It's cold, and I wish I were still sleeping. We walk down the sidewalk through the early morning dark, my fingers numb around the end of the leash, ice air a sting in my lungs. I reach for the handle of the apartment's entryway door and let Nicholas click happy toenails up the front steps ahead of me. Into the warm. He leads me up the marble steps and stops at the top, sits in a Chihuahua curl, nose up, to watch me pull out my keys.
What more lovely moment can there be than the one of knowing that a dog
can take completely for granted his safety, his comfort and his love.
It was nine-thirty in the evening, and Nicholas decided it was time to take the woman with the lap for her walk. They strolled down the sidewalk and turned a corner to head to the place where Nicholas liked to look for the cat that always hid, crouched, under a bush or a car and never moved when Nicholas barked.
A few more steps, a few more sniffs, and there it was in the dimness of October nine-thirty gray. Nicholas leapt forth into valiant barking - then stopped. The cat was not a cat. The cat was an enormous raccoon.
For just a second, all three creatures - Nicholas, the raccoon and the woman with the lap - shared that very particular, intimate animal moment: locked in a stare, linked in mutual anticipation.
Nicholas figured he could take the raccoon. The raccoon figured he could take the woman with the lap.
Then the woman with the lap picked Nicholas up off the pavement and they got going back toward home. Coming down the sidewalk the other way were two men in conversation. As they passed Nicholas and the woman, one man said to the other, "When your team mate gets the ball, like, you have to get out of the way."
I walk through three seasons on my way home from work. First, down the pseudo-boardwalk behind Jamison Square under a tunnel of yellow leaves - that is fall. Turn and continue along the pavement through another tree tunnel, this one dotted with tiny gold lights - that is winter. Off to the left, the fountain shaped like a tiny seashore is flowing - water over the rocks and down into a shallow pool at the center. There aren't any children playing in the chill, but still. That is summer. Spring will have to wait.
One o'clock at the play space. Kathleen and I talk writing and neuroses over a margherita pizza while her boys climb and run and slide in the enormous indoor jungle gym shaped like a castle. At the next table over, a young man and woman sit facing the castle. Arranged on the empty chairs across the table are three sets of tiny sneakers, pink, lavender, blue. And on the table between them, two glasses and a full bottle of wine.
Two doors opened off of the theater, one on each side of the back wall. You could say they led to backstage, but what they really led to was the apartment of the people who own Performance Works Northwest. We dressed in their bedroom, watched by two cats, waited in their living room for our turns in the program. The main stage door was in the kitchen.
The apartment / green room was packed: a troupe of guys in striped shirts singing to the tune of a Christmas song, a drag queen in half whiteface clown makeup, a sexy young woman in bodice and tights and high lace-up boots, a group of guys in war paint and scant costumes made of strips of fabric. The show was getting close to starting, and everyone was warming up, running lines and stretching, laughing. One of the guys in war paint needed help adjusting his scant strips of fabric, and a middle aged woman in a black evening gown stepped behind him, got close, and said, "Where do you want it?"
Stephen and I sat in the middle of it all like accountants* at the party, Stephen sitting straight-backed in his jeans and button-down shirt, except, of course, he was also made up with lipstick and false eyelashes. We were on last, and as acts came and went we chatted in whispers but mostly just sat, the two of us, and ran our lines. Having had ten days to put this whole thing together, neither of us felt sure that we wouldn't royally screw up. The program had three parts and two intermissions. During the second part, we went into the bedroom to change. The bedroom opened out into the living room - no door - people everywhere - so I stood in my dress, fanning my skirt out wide as if there were any possible way this might make a good enough screen to keep Stephen hidden as he stripped down. I have to say, as we stepped back out of the bedroom in our full regalia, we were turning heads - well, mostly Stephen was.
We spent all night waiting backstage, watching the acts come and go. The later it got, the quieter it got back there, as more performers finished up and slid out into the audience to watch. One of the guys in war paint, this one in a white tutu, pushed by in his wheelchair and turned to us and said, "Merde."
When it was our turn to go on, the whole backstage / apartment / green room was quiet. We hunched in the kitchen, at the stage door, waiting to be announced.
Sitting in the spotlight for twenty seconds waiting for your musical cue is not the best way to start a performance, but I suspect there must have been some sort of technical difficulty. I hear our technician is a wizard at what he does. Once the music started up, our lines rolled out surprisingly well. We were getting laughs. We started into the first song and sang nicely.
And then other things happened. There was bobbling of dialogue, coincidentally and unfortunately mostly obliterating most of our references to Richard Foreman's notebooks (meaning, the prompts we were to build our piece around). Then Stephen launched beautifully into Shadow Waltz, and our paper cones got a nice laugh, but there was no monitor to adequately hear our background music over our own voices, so when we finally came up for air, we were a couple beats ahead of the music. In that pause, I lifted out of the song and floated over a sudden streaming of music that had no meaning. I didn't know where it or I was. Like sometimes happens when you're water skiing and the boat turns and the line goes slack, that tug picks up again - my ears found the forward thrust of the song again - and my voice kicked in. We sang the big finish, our arms up in a grand pose. The music ended - ta-da and applause - I let my arms drop and glanced over to see Stephen still frozen in his grand pose. I didn't know what to do, so I bowed, by myself, and the lights came down.
Then it was all out and over, and we were walking back through the kitchen, and I was thinking, did we stink?
I was thinking, did we look like the one amateur act in the whole Richard Foreman Festival?
I was thinking, is Stephen sorry we ever took on this crazy experience?
As we got to the back bedroom where our clothes were waiting, Stephen turned, grinned, reached out, and shook my hand.
With Nicholas cradled in my right arm and swagging a loop of leash over the side, I step down the apartment staircase into a convergence of early morning dogs.
Big, black dog, panting and straining against a synched-up leash held close by a neighbor. "Good morning." "Good morning." Passing by us and up the steps.
Woman and a brown Boxer coming in from outside, woman and two Basset hounds heading for the same door. "Oh! Good morning." "Good morning."
Me with my little Chihuahua in arms. "Good morning. Good morning."
Wait for the convergence of dogs to clear, wait for two Basset hounds to clatter echoey claws down the marble steps in the entryway. Then a bit of quiet and a lick on the nose from Nicholas, and we're through the entryway, down the last set of stairs, and out into the six o'clock black.
I have to give Stephen total credit for one of my favorite aspects of our little performance with the Richard Foreman Mini Festival. Since the main song we were singing was Shadow Waltz, he had the idea of having shadows waltz behind us during the song. The Performance Works Northwest folks told us they could project still images or film sequences on the stage wall, so we set about figuring how to create a little shadow film. Keeping in mind that we had only ten days (and very few nights together) between getting the prompt and performing the complete piece, it was squeeze to fit this in with writing the piece, putting together the background music, practicing and practicing. Oh, and going to work. Oh, and a computer crash in the middle of it all.
Monday night: Stephen and me in the back room of the apartment with the couch up on its end and leaned against the closet door, an art lamp affixed to a tripod shoved in the corner and Stephen's iPhone (camera) propped against the computer. In the wide spot of light beaming against the wall, Stephen and I waltzed in a circle. Trying to stay inside the tiny square marked out with tape on the floor. I banged into the corner of the desk. The blurry shadow figures on the wall were elongated and every time we turned, my butt looked like an attached beach ball.
We tried all night, moved furniture around, pointed the lamp from every angle, but the room was just too small. No way to get the shadows sharp in the frame and keep our real bodies out. I kept saying what we needed to do was go find a blank wall somewhere and project the car's headlights on it, and dance in front of that. Then Stephen came up with the idea of the shadow puppets.
He spent part of Tuesday and Wednesday drawing and cutting out of stiff art board three sets of dancing couples--modeled after Astaire and Rogers from pictures in a book.
Lovely, detailed silhouettes with delicate profiles and fingered hands. On Thursday, I stayed home from Dangerous Writing, and we set up the lamp and camera again. By then, Stephen had attached some chopsticks to the bases of the paper puppets and glued it all down. He'd also added a final touch to his dancing couples, using some parchment paper, with hopes that the light through the parchment would give a gauzy effect to part of the costuming. When Stephen does something, he does it to detailed perfection.
This was my job.
Then, when the sun went down, we started filming, shining the light across our stick puppets and against a thin piece of Bristol set up on Stephen's artist's easel.
He filmed from the opposite side, which gave us the sharpest possible shadow dancers. Sadly the parchment paper didn't give us the effect we wanted, so we had to take a little time to remove those pieces, but then we got back to choreographing the dancers.
I knelt down in front of the easel screen and twirled my silhouette duo, and Nicholas came over and curled up on the backs of my calves.
All night, Stephen and I played the music of Shadow Waltz and were two-dimensional dancers in a circle of light.
Stephen and I walk out into the silent dark. Beyond the soft ring of spotlight on the floor is the blur of the audience, mostly shadow. We set down our stools, set down our prop bouquets, sit on the stools and wait.
As the light comes up on our 1930s drags, there's a little roll of laughter in the crowd - a good sign. The technician is to give us a couple seconds before starting the music, so Madeleine and Penny Prévert in their imaginary dressing room start to pantomime primping at their imaginary dressing table, looking through an invisible mirror to the audience.
I check my hair (wig), doing that thing where you cup your hand and pat at the bottom of your curls, and I think, oh god, that's so cliché. I peer ahead into the mirror and fiddle with my earring, dab at my lipstick. I want to powder my face with an imaginary puff but I'm afraid of taking it too far.
After a few moments, I start to wonder when the music's going to start. A peek over at Stephen: he's fluffing the puffs of white net at his shoulder and trying not to look worried. Still no music. I try to shoot a quick look over at our technician sitting in a glow of red light at the back corner of the performance space, but with my glasses off, I don't even know if I'm looking at him.
Stephen could just give up and say the first line, but the first line is, "Oh, listen, the orchestra is starting," and the orchestra hasn't started yet, so we sit in our spotlight, looking through our mirror at the silent audience, and wait for the music.
Stephen and I stand at the stage door in our gowns and wigs. The act before us is finished and now it's quiet in the house. I lean my ear as close to the door as I can without bending my hat, and I whisper at Stephen.
"I don't hear anything. Should we go out?"
Stephen's eyes are a little wide under the swoops of his false eyelashes, "I think they'll announce our name."
We're pretty sure it's our turn in the program, but the emcee doesn't have a microphone, and no one has been giving clear instructions about entrances. For a long moment, we wait. Then I hiss at Stephen again.
"I don't hear anything. Should we go out?"
Standing there looking slightly terrified in that odd, little kitchen in the apartment that juts off of the performance space, Stephen as Madeleine Prévert is the most beautiful woman I've ever seen.
The masculine and feminine of his face, the deep, red lips, the blond sculpted wig under sequinned black net hat. Behind the door, now, is a quiet murmur. Maybe a voice.
I make out, "without further ado," but then silence again. I raise my eyebrows at Stephen.
"I think they'll announce our name," he says, but he doesn't look sure.
Total silence behind the door. Adrenaline is hot wet cement seeping through my bones. If they were ready out there, wouldn't they announce our names? But silence and silence. I whisper at Stephen.
"Should we go out?"
He pulls open the door. Beyond is blackness and a soft gray-shadow puddle of spotlight on the floor. Grabbing up our stools and our flowered paper cones, we step through, forgetting to close the door behind us, and step out into the silent dark.
Rehearsing in the studio. We run lines and sing the songs as we mime fixing our makeup and hair in Madeleine and Penny Prévert's imaginary dressing room. I pretend to powder puff my face, then start to twist open a pretend jar of some sort of makeup. When Stephen starts laughing, I realize I'm overdoing my pantomime. As we start back into the song, I bait an invisible hook and cast out an invisible fishing rod. So many moments of laughing along this process of preparing for the Richard Foreman Festival. Then it's back to work again.
Streetlight down through the tree makes confetti on a six o'clock black shadow sidewalk. Nicholas sniffs at the bushes. From the glowing second story apartment window above comes music, chiming bells and the voices of the Nineteen Eighties: Feed the world, let them know it's Christmas time. It repeats and repeats and then, instead of fading out, just stops, and we walk down the sidewalk in city morning quiet, that hum. At the edge of the next apartment building, between the bushes, are two pancakes, flecked with ants.
Coming back the other way, heading home, we pass under the same window, and the Band-Aid song is playing again. Over and over: Feed the world, let them know it's Christmas time. Two male voices over the music, laughing and talking about Michael Jackson.
Liz and Bridget over at Pocket Shrink have shared the Versatile Blogger Award with me. Thanks so much, ladies.
In turn, I was asked to do three things:
1) Kiss my dog on the head
2) Go to work dressed in a 1938 Naval officer's uniform and a natty, little hat with a chartreuse feather
3) Eat a cucumber sandwich with the crusts cut off
1) Thank the awarder and link back to him/her
2) Share 7 things about yourself
3) Pass on this award to 15 blogs you've discovered
Well, thanks again, Liz and Bridget. Right back atcha [as you'll see below]. Here are seven random things about me...
~When I was very young, I and a friend stole some sort of candy from a convenience store, and then I immediately went home and told my mom, hey, guess what Shannon taught me you can do. This was not an excuse. I really did think it was OK.
~When I'm in the shower, my dog Nicholas stands on the other side of the curtain with his paws on the edge of the tub and makes noises like a baby pig.
[bonus picture, not at bathtub...]
~I like cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off.
~Some of the production costumes I wore as a circus clown were: convict, policeman [with detachable pants], bullfight patron [with sombrero], nurse [with balloon boobs], racehorse and rider [the bottom half of me was the horse], and Bill Clinton.
~When I was a kid, my best friend was afraid of rubber alligators. I was afraid of earthquakes, house fires, making friends and being noticed all by myself at school.
~One of my dream careers would be designing book covers.
~I fell in love with my husband first in the form of art, then in the
form of words, then in the form of voice, and lastly in person.
And here is my list of 15 cool blogs.
Pocket Shrink - a daily bit of counsel from two smart, insightful [and entertaining] psychologists.
SHARE - a bi-monthly Portland event that gathers a group of artists to create in a shared space. I've attended this event a few times and it's great, creative fun.
Nora Robertson.org - lovely local writer who's plugged into the arts and literary scene in Portland.
Confessions of a Pop Fan - Jamie S. Rich is a graphic novel writer [loved his very noir You Have Killed Me] who also writes great film reviews.
The Richard Foreman Mini Festival is less than a week away, now. We're in the middle of preparations. The prompt from Richard Foreman's notebooks came to us at twelve-o-one in the morning on Thursday. We printed the pages and went through the lines from his play script and chose a couple to incorporate into the piece we were to write. On Saturday night we got together with our cyber-maestro Sage Ricci to finalize our backup music, and on Sunday we wrote the piece.
Today, Monday, we were given our second prompt, which came to us from the performers who will be on stage before us. They were to choose a bit of language, a bit of dance, a prop... something from their own piece and pass it on to us, and we were to incorporate it into our piece. We, in turn, had to choose a bit from ours to pass on. Today also was a two-hour rehearsal period at the little theater. There are other preparations we're involved in, but I don't want to give away what we're doing - all I guess I want to give away right now is the quick forward momentum of this whole process. So interesting. Ten days between getting the prompt and performing in the show. Today, we performed to an empty house and a cat sitting on a chair. He listened to about half a song and then he was gone.