Hello Again

It’s been a while.

And here I guess is where I admit that keeping something like this up regularly is something that only works for me when I’m not busy. As soon as I get busy, writing here sort of fell by the wayside, and I never found my way back to it till now.

In October the thing that happened was Tom Jones, my second mainstage show at Actors Theatre. It was directed by Jon Jory, which was a little intimidating because he was someone my theatre history professor talked about in class. It turns out that working with someone whose name you knew before you came to the theatre is a little nerve-wracking at first, until you realize that they are really just a person and a director, and then it’s like working with anyone (albeit an anyone who is extremely talented and good at what they do). One thing I really enjoy about rehearsals generally, and especially about the shows I’ve worked on here, is the opportunity to watch great artists at work. I’ve learned a lot about different directing styles and it’s been fascinating watching these artists at work, building the words on the page into something that an audience can connect to. It’s part of the magic of theatre, and it never gets old.

After Tom Jones was Christmas and the Tens, which I was lead stage manager on. It was a lot of fun, but the most stressed I think I’ve been here, because I was scheduling rehearsals for nine plays and nineteen actors, all of whom were also cast in a mainstage, so I couldn’t send out the next days schedule until Our Town’s call was sent and I could work around whatever their day was. But at the ened it all came together, and it was awesome being able to make something that we could say was truely ours.

And now we are in the last weekend of the Humana Festival, which as been a string of very long days and early rehearsals, but also amazing work in the rehearsal rooms and onstage, and the opportunity to meet and hang out with a lot of cool folks, and eat a good bit of free food.

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is April. As of tomorrow, I can no longer say I’m leaving next month. I’ll have to say I’m leaving this month.

On the one hand, I’m not ready to be done here. I’ve had such an amazing experience working at Actors this season, and made great friends and worked with awesome people, and made some damn good plays. I don’t want to have to give it up. On the other hand, I also feel a lot more prepared to go out and find what happens next. I’ve learned so much here, about how to be a good stage manager and about the sort of stage manager I am, about what I want out of this job and also why I keep doing it in the first place.

There is a moment at the end of Remix 38, one of my Humana shows, that hits me every time. This is the apprentice show, so all 19 acting apprentices (the equivalent of the interns) are in this collection of short plays written especially for them. The last play is about weddings, and at the end there is a wedding in reverse that starts with everyone drunkenly dancing on the stage and rewinds through the cake and the toasts and dinner all the way back to the ceremony. At the end, all the apprentices are sitting looking at the girl playing the bride, and then they turn out and look at the audience, with love and affection. And the music is great and heartwrenching, and the first time we did that scene I think all the apprentices and interns in the rehearsal room teared up. It was a moment of connection as we all realized that this thing we’ve been doing together is almost over, and that the people we’re with now will soon be scattered around everywhere. But also that we are all here right now, together, making theatre, connecting with an audience. And it’s great.

I still get that feeling every time I watch that moment from backstage at the end of the show. And it’s awesome and it makes all the stress and annoyance worth it.

Book Review: 84, Charing Cross Road

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

This is one of those books that has been sort of hovering on the periphery of my vision for a while. Every so often the name would pop up somewhere, and I would think, “Oh yeah, I wanted to check that book out, it sounds interesting.” And then I would promptly forget about it until the next time.

A couple weeks ago the title happened to pop into my head when I was actually in the library, so I looked it up, checked it out, and proceeded to devour it over the course of an afternoon, including several hours sitting in the sun in Waterfront Park before rehearsal. It’s that sort of book.

84, Charing Cross Road is a sort of epistolary memoir, a collection of letters between Helene Hanff, a writer living in New York, and the denizens of 84 Charing Cross Road, an antiquarian bookshop in London. The letters start in 1949, with a fairly straightforward and formal exchange regarding several books that Helene would like to order, but over the course of the correspondence both sides quickly dispense with formality and begin a “winsome, sentimental friendship based on their common love of books”, as it says on the back.

Book jacket descriptions like this are usually a bit overly sentimental themselves, but it really is lovely to see how the relationship between Helene and the bookshop employees (especially the man who deals with the majority of her correspondence, first introduced to her as only his initials, FPD). I particularly enjoy how conversational and funny Helene’s letters are. She quickly goes from a politely worded request to rhapsodic praises of her latest book–or caps-lock-ridden admonishments over missing passages in an edition of Sam Pepys’s diary or the bookshop’s sending her a book wrapped in the pages of other books. A sample:

WELL!!

All I have to say to YOU, Frank Doel [the aforementioned FPD], is we live depraved, destructive and degenerate times when a bookshop–a BOOKSHOP–starts tearing up beautiful old books to use as wrapping paper. I said to John Henry when he stepped out of it:

“Would you believe a  thing like that Your Eminence?” and he said he wouldn’t. You tore that book up in the middle of a major battle and i don’t even know which war it was.

— Excerpt from October 15, 1950

But the letters don’t confine themselves to books, and the “winsome and sentimental” friendship really does develop between these people who have never seen each other face to face. Helene sends mail-order meat and eggs and nylons to the bookshop to supplement their post-war rations, and in return Frank & Co. sends Christmas gifts and any book they think Helene might have an interest in. There is a much talked-of trip to England with many offers of a bed should Helene ever come to visit, and by the end of the book I was at least as invested in this long-distance relationship as any relationship I’ve read. It’s fascinating seeing a friendship develop through this sort of correspondence over the course of twenty years, especially in this age of the Internet when even email has sort of been superseded by Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat and Skype as forms of long-distance communication between friends.  I love the fact that I can call up a friend on Skype and actually see their face and hear their voice, but reading this book made me want to write letters to all my friends and become pen pals.

Letters and relationships aside, one of the elements I connected with most was this longing for far off places and how books can bring those places to you, even if you can’t go to them. Helene spends years dreaming of going to England to visit and walking the streets where all those stories happened. This and that keep getting in the way, but in the meantime, she has the books and the letters from 84 Charing Cross Road, that make her little New York apartment a gateway to all sorts of places. It’s the magic of books.  Helene sums this up herself perfectly near the end:

I remember years ago a guy I knew told me that people going to England find exactly what they go looking for. I said I’d go looking for the England of English literature, and he nodded and said: “It’s there.”

Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. Looking around the rug one thing’s for sure: it’s here.

If you happen to pass 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me? I owe it so much.

Noises Off

Funny thing, I thought that I would have an easier time writing here once I was busy–that is, once I had something to write about. But it turns out that being busy has had the exact opposite effect. Now that I have things to do outside my house all the time, I find that this blog has been sadly neglected.

As an experiment in motivation, I’m not sure how successful this has been. I think I am just not cut out to do something like this on a regular basis (it’s probably a good thing that I went into theatre, rather than writing). In any case, hello again! It’s been a while.

We’ve officially closed our first show of the season, Noises Off. I don’t get nearly as sentimental about show closings as I did in my first year or two at Denison, but I really will miss this show and its people a lot.  It was amazing how well this group worked together, and how little drama there was the entire time we were working on the show. Add to that the fact that the show itself was hilarious and never got old, and it was a really fantastic six weeks.  I went in to the theatre yesterday to grab something and the set was entirely gone, and the set for the next show already begun to load in. It made me sad–that place that we got to know so well over the past three weeks has ceased to exist, and everyone who worked on the show has scattered off back to their home bases.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the theatre is strange.  Everything you work on ends so fast. It seems like just get into a groove for a show: you know your cues, you have sort of a set ritual for what you do during the different acts. And then it’s over and you don’t have to worry about any of that anymore. On to the next thing.

It’s even stranger in terms of building relationships with people. You spend weeks getting to know the people you’re working with, forming this tight-knit group complete with inside jokes and rituals (for Noises Off every day during the rehearsal and performance period was someone’s “day” where they would get loudly cheered at random intervals throughout the day). You work together all the time and go out for drinks after the show and have all this fun and then suddenly the show is over and the group breaks up, probably never to reconvene. And then you go find a new group and start the whole process over again. If you think about it too much it gets mildly depressing, but I just remind myself that with the theatre world being as small as it is, chances are I’ll run into these people in the most random places sometime in the future. So it’s not goodbye, only “see you later”.

And now I move on to my next project. Tom Jones starts soon, and I’ve started going to rehearsals for the apprentice ensemble project I’m helping with. It’s going to take some doing for anything to be as much fun as Noises Off, but I have high hopes. It’s going to be a great season.

Exploring Louisville

Life has settled into a sort of rhythm here, with weeks that are long but overall pleasant. We’re making steady progress in rehearsal, and I’m getting a little more of a feel for my place in the order of things. I’m definitely more comfortable in the reherasal room than I was the first week, though I still have moments of feeling a little bit out of my depth.

I still have a fuzzy grasp of what day of the week it is sometimes since we have rehearsal on the weekends the same as the rest of the week, but I worked weekends at home as well so it’s not been too hard to get used to. Mondays have been glorious days–or at least this past Monday was (the Monday before that was less glorious in that it involved grocery shopping and getting caught in a thunderstorm, but it was still a fairly relaxing day off).

This Monday I spent the morning hanging about the house, but in the afternoon I had the sudden feeling that if I stayed inside another minute I’d go mad, so I went a-wandering.

I wish I had taken more pictures, because the places that I wandered ended up being quite pretty. First I went up to the river and visited Waterfront Park and just sat in the grass for a bit, which was so lovely–I forgot how much I had missed trees and grass and unobstructed sky living amongst city streets and buildings. Louisville’s tall buildings are not terribly abundant, but they’re enough to make me appreciate the park. Plus it was nice to be able to just lie in the grass with absolutely no timetable or list of things to do–I moved on when I started getting hungry and the sun was having a hiatus behind some clouds.

The other stop on my mini-tour of as-yet-unexplored Louisville was East Market Street, in a part of town called NuLu (I assume short for New Louisville). It’s a very hipster-ish sort of place, but in a way that was quite pleasing. A lot of the places were closed on Mondays (SAD DAY IT’S MY ONLY DAY OFF GUYS WHY) but I wandered in and out of some neat antique/vintage/vintage-inspired shops and “green” shops with fair-trade and environmentally friendly things. One of the shops had this beautiful patio in the back that was straight out of a magazine:

IMG_0197 IMG_0199

But my favorite places I visited on my jaunt were the last two:

  • Please and Thank You, the perfect coffee shop (except for its unfortunate distance from EVERYWHERE), in that it has excellent coffee and chocolate chip cookies, great decor, and is also a record shop. Just sitting at the little table by the window with my thick mug of coffee made me feel writer-ly and creative.
  • Taco Punk, a sort of indie-Chipotle that serves tacos made with fresh, delicious corn tortillas and really excellent chips. It’s actually probably a good thing that this place is not an easy distance from my apartment. I would go there all the time.

It was refreshing to get a chance to explore Louisville beyond the fairly narrow radius I frequent on a daily basis, and also to see a side of the city I hadn’t seen yet–I don’t miss driving, but I do miss the level of mobility it gave me, especially since the bus system here is not the greatest for the places I want to go/times I want to go there. So it was nice to have the time to wander farther afield, knowing that I had no obligations and more than enough time to get back home, even it did take over 45 minutes.

I’ll leave you with one last image of the wall outside a tiny (closed) art gallery on Market Street. I love interactive art like this, and this one was a cool concept:

IMG_0201

 

The longer I’m here definitely a lot more to this city  than meets the eye. I can’t wait to explore more and see what else Louisville has to offer.

First day in rehearsal!

The problem with only having Mondays off is that I’m already losing track of what day it is, which is problematic when you need to know what you’re doing at work tomorrow. Yesterday I thought it was Monday, and the day before I thought it was Sunday, or maybe Tuesday and I’m just all sorts of turned around right now. But now that we’ve started rehearsals, I think things should fall into a rhythm and hopefully it will be easier to keep track.

We started rehearsals for Noises Off today, which was both awesome and it’s own strange brand of overwhelming. We’ve been prepping all the past week for the start of rehearsals, so we were all set to go. The first thing on the agenda was a “meet and greet”, which I had thought would be just the cast and production team all going around and saying hi and who they were and all that. It turned out to be EVERYONE – the cast, production team, costumes, props, lights, sound, marketing, development, a few volunteers, and all the apprentices. There were a lot of people in that room, all talking, very few of whom I knew. It was loud and hot and I was kind of glad when it was over, but was also really cool to see just how many people were working to make the things we’re doing at Actors possible. And that wasn’t even everyone.

It was really cool to be in the rehearsal room of a professional show, seeing how things run here and how the actors work. Noises Off is not an easy play to read–there’s so much action going on all the time, and the second act is completely insane (a column of stage directions for what’s going on backstage next to a column of the dialogue that’s happening onstage), but even at this first readthrough it was already highly entertaining. I’m really looking forward to watching the actors and Meredith (the director) work, especially once we get on our feet and start actually blocking and moving around.

I’ve gotten used to working on shows where the stage management was just me, or me and one other person, so it was a bit strange being one of five, with actually very little to do in this first rehearsal besides listen. I took notes on some things, but our biggest job today was making sure the coffee stayed plentiful (there’s more an art to it than you might think, as we discovered). I know I will have things to do in the future (tracking props, among other things, including a multitude of plates of sardines), but having come from shows where I was stage managing, it’s sort of weird being back in the assistant position. I wouldn’t have it any other way, though–there’s so much for me to learn here. The process of putting up a show at a regional theatre is so different from the theatres I’ve worked at, simply because it’s such a big organization and there are so many more people involved. I’ve already picked up some new things, and I can’t wait to learn more as we go along in rehearsal.

Last week was really good, and a great introduction to the program and the theatre, but I’m so happy to be in rehearsal. Now it feels like my internship has really started!

Actors Theatre of Louisville

I AM HERE!

I currently don’t have internet in my apartment, because our schedules are already crazy enough that we don’t have times that would fit with the company’s appointment times until Saturday. SO, until then, I’m taking advantage of any place that has free internet, from the library to the theatre to the McDonald’s a block from my apartment. It’s worked pretty well so far, but I will be so glad to be connected again. You don’t realize how much you rely on the internet for little things like checking the weather until it isn’t there anymore.

It’s been a crazy few days. We took a leisurely route from California to Louisville via the lake (for a day of much needed relaxation) and Cincinnati (to pick up things my uncle had been kind enough to store in his attic since graduation). I think it’s a good thing that we didn’t fly straight to Lousiville, because if I had gotten off a plane and tried to move in to my apartment on the same day I think I would have just collapsed.

The apartment is HUGE (pictures forthcoming), and now at least partially furnished, though I am still lacking a mattress. It’s amazing the sorts of things you take for granted living in university housing–desks, chairs, drawers, beds–all the things that fill up a space and are most conspicuous in their absence. I managed to pull a dresser from the basement and got a desk and chair for $22 from Goodwill, so between that and the mattress topper I got from WalMart, made up like a bed, my room looks much more habitable than it did when I first arrived:

my bedroom!

terrible iPod picture of my corner of the room with terrible lighting. but you get the gist. 😀

We also spent the first day or so discovering the kitchen things we’re so used to having that we suddenly didn’t have, like a can opener. The next few weeks will consist of many trips to the store to pick up groceries and sundry devices we forgot to pack, but I think it will a fun learning experience as we learn how to live in this space.

So the first two days were moving-in days. Yesterday we had a big dinner for all the interns sponsored by Actors Associates, the volunteer group at the theatre, which was a bunch of delicious homemade food, and then we went out to the bar for drinks. It was a fantastic evening because we actually got to meet and converse with all the people we had only seen as profile pictures on Facebook.  Everyone is so great and energetic and excited, and I can’t wait to start working with them. It was especially great once the stage management interns all found each other–we found ourselves gravitating together without meaning to, and I think it’s going to be a fantastic group to work with.

Today was FIRST DAY AT ACTORS THEATRE OF LOUISVILLE, which was actually a lot like the first day of school in that we sat and people told us lots of information about the work we’re going to be doing this year, and there was a tour of the theatre, and then more information, and lots of times when people asked us if we had any questions. Most of the time we just said no, not because there aren’t things we have questions about, but because it’s just SO MUCH information in such a short time that we needed time to process it before we could even begin to think about what we still wanted to know.

Despite the information overload, it was a really good first day. Everyone at the theatre seems genuinely excited to have us there, and the theatre itself is amazing–I can’t wait to get lost in it tomorrow when we get sent to try out our keys (yes, I have a FAT set of keys to every door in the theatre, so I will be jingling a plenty when I walk around :P). It sounds like it will be a lot of work and many long days, but I can’t wait to get started.

So, that’s my update on life for the last few days. I’m not sure when I will next have internet, but until then, adios!

LIFE, Theatre, and Much Ado About Nothing

It all got in the way and hence the hiatus.

In that time, I had a rather stressful tech week, a really good opening week, and not very much sleep, got certified in First Aid, saw Much Ado About Nothing (OMGSOGOOD) and freaked out not a little about the fact that I am LEAVING IN LESS THAN TWO WEEKS.

It feels like I have simultaneously too much and too little time before I leave. There’s so many things to do and people to see before I leave, and time is moving fast and there’s not enough of it for everything, but at the same time I really just kind of want July 29th to come so I can start work, because I’ve been thinking about it and imagining how it will be since April, and I just want to find out already.

We only have four more shows for Twelfth Night, which in itself is another one of those weird feelings where it seems like we’ve been working on this forever and also like we just started (I guess that’s what short rehearsal periods do to you). This show has been an experience–both good and bad. The good: the people, and the play, and the size and consistent engagement of our audiences (especially the kids. We had a ton of kids laughing in the audience last night and it was the best). The bad: PUBLIC PARK. Interference from outside parties actually hasn’t been much of an issue for performances (probably because of official-looking set and lights and the number of people in the audience and the staff), but I gotta say guys, the set up and tear-down every night is wearing on all of us a little bit, especially since our storage is at the top of a hill and the set is at the bottom. I was saying to a friend yesterday, it’s like being on tour, except that we don’t actually go anywhere. I shouldn’t complain too much, because with all of us working it actually only takes about forty minutes tops to set up and thirty to strike, which is actually not much time. But I will be so happy to work on a show where I can set things and then they STAY THERE.

Lastly, let’s go back for a minute to Much Ado About Nothing:

Much Ado About Nothing

My favorite Shakespeare play. Made into a film by Joss Whedon. Let me tell you, to say I was excited about this when I first heard about it is a gross understatement. I was also not a little apprehensive, because when two things you love a lot come together, things could go really well, but if they go badly it’s that much more painful because you love both things so much.

Well, I needn’t have worried. Much Ado was AWESOME. First, it was really pretty, and the black and white film really worked well with the setting. But I have to admit that I wasn’t paying much attention to the scenery or the look as much as I sometimes do, because I was too busy being fascinated and impressed by how well this adaptation worked.

Adapting Shakespeare to modern day is something that people do quite often, but it’s actually really difficult to do well. There’s all kinds of lines that don’t make sense when taken out of the original context, and you basically have to go through and find parallels and ways to make it all fit. But this one really worked, in more ways than I can list here, from making one of Don John’s henchmen a woman (evil couple is somehow way more interesting than two evil dudes) to Benedick cringing when Claudio makes a racist comment.

My favorite part was, of course Benedick and Beatrice. Even though their plot is technically a side plot, they are the reason people like this play. Benedick and Beatrice make Much Ado the original romantic comedy, from the classic banter and bickering to being tricked into admitting their love for each other. Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof were brilliant, of course (though I think Kenneth Branagh still wins as my favorite Benedick), but what I loved so much about this interpretation was that it made them such a believable couple. There’s a bit in the text that implies that Benedick and Beatrice have a history, and Joss took that and ran with it–the film starts with a scene (implied to be a while before the main action of the play) of Benedick leaving Beatrice in bed without a word, thinking she’s still asleep (spoiler: she’s not). It was so simple and so painful and it made all their subsequent interactions so much more interesting, because you could see that incident hanging between them.

My second favorite was surprising: Dogberry. I’m not a big fan of the Dogberry scenes, possibly because I always think of Michael Keaton’s interpretation (in the 1996 film) which I never really liked. But Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry was perfect: he was played as the clueless head of security with Verges (Tom Lenk) as his smarter subordinate trying to keep things going. I think it worked so well in part because it was played very understated and natural, but also because it was so believable–the guy in the suit is a bumbling idiot, and the guys under him try to figure out what actually needs to happen without contradicting the boss directly. Also, Nathan Fillion is  really really good at playing a doofus (see: Captain Hammer), which is funny considering he’s also really good at playing smart (see: Castle, Firefly, etc.)

I could go on with all the other things I loved (Borachio being in love with Hero, the really understated use of technology) but instead I will end with this conclusion: if you are into Shakespeare, go see this film. If you’re not into Shakespeare…go see this film. It really is fantastic.

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

This is not a studied review so much as a “first impressions” sort of post, because this is a book that I think I am going to have to reread at least once.

I love Neil Gaiman and all his work, and I’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time, ever since he posted on his Tumblr about the short story called “Lettie Hempstock’s Ocean” that had transformed into a novel. I’ve been working my way through most of his other work and I was so excited to have something new. I preordered the signed first edition and everything.

I think it’s inevitable that with such high expectations things would not turn out quite as I imagined. I was not disappointed–the book was as brilliant as everyone said it would be. But I was surprised.

I don’t know why I was surprised. I had read from several people, including Neil himself, that this book was unlike anything else he’s ever written. It’s not that it didn’t feel Gaiman-y–it had a lot of the things Neil includes in a lot of his work, like magic and mystery, darkness and scary things. If anything, this book maybe felt more Gaiman-y than a lot of his other work, in that it felt a lot more like Neil telling a story in his own voice. The voice, for whatever reason, sounded to me much more like Neil in his blog or on Tumblr and much less like Neil Gaiman, capitalized.

The story of the book is not overly complicated, but is also very difficult to describe without giving everything away. In short: after his father’s funeral the narrator returns to the lane where he grew up and goes to the house at the end of the lane where his friend Lettie used to live. He sits by the pond–which Lettie always insisted was an ocean–and as he sits he remembers the impossible, scary, fantastic things that happened to him when he was seven years old, when he first met Lettie and was pulled into a world of magic and danger that he did not understand.

The book actually had a bit of a slow start for me, maybe because it wasn’t quite what I expected, or maybe because I had such high expectations to start with. But it’s the kind of book that creeps up on you until you suddenly realize you’re in the middle of a really fascinating story. Neil has such a brilliant way of weaving together the ordinary and the extraordinary, making the magical happenings feel, in their own strange way, perfectly normal. It’s my favorite sort of magic in stories–the kind that’s not made with magic wands and lots of flash, but the sort that simply happens. The Hempstock women–Lettie, her mother, and grandmother–kind of embody this: they are wonderfully no-nonsense and capable, and are also much more than they initially appear.

That’s kind of a thing that runs through the whole book–everything you think is simple turns out to be more than it appears. Even the framing device of the older narrator remembering the events of his childhood turns into something much more than your basic “I remember when” storytelling tool. The ending, when you go back to the narrator sitting on the bench as an adult, actually turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the book, when everything came together and I just had this moment of “Oh! THAT’S IT!” And of course, there’s the mythical undertones I love so much in his work and some pretty incisive observations on what the world of grown-ups looks like to a child, all rolled up with a healthy dose of scary/creepy/jesuschristneilhowdoesyourbraincomeupwiththatandstillsleep incidents.

I can’t wait to read it again and see what I find the second time through.

A small rehearsal tale

Yeah….I skipped last week. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just not built for this sort of routine.

BUT I have posts in the works for later this week, and maybe there will even be another Fiction Friday! (no promises though)

I’ve just finished the second week of rehearsals for Twelfth Night, my summer show. It’s been a bit weird, mostly because we are rehearsing (and will be performing) in a public park, and so not only do we have to deal with the usual outside things (wet grass, losing light, mosquitos), but we also have to periodically try to discourage dogs and teenagers from encroaching on our space. Add to that the fact that we only just got our storage space for props and things this week (and I was SO glad to get them out of my car) and that we have to lug everything up a hill to said storage every night, and let’s just say it’s taken some getting used to.

But something happened at rehearsal yesterday that made me feel a little better about it. We were rehearsing as usual; it had been pretty quiet, and everything was going well. Now that we’ve gotten the initial blocking done, we’ve been having a good time playing with things and going more in depth with the scenes.

So we’re going through a scene when a gaggle of kids come running down the hill, and I sigh internally because we might have to ask them to leave if they start screaming (as five to seven year olds sometimes do). But our artistic director, who was there watching for the evening, went and talked to them, and eventually something kind of cool happened: the kids sat down with her and started to watch our rehearsal.

I don’t know how much they got, really–it is Shakespeare, and they were, as I said, quite young–but they were quiet, and when I looked back at them they seemed to be enjoying themselves. They even asked questions about the play, and our artistic director talked to them about it.

It was something very small, but I thought it was cool that we were something these kids just stumbled across, and that they seemed to get a kick out of watching what must have looked like a very elaborate game of pretend. Maybe they’ll even come see the play when it’s finished. But even if they don’t, it was really awesome to see these kids sitting there being entertained by our rehearsal of this 400 year old play.

Probably I will still complain about having to strike our set every night and chase gangs of kids on bicycles away from our space. But I guess there can be good things about rehearsing so publicly. (I realized that our rehearsals could sort of act an on going advert for the performances, since we’re always explaining to a few curious folk what we’re doing). Now if only we could do something about the mosquitos…

Memories for Sale

It’s a Fiction Friday! (Not that that’s going to be a thing, necessarily. But it alliterates well. And yes, I know that this actually got published on Saturday, but only by minutes. Shh.) The idea is based on a modified Daily Post prompt It’s kind of experimental, and I’m not sure how well the play with formatting and POV works. Constructive criticism welcome!

You stand in the middle of the aisle in the flea market, buffeted on both sides by the constant swish of down parkas, the scratch of wool coats, the stomp of booted feet over slush-covered asphalt. It’s the morning rush, as all the early risers finish their purchases and the late-comers arrive to sift through what’s left, and between the two streams of people you feel like a rock caught in a stream running two ways at once.

The crowd pushes you until you’re backed up against a stall at the far end of the aisle. Behind you, an old lady sits behind a table that’s been squashed between a record booth and a booth selling dusty glass ornaments. She’s wrapped up tight in what looks like three layers of shawls, a head scarf, a muffler, and thick handknit fingerless gloves with flaps folded back. A couple of gray flyaways flutter in the icy wind that seems to be finding its way through every gap between coat and glove and scarf. She has dark eyes that nevertheless twinkle amid her many layers.

You nod politely and step closer to the table, holding out your hands to a small heater she has going in the corner, look at the table to justify your presence.

Of all the strange things you’ve seen at this place, her table is by far the strangest collection–not the usual collection of knickknacks or old record or books or handmade jewelry. Instead the lady has rows and rows of glass vials, tiny tubes, and squat glass jars with wide corks sealed with wax. The bottles are lined up on the table like ranks of soldiers, each one neatly labeled in a curious, spidery hand, like old apothecary bottles. But that is not the strangest part. Up close, it gets stranger.

The bottles all seem to be empty.

You ask the old lady what they’re meant to be, but at first she seems reluctant to say; instead she just smiles and nods her head toward them. Take a look. You bend closer to peer at the labels, but they are no help, seemingly nonsensical:

The Beach, August 1948

September 12, 2001, 1:18am

Grandma’s House

When pressed, the lady leans forward with a glance to either side, as if afraid of others overhearing.

They are memories, she says. Memories for sale.

You look again at the labels on the bottles. Words and phrases jump out at random–wedding, birthday, first kiss, mom, dad, love. There are some towards the back that seem dustier, grimer, and those have a different sort of words--accident, divorce, death.

How much does a memory cost?

She shrugs. No amount of money can buy a memory, she says. Memories are priceless things. Everyone knows that. They require a different sort of currency; something of equal value. She picks up a bottle and spins it in her fingers, looking at it closely as though she can see the memory inside. Perhaps she can. Then she holds it out to you.

A memory for a memory. One of yours for one of hers.

You take the bottle from her, imitate her close inspection. The glass has a warmth you can feel through your gloves. Is it just your imagination, or does the bottle seem heavier than it should, now that you know the value of the contents?

But why? you ask. Why trade one of your memories for someone else’s? What would be the point?

She shrugs again. It’s different for everyone. Some are seeking something new, something their life is missing, something they have lost, or something they can never have. Some people are selling. They want to forget, to trade in one memory for another. Of course, it’s hardly ever that easy–bad memories are bad trade.

But she is generous, and arrangements can be made. Good memories can become security. Collateral. That is the most delicate balance–take enough that they will miss it, leave enough that they still care. It’s an art. Not just anyone could do it.

She smiles at you, a different smile from before. It is not an entirely nice smile.

So how about it?

She spreads her arms to indicate her wares. Her hands are worn and wrinkled, the fingertips beyond the edge of her gloves rough from years of work. But they are steady, rock solid, capable hands. The bottles glint in the sunlight–past days, past years, a thousand snatches of different lives, bottled up.

See anything you like?