Tuesday, May 30, 2006
The only word I can use for the latter part of the weekend is serene. The weather Sunday was the best New England has to offer—a brilliant blue sky, warm but not oppressive temperatures, and the feeling of nature vibrant all around. M, our guest director at MIT, and Fritz had wanted to see each other again before M went back to Ireland. I loved it that M sought Fritz's advice on a youth theater project he's going to be doing when he gets back home as we sat around having tea. Although Fritz hasn't been directly involved in theatrical production for some time, he has an unerring understanding of process and techniques of communication and education.
We were twelve guys in the Sweat which, except for some chanting at the beginning and a few Memorial Day reminiscences of much-loved men who are no longer with us, was almost completely silent. It wasn’t the silence of boredom but of absorption in the day and its special feeling. The air was completely still. Back in the woods, the roar of the motor cycles passing the property in convoys was muted almost to a whisper. The melodic calls of wood thrushes filled the air, echoing slightly off the mirror-flat surface of the pond and the big rock outcropping that rises steeply behind the Sweat Lodge. Instead of heading directly back to the Center when they left the Lodge, guys sat around quietly listening to the birds' clear, beautiful songs for a long while. Nobody wanted to break the mood.
Monday we went haying in the lower field where the little orchard we planted is located. Fritz had mowed the long grass that grew up fast after the flood rains and it was finally dry enough to rake and pile as mulch around the fruit trees, baby Christmas trees, raspberries and blue berries. M sang English folk songs in a lusty baritone as he raked, hearty work and protest songs of a type I remembered from my Ewan MacColl/Peggy Seeger (Pete's Sister) recordings that I bought in college. We had a lot of fun ragging on each other, horsing around a bit, and finally ended up in a three way hug and kiss.
M and I left after lunch to avoid the heavy traffic heading back to Boston that always builds up at the end of a summer weekend. I dropped him back at Simmons Hall, the new loved-by-some, loathed-by-others MIT dorm where he's in residence this term. Tomorrow night we'll both be part of a dinner to celebrate the work of our graduating seniors, M's last "official" MIT event before flying back to Ireland.
Saturday, May 27, 2006
Today was the day when I HAD to get onto my property and hack back the jungle that grew up during our recent monsoon. The grass was up to fifteen inches and weeds I'd never seen before were everywhere. I was careful because the grass was still wet from last evening's rain and I have an electric lawn mower. Fritz, bless him, was all concern about that when we talked on the phone this morning. But I kept electricity and water apart and lived to tell the tale. I also trimmed about half the forsythia hedge and planted petunias, marigolds, impatiens and begonias from nursery flats around the front of the house and in the deck planters. There's a lot more to do, but at least I made a dent in it.
Last week I discovered a new (six weeks old) blog called Gaytwogether that celebrates male couples. Old Romantic that I am, I like it a lot. The first thing I noticed was that the couple from Atlanta who run it hadn't received a single comment since the blog's inception. When I tried to leave one, I had to register, which seemed easy enough except the comment service kept rejecting the registration codes it had itself sent me. But I persisted and for my pains got a friendly, welcoming note from one of the two bloggers, who immediately worked on fixing the problem.
Gaytwogether has photo files but isn't an xxx site. The pictures of men, singly or together, are all about male beauty and romance, although some of the couples shots have a nice eroticism about them (the two on the left were chosen at random from the photo files). Posts deal with the political situation for gay couples, recipes for dinners for two (which look quite good), gay travel, sports, relationships, health issues, entertainment, and adoption. There are ads on the site for gay-related products and services arranged in right and left side bars, with a broad strip down the center for the well-written posts. http://gaytwogether.typepad.com/
Tomorrow I'm heading up to New Hampshire early in the morning for the last two days of the weekend. I'll stop in Cambridge to pick up M, our guest director for the recently finished term so he can have a last visit with Fritz and the boys before he flies back to Ireland on Thursday. Tomorrow night we have a Sweat Lodge and pot luck.
M's been delighted with the gay scene in Boston and with the community that gathers at Fritz's. On the west coast of Ireland where he lives and works, there's nothing remotely like what he’s encountered here and he’s been actively looking for teaching and/or directing work next academic year so he can return. A healthy, outgoing guy, he's done well socially. Professionally, he was a great breath of fresh air in our section at MIT, doing excellent work with the students and becoming particularly popular with us on the design/technical staff.
You have to wonder just how much brewed or distilled liquid refreshment--or just plain raw testosterone--it took to fuel this fight for predominance at the tool booth. Thanks to Andy Towle of the invaluable Towleroad for finding this.
I had a reasonably good time watching news coverage of Bozo and Tony Blair's news conference. It always puts me in a great mood when Bush gets humiliated or has to go kicking and screaming into admitting that he's made a[nother] mistake. But as amused as I was to hear him say he's learned that in future he needs to express himself in a "more sophisticated" manner, I have two major problems with his statement:
a) The use of "more" as a modifier to sophisticated presupposes that there was some sophistication in his earlier manner--and we know THAT'S not true;
b) Would the pig-headed little red neck even know what a sophisticated manner of expression was if he fell over one?
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Photo by Paul Roberts from his siteTo fully get Roberts' work, it helps to have a taste for The Natural Man, for bears, cubs and otters. The site is completely unsafe for work, and absolutely worth an extended site exploration. A personal statement from the photographer about shooting each subject or couple accompanies each series in the Profile section.
Not that the local Catholic Church needs any more sexual harrassment scandals, but a long night and early morning summit meeting that included Cardinal O'Malley has resulted in the ouster of Dr. Robert Haddad, head of the Church's hospital and medical care network.
The doctor was accused by more than a dozen women who work in the organization of being fondled and kissed in inappropriate ways. One line in the news coverage popped out at me. In contrast to the pedophile scandal where the news was how much the Church would pay out to the victims, the concern in the negotiations leading to Haddad's resignation was how much he'd get in a severance package. The Catholic Church has never valued or respected its women properly, and I've never really understood why a woman would want to be a Catholic.
Please understand firmly that I have no use for, or tolerance of, pedophiles. But at the height of the pedophile scandal priests who had simply been accused without having received any due legal process at all, were being turned out of their rectory residences onto the street with no resources of any kind--no job, no legal support, no severance, nothing. Haddad will leave with almost a year of a top executive's salary, and with pension funds behind him.
The production center where we work at MIT is a small, one and a half story industrial building that used to be a ceramic tile factory and office. The two original under-harbor tunnels to and from Boston's Logan Airport were tiled out of the old Rinaldi Tile Company, whose name in mosaic tile is still set into the facade above the big gray garage door that we use to load scenery and materials into and out of the building.
Two almost identical four story buildings stand on either side of us, all three isolated in the middle of a parking lot that surrounds them on three sides. The building to our right has been falling apart for years. It's a reinforced concrete structure, probably from the 1930s, of no architectural distinction at all. When it began to age badly, the Institute simply let it deteriorate until chunks of concrete started to fall off the exposed, rusting reinforcement rods and fall into the street, the parking lot and our roof. For a while there was a one-story high scaffold with a plank roof to protect people walking on the street, but that was eventually taken away. I've walked far out on the sidewalk rather than right next to the building ever since.
We got news that demolition will begin in early July. It's a big concern to us as our entire south wall is attached to this building, our telephone and electrical hook-ups come through it and our exhaust fans, such as they are, are mounted on its roof. It's now completely vacant. We were invited to go through the other day and take any abandoned office furniture and equipment we could use. Then it was sealed to await the wrecker. Demolition will have to be extremely carefully done. We'll be closed out of our own building for the entire week of demolition and in case of any unforseen accidents, I've advised my colleagues to remove any irreplaceable personal items, including their portfolios.
MIT wanted to use the vacant place left by the building to expand the parking lot but the City of Cambridge planning officers won't let that happen. Concerned with MIT's expansion and development plans, they've mandated that the site be turned into a green space with park benches and ground plantings. We like that. Next fall and spring, we'll explore holding some of our classes outdoors under the trees of our new vest-pocket urban park.
Parking lot park in Germany--a really small one
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Fritz and Will: Ninth Anniversary
May 23, 2004: On their seventh anniversary, Fritz and Will are legally married by a Justice of the Peace in Brookline, Massachusetts. As Zaftig's, the big Jewish deli restaurant in the area, was jammed with a one hour waiting line, they and their witnesses have a wedding brunch at a local sports bar.
May 23, 2006: Our ninth anniversary. We spent yesterday evening speaking with a group of guys at the invitation of Seacoast Gay Men in Portsmouth, NH. We gave a little history of our relationship, why we married, the political situation around gay marriage in Massachusetts and our perception of the various opinions of same-sex marriage from within various gay communities in this country. We then opened everything up to a lively and enjoyable group discussion.
We had a very good time. Fritz got to reconnect with some old friends, and I got to meet some new ones. Lots of good-bye hugs and kisses when it was over (I really love the huggy-kissy stuff).
Tonight we'll go to one of our favorite restaurants, Saunders on Rye Harbor where there are good wines and excellent seafood, with lovely views of a little sheltered harbor and its outlet to the Atlantic. Nine really beautiful years together, and a great adventure is just beginning as we plan a new phase of our lives that will finally having us living together in a house we build just for ourselves.
Fritz, my love, Happy Anniversary and here's to many, many more.
Monday, May 22, 2006
She was a southerner--Mississippi, as I recall--and highly dramatic both on and off-stage. In fact, the term "Southern Gothic" could easily have been applied to the way she did things like make sandwiches or go shopping. The career wasn't going well. There was constant talk about major roles in Manhattan--that turned out to be featured or supporting parts in off-off-Broadway shows that generally closed within the week. In truth the reviews, when they mentioned her at all, were respectable or better but she was never able to break through into a life as a working actress. Between plays, there would be high drama on the stairs between the fourth and fifth floors of our building, including the time she came out in hysterics to announce to everyone--and nobody in particular--that her husband had been diagnosed with "shrinkage of the brain." Of course, he was fine.
One day she was full of news about having been cast in a movie. It would be a big role and the film was going to have a major jazz soundtrack. It was going to be huge; the Catholic Church would hate it and mount a full-scale campaign against it. It would be propelled into a box office hit because of all the publicity, just as Cardinal Spellman's personal condemnation had turned "Baby Doll" into am enormous box office draw six years previously. The name of the movie was "Satan in High Heels."
The film opened and the New York Times review was brief. Why I remember these things over the years is something I wonder about, but the first lines of reviews tend to remain with me, and this one is still very clear in my mind. "Anyone involved with a small American abomination called "Satan in High Heels" ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves." The Catholic Church said not a word.
Nolia retreated to the apartment for the better part of two weeks. We saw her husband John, a really lovely man and hard working writer, and their daughter Claire in the hall or on the elevator or on the stairs. But not Nolia. There was never a second movie role and I don't remember much if anything on stage after that, either. Eventually we saw her again. She came to say good-bye. The family was moving to Albany because John had gotten a great job as speech writer to a major New York State politician. New Yorkers will know his name from a big all-glass building on the lower west side near the Hudson river.
I wondered how she'd survive in Albany. It had the reputation of a dull back water of a town. But maybe, just maybe, there was a small semi-professional or community theater where her oversized personality, stage experience and training loomed large and brought her at last the kind of roles and recognition she'd always craved so deeply. Maybe Blanche du Bois in "Streetcar" or Regina Giddens in "The Little Foxes" spoken in a GENUINE southern accent. Nolia was THAT kind of actress, at least on the stairs of an apartment building in Queens, New York.
And I bet she'd have been hell on wheels on the staircase of the set of a southern mansion as her stage husband Horace crawled upward, desperate for the pills that would save his life as she blocked his way. "I'll be waiting, Horace," she'd announce in triumph to everyone--and the world in particular--"I'll be waiting!"
Saturday, May 20, 2006
The final count is seventeen participants and five staff for a total of 22 men, a very nice number to cook and care for. We've had as many as 36, total, and that many gets to be exhausting to do dishes and otherwise clean up for. Fortunately we have a big Hobart industrial dish washer that washes and sterilizes a load in just over three minutes and turns everything out so hot that it all dries itself in about two minutes. This has become "my" machine over the years and I love the thing. We've been doing this so long together that each of us knows his own tasks in the cooking/serving/clean up process without any great amount of discussion.
There's also a more or less fixed menu for these weekends. Saturday begins with a breakfast buffet of raisin oatmeal, yogurt, cold cereals, mellon chunks and juices, with plates of fresh pancakes brought to the tables.
On Sunday morning it's French toast instead of the pancakes.
The lunch buffet both days begins with home-made soups, for which Fritz has become very well known. Today's will be his herbed tomato soup that has just a touch of sour cream swirled in. I'm not sure about tomorrow's but among the choices will be pumpkin with black bean, butternut squash, or pureed vegetable. There are platters of sliced deli meats and cheeses along with three or four kinds of bread for making sandwiches and there 's always a big salad, like southwest taco salad, along with chips. Dessert is fresh fruit and cookies.
Saturday night is the big dinner which we serve banquet style with candles and flowers on the table. There's baked chicken in a rosemary cream sauce, veggies, mixed green salad, rice and some sort of baked dessert. For the vegetarians in the group, he makes a main course mujadra of lentils, rice, onion and whatever good dried fruits he has in stock--sultanas, and dried apricots most frequently.
I've just finished the breakfast cleanup, hung out the bath mats to dry and taken out a couple of bags of trash and kitchen garbage.We've got two free hours before we begin lunch. The sun is out and several hundred iris are just beginning to blossom. It should be a lovely weekend.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
I turned off the water going into the tank and shut down the gas. Then I boiled water in my tea kettle to wash and shave with, and began to think of what I needed to do next.
The last thing I wanted was to have to replace a major piece of equipment just a year before I put the house up for sale, but I thought that getting a tankless, on-demand water heater might be the best bet. It would be an advantage in selling the house in this time of sky-high natural gas prices. So on my [delayed] way into work, I stopped at the plumbing company that’s done all the work on this house to arrange a replacement hot water heater. And I got a nasty surprise.
Tankless heaters are not good for replacement situations because they require a different, larger diameter gas and water pipes. Given all the work and materials involved doing a retro-fitting, the cost could be as high as $4000, installed. So I opted for a high-energy efficiency 40 gallon tank conventional hot water heater that will cost a quarter of that and be installed on Monday.
During the week of rain, my lawn grew at least eight inches. I now have a foot of grass waiting to dry out enough to use my electric lawn mower.
I saw opening performance of Pierre Marivaux's "Island of Slaves" produced by the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.)at Harvard's Loeb Drama Center tonight. Written in 1725 at the beginning of the Age of Reason, Marivaux creates a fantasy island on which a group of escaped slaves have created a utopian community. When any members of the aristocratic class are shipwrecked on the island, they're "reprogrammed" to serve as slaves, while their servants are taught to rule. The original script is filled with sly humor, subtle inter-class exchanges and a great deal of sophisticated dialog. The material was dangerous and incendiary in France 64 years before the Revolution, and Marivaux was careful not to offer it to the great, established Comedie Francaise but to a troupe of Italian comedians resident in Paris, in which company it escaped being banned by the censors.
When it was all over, I commented to a friend, the general manager of Opera Boston, that I had never seen a Marivaux play on stage before. Without missing a beat he replied, "I'm not so sure we saw one tonight, either." The heavily cut and adapted script was set in an abandoned disco. The islanders were reconceived as a gaggle of drag queens, a choice by director Robert Woodruff that has no discernable connection to anything in Marivaux's play. Raucous, heavily amplified lip-synch numbers were interpolated into the script every ten or fifteen minutes, accompanied by whoopping and hollering from the audience that included several drag queens itself. Given the circus atmosphere, there was nothing of wit, grace, subtlety, political point or sophistication anywhere in the production. There was a well-sustained manic energy throughout the evening, and the five real Boston-area drag divas couldn't have put more care and concentration into their work. But I left the theater in a bad mood. The production itself was vile and had nothing whatsoever in common with the elegance and clarity of the play it was supposed to be supporting.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
There's been a poll on the public's perception of our Governor, Mitt Romney, as a presidential candidate. You all know I'm delighted whenever he gets slammed, and he really got reamed in this poll. His score was down in the basement as to honesty, conviction and uniqueness of vision. But he got top marks on personal appearance. So there he is, folks, yet another politician who's all façade with nothing behind it. In today's political market, that probably makes him a cinch for President of the United States.
The flooding situation here is extreme. Fritz lives on a hillside, so his center and home won't flood, but it's impossible to reach him from the west because the road is flooded. There's water on the road coming from the east, but not yet enough to close it. If that eastern approach floods deeper, he'll effectively be living on an island. Yesterday he had to jump in at very short notice and take over a class in place of a teacher trapped in her home by high water.
Some of the statistics: Amesbury Massachusetts up by the New Hampshire border had gotten almost sixteen inches by yesterday afternoon. The town of Peabody, a bit further south, is under as much as six feet of water in some neighborhoods. The Merrimac River, energy source for the Industrial Revolution in this country, rose an astonishing eight feet just during the day yesterday. A number of major roads and highways are closed (some will be closed "indefinitely") and bridges are beginning to collapse.
Towns everywhere--Saugus, Methuen, Andover, Lawrence, Hookset, Manchester, Nashua and more--are flooding, and in many of them storm drains are backing up into the sewage system, dumping raw sewage into rivers, streams, towns and cities. This morning we heard that drinking water is threatened. Fritz's area has gotten twelve inches and Boston almost eleven. We're told there's more coming but the end may be in sight this afternoon, but definitely by tomorrow.
Our only real concern now is the Body Electric School weekend coming up beginning on Friday night. We’re hosting a group of gay men, and cooking for them on Saturday and Sunday.
I got a comment from Rex Mottram in Australia about my concerns over credit card sales that don't require my signature (previous post). He's in retail, says that the system in Australia requires a PIN for electronic sales and he always checks signatures. He was careful about the next point, but said Americans don't always react well when asked to produce identification.
Others commented that nobody checks signatures any more during the credit card payment process, so why bother? Well, maybe the signature isn't checked when you pay, but at least the company has a copy of your authentic signature on the receipt in case you have prove that someone else's signature is fake should the card be lost ot stolen. Anyway, as I was thinking about this, I realized that I've been making purchases without my signature for years--every time I use a credit card at a gas pump.
I found this on Brad's blog, Male Feet and HNT. He and I got introduced through Castor (Hans), who blogs from Vienna, and with whom Fritz and I spent a most enjoyable afternoon last summer. I generally don't make a habit out of talking about my sex life other than to acknowledge occasionally that I have one, but I thought this might provide s0me color commentary to my life.
This is an open TAG. You see this and you are TAGGED!
Note from Will: only if you WANT to be tagged. No obligation.
2. Ever been to a female strip club? Once, as part of a straight friend's bachelor party. No desire of any kind on my part for a second "exposure."
3. Ever been to a bar? Is this question for real? Of course!
4. Ever been kicked out of a bar or a club? Heavens no--I’m MUCH too well behaved. ;-)
5. Ever been so drunk you had to be carried out? No
6. Ever been so drunk you blacked out? No
7. Kissed someone of the same sex (no relatives)? Habitually—as often as possible, actually.
8. Thrown up from drinking too much? Once, in college, a growing up rite-of-passage kind of thing. Nothing I cared to do ever again. Alcoholism ran rampant on my mother's side of the family and I want no part of that. Besides, when I drink perfectly good alcohol I want it in me to enjoy, not toss it in a toilet somewhere.
9. Had sex with more than one person in a 24 hour period? Yup (see also #23)
10. Had sex in a car? Does playing with myself count? Otherwise I think I'd be too uncomfortable. I like a setting that allows for a variety of positions and activities.
11. Had sex in a park? No
12. Had sex in a movie theater? No
13. Had sex in a bathroom? Yes, three—all in private homes.
14. Had sex in a school? No
15. Have you ever been in an "adult" store? Yes
16. Have you ever purchased items from an adult store? Yes
17. Have you spent over $100.00 in one visit to the adult store? No, unless you count an on-line store. Then, yes--both porn and paraphernalia.
18. Is there someone you wished you never had sex with? One guy, many years ago. He came on all confidence and enthusiasm, then in the middle of things had a guilt and revulsion fit. Not good, not good at all.
19. Is there someone you wished you would have had sex with? How long do I have?
20. How many partners have you had? Three dozen--maybe one or two more.
21. Have you ever received oral sex? Yes
22. Have you ever given oral sex? Yes
23. Have you ever had a threesome? Oh, yes! I was in one for about two years, actually--and a couple of group scenes including a certain infamous birthday party at the request of the birthday boy. Good times!
24. Are your breasts real? Yes, 100%--it’s my ass that’s fake.
25. Have you ever used viagra (or anything like it)? Yes. It works.
26. Would you rather give or receive oral sex? On that subject, I'm an equal opportunity homo.
27. Have you ever kissed a stranger? Yes, that's what they’re for. It's how they start to become friends.
28. How old were you when you first had sex? Seventeen, in a college dorm room. We were two totally repressed Catholic boys desperately trying to find our way into some kind of healthy first sexual experience. And we'd both been kept in as much of a state of ignorance as Church and parents could manage. Lube? Isn't that what they do when they change your car's oil? So you know THAT didn't happen. But other things did. It was a start.
29. Have you ever had a one night stand? Yes.
30. Were you honest in this survey? Yes, scrupulously.
Wednesday Morning: IT'S OVER!
I woke up this morning with sunlight streaming in my bedroom wondows from a cloudless sky. Things are still a little dicey with some dams near and even right in the middle of highly populated communities; many are evacuated and several major roads are still flooded. But the rain is over and the waters will begin to recede.
Ancient Greek sun symbol in pure gold
Sunday, May 14, 2006
I questioned the check-out clerk when she handed me the receipt and immediately moved on to another customer, and she confirmed that, no, I didn't need to sign anything. In this time when identities are being stolen right and left, does anyone else think this is a bad idea?
I was taken aback yesterday when poll results were announced showing that 66% of Americans are perfectly happy that Bush has had their private telephone records handed over, without benefit of any kind of warrant, for examination by the government. Much as I loathe the air that he breathes, I've got to hand it to him. He and his gang have successfully managed to turn the American public into anesthetized, blindered, knee-jerk supporters who actually embrace their subjugation. Pitiful. At least Verizon has been hit by a $6 billion class action suit on behalf of all those whose Constitutionally "guaranteed" rights have just been raped.
The Australian Capital Territory (analogous to the District of Colombia), on the other hand, has defied the homophobia of the country's federal government by passing a law providing for civil unions between same-sex couples. National Prime Minister John Howard (seen here sucking up to Bush--but what is going on with those Chinese jackets?) threatened to block the law, but gave in when a couple of amendments were added, in particular one that exempted federally recognized marriage celebrants from having to perform the new civil unions.
The Capital Territory's prime minister conceded that some changes had to made to get the new law passed, but said this way the current definition of marriage itself, as defined by Australian law, was not challenged while still granting gay couples rights and recognition. Gay and lesbian advocacy groups have approved so far. But changing that definition will have to be the ultimate goal.
Last night I heard the most awe-inspiring display of gorgeous singing by a pretty gorgeous man. The famed Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky strode onto the stage of Jordan Hall, tall and elegant in a non-traditionally designed black formal suit, positively glowing with the trademark thatch of silver-white hair that developed naturally in his late 20s. Boston's substantial Russian population was there in force.
The recital was built around the theme of night, and night as metaphor for death. I realize while writing this that the program must sound like a big downer, but that wasn't the case. Hvorostovsky's huge personality and dramatic skill are hypnotic and the audience was with him all the way. And a lot of the material merely mentioned death on the way to other states of mind. The text of one song struck me as extremely relevant to my current situation in life, the happiness and anticipation with which I'm approaching a big transition. He who is so largely responsible for that happiness will understand:
Whether day dawns or in the stillness of night,
Whether in a dream or awake,
Everywhere I go I am filled entirely with one thought alone:
Only of you.
Gone are the griefs that have tortured me,
Love alone reigns supreme in my heart!
Courage, hope and eternal devotion,
All that is good united in my soul, all that is noble, it is all because of you.
Whether the rest of my days pass in joy or in sadness,
Whether my life ends soon or late,
I know that, though death overtake me,
All I do, all that I have to be thankful for,
All is from you.
There were three encores: Iago’s "Credo" from Verdi's opera based on Shakespeare's OTHELLO, the charming romantic Neapolitan song "Parliami d'amore, Mariu", and a beautiful, simple Russian folk song that he sang unaccompanied and extremely personally. The Hall went wild.
There was a nice little drama in the audience as well. Just before the lights lowered, I caught a bit of movement off to my left and turned to see a good friend of Fritz's and mine waving to catch my attention. I called out and smiled, only to notice that he was with a guy I know through another circle of friends entirely. I don’t know how they met--although I WILL find out—but, knowing them both pretty well, the first thing that came into my mind was, "Of course!" Turns out it was a first date, and it looked like it was going pretty well.
Last Friday I went up to Fritz's at mid-day for an appointment vital to beginning work on the new house. More on that next time.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
He'd stopped by to talk about doing exactly that, and also to invite me to the premiere of a new piece of his that was part of a concert at King's Chapel in Boston this past Tuesday. G is many things, among them a really fine photographer--the photographer, in fact, who had taken the lovely picture of Fritz and me that was featured on a full page in Boston's gay newspaper, Bay Windowsayear or so ago. G was advertising his couples photography via four full-page ads, and particularly wanted us to be one of the couples. But more than anything else that he does, it's composing that's his real passion.
He studied composition in Paris during college, fell away from it for a while due to the pressures of making a living, then came back to it a while ago when he found he just couldn't stay away. In a town known for its many composers and high musical standards, he's been pulling down regular commissions. WGBH (National Public Radio) made a special studio recording of one of his more recent pieces for broadcast. He now has commissions on a waiting list and can afford to pick and choose which ones interest him most. But the King's Chapel premiere was to be something really different.
Will: So--what’s the piece?
G: It's a five movement suite in serial technique, my first piece in that style. It's for organ and euphonium.
Will: Now THERE'S a combination! Euphonium . . . sort of a tuba . . . ?
G: Yes! Good for you--it's the next step up from tuba but smaller, with a very sweet tone. My cousin from New York--who's also gay--is playing it. I've been writing for it a lot recently. In fact, I've become the darling of the euphonium community.
Will (getting the giggles): The euphonium . . . COMMUNITY?
G (feigning indignation): Yes! And they really love me.
Will: OK, so who wouldn't? But a community--some sort of organized group?
Turns out it is, sort of. One of their goals is to get more music composed, or adapted, for their instrument. We batted back and forth what you call a musician who plays a euphonium--euphoniumist, euphoniumer, or my personal favorite--euphonist. Turns out it’s the first, which sounds a bit awkward to me.
So I went down to King's Chapel on Tuesday where they have weekly concerts during lunch hour. A small contribution is requested, and the beautiful early 18th century church is closed to tourists for the duration. The euphonium turned out to have a very sweet tone somewhere between a tuba and a saxophone; it blended with the lovely baroque-style organ beautifully, and G's cousin played with a lot of virtuosity. The best part was that G's piece has a very strong profile, exploits the full range of the euphonium and all its tone color possibilities.
Yesterday Fritz came down from New Hampshire for the last of our subscription performances with Speakeasy Stage: "Caroline, or Change" with words by noted gay playwright Tony Kushner and music by Jeanine Tesori. As usual, we knew several people in the audience, and met a lively guy who was sitting directly in front of me. He was a real theater buff, right on the cusp between handsome and cute, and he turned out to be a massage therapist. We flirted pretty outrageously with him at every available opportunity.
"Caroline" had been heavily praised in its New York premiere, but neither of us had seen it and we didn’t know that it was through-composed with only five or six lines of spoken dialog in the entire evening. It's really a kind of pop opera (I keep telling Fritz that opera’s out to get him) that tells the story of a hard-working middle-aged black single mother in the early 1960s in the South, who's trying to raise her children decently on her wages as maid and occasional cook for a wealthy Jewish family.
The Speakeasy production is excellent, musically and dramatically, beautifully cast up and down the line. It's at the new Calderwood Pavilion black box theater at the Boston Center for the Arts through June 3.
New photos of half naked countertenors, or Nathan Gunn's torso (which I've discovered has achieved iconic status among a large number of classical musicians and singers) have been in short supply lately. But I came across this shot of Rahav Segev of the band Tool. I'm not exactly a rock fan, but from the look of things, Mr. Segev could make me consider doing some cross-over.
And speaking of rockers, a member of the Sex Pistols is getting away with something on American radio that a British politico got into hot water for on the BBC. There's a Janet-Jackson's-Boob type flap in England because the word wanker was used on the air by some official. For those not in on Britspeak, to wank is to jerk off. Interestingly, a high Australian government official once described former American Vice President Dan Quayle on Australian TV as "a real wanker," but those wonderfully open Aussies are much more healthily uninhibited than the British or Americans. And also, Dan Quayle unquestionably WAS a real wanker.
So, the aforementioned Sex Pistol does a radio ad for Virgin Atlantic in which he advises a friend to fly Virgin trans-Atlantic in first class because of the in-flight masseur, the bar, the showers and the lie-down beds. Economy class is only for wankers, he assures his friend.
I'm of two minds about the ad. As someone who loves to see the status quo subverted, I'm delighted. But as someone who can only afford economy class, I'm not sure I'd be comfortable flying an airline that refers to me in public as a wanker. Of course, I AM writing this just after my morning wank. Life can be so complicated.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
"Bacchae" was produced everywhere during the 1960s and 70s as American society saw the hippie and anti-war movements persecuted by various state, city and federal forces, including the murder of four students and the permanent crippling of an academic Dean by the National Guard at Kent State University. It's strong stuff and includes a crucial scene of homoerotic seduction in which Dionysus, Greek god of wine and sexual abandon, gets Pentheus, tyrant of a Greek city-state, to dress as a woman in order to spy on Bacchic revels taking place in the hills overlooking his city. But his disguise doesn't save him when the frenzied women, including his own mother, catch sight of Pentheus, tearing him to pieces with their bare hands.
For whatever reason, the director chose to produce the play using a Japanese Suzuki method that includes a lot of stomping and stylized ritualistic movement. The women were all in kimonos, the men in Greek/African fusion (Dionysus) or uniforms referencing Hitler's SS elite corps (Pentheus and his guard). All this, particularly the stomping and stylization, drained all emotional content from the material, a serious liability in a play that specifically deals with the dangers of emotional excess.
Saturday morning I headed down to New York City with another friend for two operas, matinee and evening at Lincoln Center. When we entered the plaza in front of the Metropolitan Opera House, the space was filled with theatrical lighting trusses, a wall of media trucks, police, a medical installation, a giant TV screen giving close-up coverage of the main event, and big crowds lined up to walk past a shining sphere mounted over the Plaza's landmark fountain. David Blaine was in day six of an eight-day performance art piece, Drowned Alive, sealed into a salt water-filled acrylic bubble.
Blaine is an illusionist and endurance record challenger. Previously he's spent a day and a half perched precariously on top of tall, slender stone column, an extensive period of time in a cage suspended high above city streets, two and a half days sealed into a block of ice, and a week buried underground in a specially designed "coffin." Comments overheard in the Lincoln Center crowd largely revolved around speculation on how he was going to the toilet. Well, he's on a liquid diet and is hooked up to a tube that drains into water-tight pouches built into his bulky trousers.
It takes a lot of physical conditioning to survive Blaine's various creations. But as of Sunday, he was quoted as saying that it isn't going all that well. "I think the time has started to really take its toll on my body. It has started to become horrific in many, many ways. Every muscle doesn't just ache, it feels like a sharp, shooting pain, like a knife being stabbed."
Blaine's skin has shriveled and pruned due to the water and he says it hurts everywhere. His muscles have begun to atrophy, which worries him not just for the event's finale, in which he will escape from underwater confinement by chains and shackles, but for "everything after that as well."
The eight days were supposed to end yesterday with Blaine holding his breath for nine long minutes without use of the air mask he'd been wearing to break a world record. But he got into trouble, the bubble's top was opened and he was pulled out after seven minutes, ending his latest performance on an unfortunate low note.
The two operas I attended featured great male leads brand new to New York, both of whom had debuted to enthusiastic audience reaction just the week before. Andreas Scholl, left, is a German countertenor, tall, good looking, a fine actor and possssed of a meltingly beautiful, very large voice. The opera was Handel's "Rodelinda." Countertenors generally have highly cultivated, moderate-sized voices but Scholl unleashed some really big top notes and had warmth and volume throughout his range. His big duet with one of today's great sopranos, Renee Fleming, got a prolonged ovation.
The evening's performance of Wagner's "Lohengrin" in Robert Wilson's minimalist, "Kabuki"-style production, was strongly cast up and down the line, but German lyric tenor Klaus Florian Vogt, right, was still a stand-out by any standards. He can do seemingly anything, literally anything, with his voice but it never sounded over-controled or anything but easy and spontaneous. From delicate, high, sweet top notes scaled down to a thread of tone but so perfectly projected that they filled the 3800-seat opera house, to a large, warm tone everywhere else and brilliant, firm high notes when needed, he sang the title role as if it had been written for him. He looks great and moves well on stage, too. He received a huge reception from the audience and from his on-stage colleagues at the final bows. Both these guys are now "made men" professionally in New York.
Friday, May 05, 2006
What makes "Wicked" Run--Part Deux
Dave's staff consists of three sub-stage managers (one of whom does nothing but call cues for the five follow spots in the show) and two assistant stage managers who are hired in each of the tour cities and who work off-stage while the other managers are in the control booth. When Dave joined us, he got us out into the center of the stage, corralling us into an area where no scenery could hit us, and the pre-performance technical check began.
The first thing that happened was that Glinda's Bubble flew in directly in front of us. The Bubble is a welded steel construction in the form of a double ring circle with five small bubble machines and eight miniature stage lights in it. The Bubble has two of its own steel trusses that travel with it and are rigged right behind the proscenium arch. One of the bubble machines had been disconnected as the bubbles got into the actress's eyes and face. Cables built into Glinda's costume terminate in the area of her lower back with a carabineer that locks onto the Bubble's frame. While it rested on the stage floor, the machines were refilled and tested and the lights fired up to make sure all were operating properly. Although it's all shiny metallic and modern, the Bubble is mechanically identical to the flying clouds that brought gods and goddesses onto the stage in the antique theaters of the 17th and 18th centuries.
While Dave continued his story of how the show is managed and operated. Three stage electricians came on stage to observe every lighting instrument in the show being turned on and off in succession to make sure the lamps hadn't blown. There are just under 500 instruments in "Wicked," and over 300 lighting cues, the most concentrated number coming in the first ten minutes of the show where Dave said it's just non-stop. Then the "dogs," steel slugs set into the tracks into the show's stage floor, began to move under our feet. Dogs have a slot in them into which a knife-like tab on the underside of moving scenery fits securely. When a shift cue is called, braided steel airplane cables in the tracks propel the dogs and the scenery locked into them wherever on the stage it's needed for a scene. The show's portable floor also had ducts built into it to pump fog on stage, or air to cause costumes to billow.
Finally, the side wings and drops began to come on stage in progression from downstage to upstage with all their clockwork gears spinning, and when Dave's assistants declared everything to be operating properly, he led us off stage left while vacuums worked to make sure the tracks were clean and the stage floor was mopped.
We gathered at Daves stage management console under scenic pieces--beds, huge statues--that were hung about twelve feet off the deck in "storage" until they were needed on stage. He told us that the Opera House provided nearly ideal amounts of off-stage space. In Hartford and Providence, by contrast, there hadn't been more than ten or twelve feet off-stage. "The first couple of performances, we weren't really sure what was going to get onstage and what wasn't," was his laconic comment. Each stage manager, sub, and assistant is wired with at least one communication device, and several of them have two.
Dave's console is equipped with six monitors: one gives a view of the entire stage from out front, another is focused on the conductor, two more show what's going on off stage left and right while the last two, equipped with night vision, show what's going on high up in the dark, crowded fly loft where all the drops and heavy framed pieces await lowering into place on cue. And on the nights when it all breaks down, he says they just operate by by the seat of their pants and hope for the best.
As the director never travels with the show, Dave is responsible for keeping things on stage exactly as the director wanted them, and for rehearsing understudies regularly. Each lead has two or three understudies from within the Ensemble. The day we were visiting, neither of the female leads was well, which meant Dave had to decide which of the understudies was in the best shape to replace them. Then two of the Swing performers go in to replace the Ensemble actors. Swings have to cover each and every one of the Ensemble parts and be ready at a moment's notice to take over.
The company moves across the landscape like a small army as it travels from town to town. Tech crew, Ensemble performers and Swings are limited to two 50 pound (maximum) suitcases, into which they have to pack clothing for all seasons of the year. He said that he's psychologically equipped for touring--he was born to it--the constant packing and unpacking, the unfamiliar cities, the boredom of the road. Others aren't so adaptable and have a really hard time. If and when they drop out, he has to rehearse replacements into the show from scratch. He has several long rolls of cloth strips with numbers on them that correspond to positions on the stage. If the theater has a rehearsal hall, fine. If not, he commandeers whatever space he can find (in the Opera House it's a downstairs lounge), lays out the strips and works with the new actor until he or she is ready to take part in one of the weekly on-stage brush-up rehearsals.
At this point I slipped away to get some dinner before the performance I was attending that night at Opera Boston. I walked back across the stage, past the green, anatomically correct baby Elphaba, a flying monkey or two, the magic broom that flew up through the stage floor in New York but has to fly on from stage right on the tour (Dave says it's actually a better effect), and a group of wardrobe people changing shoes and other costume items to be ready for the evening's substitute performers. A big, bearish flyman stage right was testing out Elphaba's flying harness and hoist. I noticed the stage crew mostly were wearing at least one item with a Red Sox logo. It was quarter to seven, fifteen minutes before the company would arrive, and the calm before the storm.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
What Makes "Wicked" Run--Part 1
"Wicked" is doing two week stands all around the country right now before it settles down for the winter in Toronto. It got decent reviews at its Boston opening although the main local critic didn't think too much of the clockwork imagery on which a lot of the scenic design was based (this production has gone as much to the original L. Frank Baum book for inspiration as to the famed 1930s movie musical). Note that critics are not always ideally equipped to analyze what they're actually looking at versus what they've decided in advance they should be seeing. I just mention this. I've been reviewed.
We were given a generous amount of time backstage beginning just after 5pm, the time a big musical production that hasn't done a matinee that day is just waking up. At first we were in the hands of S, the wardrobe manager, a cute, outgoing 30-something guy with an interesting combination of silver wrist cuff, bangle bracelets and rings. There were 13 of us, five faculty and 8 students from our Lighting Design and Stagecraft courses. We began in the dressing area, not the dressing rooms which the production does not use except for the major stars. With a huge number of quick changes, dressing for the ensemble (supporting players, chorus and dancers) has to take place as close to the stage as possible.
Dressing areas are made of 8' wide, 2' deep rolling costume closets, holding the costumes, shoes, hats and accessories for two performers. A wall of these clostes formed one long "room" for the women in front of the back wall of the stage. A second row of costume closets, further downstage, defined a mens' dressing area, then came the upstage cross-over directly behind the most upstage backdrop of the set. Each of the costume modules has its own flourescent light, inventory list, instructions to dressers who are engaged in each city on the tour. Each garment and accessory is coded for the performer, act and scene.
Costume designer Susan Hilferty conceived much of the show in homage to great 1930s fashion designers. Elsa Schiaparelli's famous Shoe Hat and striped bootees have descendents in "Wicked." When she couldn't find striped fabrics and leather to her specifications, she had stitchers sew stripes of the right size and color onto lengths of fabric--a long and expensive process but the results were dazzling. She also made each costume to be asymmetrical, with lapels unbalanced or women's shoulders built up with fan-shaped shoulders on one side but bare skin the other. Some of the costumes weigh in at 40 to 50 pounds and, because of the lightning-fast changes, are all in one piece with built-in corsets, bustles, shoulder pads, or hoops for the many baroque-sized skirts.
Hilferty designed her own embroidered trims--anyone who works for The Great Oz has clothing trimmed with metallic gold banding with the special Oz monogram even though the OZ is too small for the audience to see. Her costumes cost a fortune to manufacture--the eight garments for one 38 second dance scene that takes place downstage to mask a set change cost a quarter of a million dollars. S told us that she recently designed the musical "Lestat," from the Anne Rice novels ("if you want to see it, do it SOOOON, because it won't be there long"). Her concept called for the vampires to look like normal 18th century people, while the real normal 18th century people wore garments with plans of the human circulatory system embroidered all over them, which is the way she felt the vampires would see them. During the try-out process, almost all the original costumes were thrown out--over two million dollars' worth--and she completely redesigned everything ("fortunately, she works with people who have VERY deep pockets").
All shoes were custom built as were the hats. Any garments bought ready made were completely torn apart and adapted. Although the costumes are in great shape, "Wicked's dry cleaning schedule is different than for most musicals, because the large amount of beading, appliqué, yards and yards of gossamer ruffles, etc. classify them as "fragile." They're thoroughly cleaned only every two months or so. When this tour eventually ends (so far it has done around 600 performances (the "Phantom of the Opera" tour did ten times that many) anything still usable will be sold to a costume rental house.
Because so much travels pre-packed in the costume closets, the costume put-in requires only six hours. Make-up in the production is crucial and the make-up designer himself travels with it everywhere. Elphaba wears a green body stocking the exact color of her face and neck make-up, which is blended into the top of the body stocking nightly. Margaret Hamilton who played the part in the movie suffered major health problems because the pigment in her make-up was copper-based and seeped through her skin into her blood stream. Today's Elphaba uses a variation of standard pancake makeup. Dozens of color variations were tested and rejected before one that would look good under all possible colors of stage light was arrived at.
S told us that he'd done the "Lion King" tour but that for all its now legendary beauty and inventiveness, it was nowhere near as enjoyable an experience as working with the "Wicked" crew. We asked how many were on the tech roster (electricians, stage carpenters, flymen, riggers, stage managers, etc. and he said his own wardrobe operation is so big, demanding and specialized that he really has no idea and hardly has a chance to meet the others. As he lives in Boston, he's training his replacement during this stop and will leave "Wicked" as soon as the show plays its last performance, packs up and heads to Atlanta. He then said good-bye and handed us over to D, the production stage manager who is in charge of every detail of "Wicked" on the road.
Next entry: sets, lights, and organization of the cast and crew.
A "Wicked" Good Backstage Tour
This week is something like my dream of heaven. Starting Monday at "Ragtime," I'm seeing something every night this week. Last night was Donizetti's "Lucrezia Borgia" at Opera Boston. Today Fritz comes to Boston and we'll finally see "TransAmerica." Thursday is a Boston Symphony concert featuring Stravinski's opera-oratorio "Oedipus Rex." Friday is "The Bacchae" by Euripides and on Saturday I head down to New York for Handel's "Rodelinda" and Wagner's "Lohengrin" at the Metropolitan Opera.
But the big treat of the week was yesterday late afternoon before I headed over to the Majestic Theater for my evening performance. Our lighting designer had arranged with friends of hers in the company for the designers and our students to tour the backstage installation for the national tour of "Wicked" at the Opera House. We were there for almost two hours and the centerpiece was getting to stand in a tight group center stage while the technical warm-up for the evening performance happened all around us. After I left, I sat in the Transportation Building's food court and wrote every detail of the tour I could remember on Starbuck's napkins; I'll transcribe it all today into something coherent. Since our "guides" were the Wardrobe Chief and the Production Stage Manager, both veterans of numerous national tours, we got a lot of inside information on other productions going around the country as well as on "Wicked" itself. See you later today.
Monday, May 01, 2006
|You Are 50% Boyish and 50% Girlish|
You are pretty evenly split down the middle - a total eunuch.
Okay, kidding about the eunuch part. But you do get along with both sexes.
You reject traditional gender roles. However, you don't actively fight them.
You're just you. You don't try to be what people expect you to be.
It was a good weekend. Friday evening I saw "Thais" by Massenet for the first time on stage, done by the Boston Lyric Opera. It's rarely performed because the title role is extremely hard to cast. Thais is a courtesan and actress/dancer in fourth century AD Alexandria, a Hellenistic city of wealth, culture, hedonism and infamous decadence. She's supposedly beautiful beyond words, has a lot of extremely demanding music to sing, and has to be a world-class actress to pull off a conversion from great sinner to even greater saint during the duration of an orchestral interlude.
The opera is based on a novel by Anatol France and, while set in the Egypt of antiquity, the premiere audience knew right away that it was really all about the glittering Paris in which they lived, worked and pursued their many pleasures.
A lot of critics and commentators condescend to Massenet, one dismissing him as a composer of "sugar and sex music." Like the more famous Puccini, Massenet featured fascinating, flawed, amorous and desirable women prominently in his operas. In Paris of the 1890s, he gave the public what it wanted: the glamorous, immoral woman, the hopelessly love-enslaved man, the sensuous melodies, the scantily clad ballet girls, the eye-catching spectacle. Since I'm a Hollywood costume epic/C.B. de Mille Biblical junkie, I went prepared to have a really good time.
The Boston Lyric had Kelly Kaduce as Thais, a rising young star with a wide-raging voice, terrific looks, and an uninhibited, over-the-top acting style. The production struck me as obvious and not a little garish, which isn't necessarily out of place in this kind of material, although the big orgy at her place looked a bit to much like what you'd find at a frat house beer bash. To express Thais's self-centeredness, there were any number of Eye of Horus symbols on poles, the irises of the eyes being mirrors in which Thais could see herself endlessly reflected. These were paraded around the stage at every set change--or even within scenes--and after a short while, watching the tinsel shifted around and around again and again became tiresome.
The more stylized elements of the staging, like Thais's death, draped in an enormous piece of white silk and rising high above on a hydraulic platform while the monk who preached her the message of salvation rolls around the stage in a frenzy of sexual desire, worked far better. The ballet, including a sequence where a singer gotten up as a near-eastern goddess all in red sang high melismatic coloratura while dancers worked around her, was just what the sequence called for. And Massenet's treatment of the final scene where sinner and saint trade places is engrossing. He understood what a powerful combination sex and religion can be (especially at the box office), especially when accompanied by colorfully orchestrated pseudo-eastern music filled with catchy tunes and rhythms. I had a VERY good time. And I didn't hate myself in the morning one little bit.
Does this happen to you: whenever you need a straight slot screw driver, the only type you can lay hands on are philips heads? And, of course, just when you need a philips, you can only find straight slots everywhere. And don't get me started on the new square peg variety.
I went up to Fritz's on Saturday morning in glorious weather. We spent the weekend mostly outside working on the property. He just had a small field that's his secondary parking lot for the Center graded and covered with a layer of properly drained crushed rock. He wanted to fill the newly cleared edges with flowering plants and shrubs, so we broke up overcrowded day lily beds to line the southern edge with them. Baby forsythia and lilacs growing near their parent bushes got dug up and put on the western edge while flowering myrtle ground cover, which grows so densely that pulling some of it up didn't even register visually, was transplanted to the slope at the northern edge. We cleaned up fallen tree branches and walked a densely forested, almost wild section of the property on its eastern side.
Saturday night we watched "Capote" on rental. We'd missed it in the theaters and loved Philip Seymour Hoffman's devastating performance. The reasons for Truman Capote's eventual complete public disgrace were obvious in his tremendous acting job.
Today it's cold, raw and gray. Back to the reality of the work week.