June 11, 2019
Day 17: “boiled to death with turnips” or “boiled to death by turnips?” my single dramaturgical insertion today
[Not that I think any of these are particularly interesting, but if I were you, I’d skip this one. I’m behind in writing these, and this day is kind of a big fat blur in retrospect. I did manage to bug Hannah about our second company breakfast will be tomorrow. What had she planned on the menu? I have my priorities!]
The button on my black jeans finally popped off. It had been holding on with one thread for a while, and it was just a matter of time. Such moments are always traumatic for me. There is the first response which is, “damn you carbs, you’re killing me.” And then there is the “I’m so domestically pathetic that I can’t sew on a button.” Well, I can, technically speaking. But before I can find the travel sewing kit, I have to go through this emotional flashback to junior high when the “girls” took home ec and the “boys” got to take shop. My older brother, who is four years older than me, was able to take home ec, but by the time I got to junior high, there was no option. The binary was set.
I was lousy at home ec. And the teacher, desperate to find something that I could do well, gave me the task of setting the table for our mock lunches, to which we invited the boys from shop to attend. This was after the poncho debacle. Now seriously, it’s not that complicated to make a poncho, is it? You cut a hole in the center of a piece of cloth, you trim it up a bit, and viola, right? It was the day before it was due (yes, I’m one of those procrastinator types) and I begged my mother to make my poncho for me. The fabric I chose had a red plaid design. She snatched the material and went at things on her Singer sewing machine. (My mother learned enough skills to fix most of the small things that go wrong in your house, like a running toilet, for instance. She had a jumper pattern down pat, and for years, my sister and I wore matching velour jumpers with buttons on the shoulders at Christmas.)
I bring the finished poncho to class the next day, feeling relieved that the assignment has been done. The teacher looked at the work and then she said to me, “Who made this?” Uh. I am not a good liar, but I tried. “Me.” “No you didn’t,” she continued. “This has a stitch in it that I haven’t taught you.” “Damn, mom, why did you get fancy on me”? was my first thought. And so I confessed that, yes, my mother had made it for me. I don’t remember if I had to redo it or whether I just flunked that section. Back to table setting I went.
Years later when I was in graduate school through the Dallas Theater Center, I was assigned the costume shop as my job for that term. The visionary theater director Paul Baker taught us a singular vocabulary that could be applied to whatever discipline you pursued. So actors took design classes; directors were in playwrighting; playwrights were in acting. And we all had to take theater history.
I have carried this domestic chip on my shoulder for a long time, and it was clear from the first moment I crossed the threshold into the costume room, that I was a misfit. Again, a kind “teacher” found something that I was good at, and so I was the shopper. I loved going to the milliner for hats. Everybody has their specialty! Theater – and, by extension, life – is a group effort that way.
And so it is that I have become good at just one thing: analyzing the structure of plays. That’s not the same as being the best at something, which was a hangup of mine for a long time. I didn’t want to do things if I wasn’t going to be the best at them. (That is the reason why I stopped writing plays.) At my age now, in the third act of my career, I rather like having a specialty. And relieved that I got over my ego.
It being a Tuesday, it’s kind of free day because there is no public reading. And so I aimlessly wander around the three rehearsal rooms: Henry 5 begins today and by the time I get to that room, they are reading the last scene between Henry and Katherine of France. Already charming and they are just sitting around a table.
Merry Wives and H4.2 are in throes of staging the plays. We’ve crammed H4.2 into a room without windows and I think the a/c is on the fritz. That’s a big play to be confined like that, and the Nelson, the director, is doing his traffic cop best without the advantage of peripheral vision.
Meanwhile, everyone over at Merry Wives in typical comedy rehearsal style has knitted brows. It’s just so interesting how hard it is to rehearse a comedy versus rehearsing a tragedy. They have to keep backing up and getting running starts on moments because timing is the key to comedy, right? So they have to do a lot of repeating. And it’s hard to do that over and over again.
I slip into the room as they are working on the scene in which the Page parents are informing Ann which suitor they prefer for her, and she has her own ideas. We have met all three suitors at this point, and I’m not sure we’re rooting for any of them (no offense, Fenton!) except that we have great empathy for the position that Ann has been put in. It’s clear that her parents are going to sell her to the one who has the greatest social standing and pocketbook. And they each have a different ide who that is. The character has few lines in the play, actually, which links to the lack of agency she has a young person of marriageable age. And she has one of the funniest lines in all of Shakespeare. In a response to the two unsuitable choices presented by her parents, she announces that she “would rather be buried in the earth and bowled to death with turnips” than marry either of them. I don’t know whether there are just too many syllables/words in the line to make it land in our ears these days, but it’s hard to deliver. So today I think maybe it’s about the “with” and so I suggest to Chris Sumption that perhaps we should change it to “by.”
There have been many studies that analyze these plays to determine conclusively the authorship of them. Some studies look at the number of unusual words; some studies look at the asides spoken by characters as a direct link to author point of view; and some studies compare use of words among writers to determine distinct style.
But recently a computer program looked at the plays through the lens of pronouns and other small connecting words. How we use pronouns in our writing distinguishes us more than you might think. And 400 years, ‘but’ usually meant ‘only’, not as a clue that the sentence you are about to read holds a different point of view. And so my ear has grown particularly attuned to the little words in Shakespeare. Sometimes, just changing a ‘but’ to ‘and’ opens up the entire speech.
So my big revelation of the day is to suggest “by” instead of “with.” We’ll hear in a few days if the playwright wants to try that.
Tomorrow: we begin week three of the readings with the Henriads, and AS YOU and JC come into the house. It’s crowded over at 440…..