too, though saddled with one of the weirder speeches in the show, still knocked it out of the park.

More later.