A Travellerspoint blog

day 5: it's a good thing we all get on so well

in which our nine swampoodle actors plus a few more cross the hump of the week

semi-overcast 40 °F

I’ve finally fallen behind in my daily posting routine, friends. On Thursday night the entire group ventured out into Dublin for a meal and a show and a pub, and I ended up leaving my laptop in Marketa’s trunk, or “boot” in the local parlance. Time has whirred by so quickly that yesterday morning seems like last week, and from what I remember of Day 4 (as I’m composing this entry days later, I’ll admit to using a cheat-sheet), it was a day of continued creative exploration, though I finally felt the subtle tug of exhaustion beginning to creep in. But when one is creatively turned on, in love with the work and process, lack of sleep hours are quickly overcome.

[Note: I'm posting this from an internet hotspot looking out over train tracks just in front of the Irish Sea in Greystones, about an hour south of Dublin. I spent a good part of the morning writing and visiting with my lovely hosts who will make an appearance in a later entry. Please note that I have a whopper of a story to tell about something which happened after leaving the group yesterday, but first I must catch up with the previous days in chronological order. STAY TUNED, readers!]

On the way in to the estate, I snap a few daytime pics; its amazing to me how much the area transforms over a few hours by the simple act of the sun lighting the space. Our first exercise on rehearsal day 4 was in three groups of three, arranging small vignettes based on our wall-hung images, which would show a process of rehearsing bleeding into a “performance.” Also, a character should die and the audience should feel something for that character. Running with Jo’s request that we cast ourselves “against type,” I played Margaret Lane, the young daughter of the Irish Catholic family in Swampoodle, ca. 1910. In our sketch, Margaret’s father is killed in a roller derby accident at the Uline Auditorium. (It’s a good thing we’re so focused on process now, rather than on final results!) In another piece, Chris plays the dancer Rudolf Nureyev (who once danced in the Uline) leaping to his death.


We continue with another three groups of three; each group must find an excuse to make use of either a roller derby, a bulldozer, or a marching band. I’m in the marching band group, and we travel from a math classroom (“76 Trombones!”), an airplane ("McNamara's Band"), featuring Adrienne’s sendup of the haughty stewardess who snarled at Chris on the flight from JFK (we have taken to calling her “Nanny McPhee”), and a doctor’s office, where Stacy receives a bit of bad news (“When the Saints Go Marching In.”) The second group stages us in the center of the room, facing outward while they whirl around us like a roller derby, then morph into screaming as if we were the Beatles onstage at the Uline. (Have I mentioned that that Beatles gave their first American performance in the very space where we’re performing our piece? Well it’s worth saying again!) The third group starts with Karl’s unsuccessful proposal to Stephanie at a restaurant, which gets interrupted by… Rachel driving a bulldozer! Karl and Steph become Swampoodle artistes angrily defending their right to use the space to make “art,” while the bulldozer operator (much like our roofer friends the previous day) mocks them. Rachel the bulldozer driver then becomes a dancer. You see where all of this is going, yes?

After a quick lunch, we’re taken on a tour of the estate by a friendly employee who knows lots about the history of Castletown House and has many stories to share along the way. I had no idea about the opulence which laid underneath our rehearsal rooms, but its all pretty magnificent. We’re asked to not take photographs in one special room which contains fine imported drawings framed on the walls with a mixture of flour, water, and arsenic, which kills all bacteria, an 18th century glue which sticks to this day. Our guide tells us its one of the finest rooms for this style in all of Europe. There’s also a rare statue of George Washington's head currently held in a storage box, and a fun story about the cracks in the mirror and fireplace in the lavish dining room coming from a battle between the local priest having thrown a Bible at the devil, whose cloven feet had been revealed while cheating at a card game. So apparently there’s precedent for the free-range storytelling we’re carrying on a few floors above?


Next we’re introduced to Niamh, our costume designer, and Ciaran, our lighting designer, who are swiftly integrated into our madness as we're split into two new groups and given some text from Tom. The first group tries on a selection from Niamh’s colorful costume pieces while sitting around a table, and their text focuses on “I want to be remembered for…” Our text is concerned with history, and realizing the history of a place and its connection to the present moment in that place, presented as a list of “History is…” For staging, I suggest the outside courtyard adjacent to the side entrance we’ve been using to enter the estate; it’s diagonally shaped and rife with interesting playing spaces. We have Ciaran lead the “audience” into the center of the area, and one by one the actors pop up at different places, reading individual sections of Tom’s text.

The final exercise is focused on sound, and we’re put in two groups and given more text. The first group puts us in the architecturally fascinating brick room in the center, which was remodeled to serve as a stabilizer for the entire estate. The group is spread around us, the lights are turned off, and soft whispering and breathing g on all around us, which lead into Rachel leading the others in a gorgeous, simple, original folk melody (inspired by “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?,” she later claimed)… “See the women working… still, still… smell the bread baking… still, still… hear the children playing… still, still…” It’s a wonderful, magical moment to hear that sound and I close my eyes and try to stretch my awareness of the present moment, just as I had when I crossed the dark field the other night. Our group, staged in a dimly lit, 18th century-feeling side room, starts with me singing some faux Sean nos, following a minor pentatonic pattern (I resolve to learn this style!), followed by the sound of brushing paper on the wooden floor (“the rushing of Tiber Creek below”) and a crescendo building to the improvised end.

We end the day with a grueling attempt to piece together a coherent rehearsal schedule for when we meet back in DC starting mid-April. That evening, the group heads out for a fine meal at Wolfe's Irish Artisan Bistro in Dublin, which we order and finish in record time in order to make the curtain at the Project Arts Centre, where a group called Forced Entertainment is performing a new work called Void Story. The piece is constructed as a staged radio play of sorts, with still images reminiscent of a comic-book projected in the center. Though the four actors do a fine job reading their scripts on side tables, personally, the piece isn’t my favorite and my exhaustion is getting the better of me.


After the show, we walk over to a pub which seems to have hundreds of Guinness signs hung in different ways, and its nice to have a pint of the black magic while the group unwinds for a bit.


We stay for two drinks, sing birthday wishes for MJ (what are the chances that out of 9 actors, 2 of them have birthdays during our rehearsal week?), and head back to Celbridge. On the way, Jo and Tom invite our carload (Steph, MJ and myself) into their home not far from Castletown for a quick swig of fine whiskey, the gift of a birthday cigar for MJ, and a bit of fun with their three wonderful dogs. Jo drops us off at the Langley Lodge and MJ enjoys his birthday cigar smoke outside. It's overall a nicely rounded, not-too-crazy night; after all there’s one day left and no one wants to be the only one to show up “under the weather” for our final rehearsal day!


Posted by coolmcjazz 06:07 Archived in Ireland Tagged theater kildare

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