Category Archives: Posts by Paul

Directing Theatre for Children

The Mystery of the Pirate Ghost received a rousing audience response on opening this past weekend and I am so proud of the thrilling work of my cast and crew. Hearing the squeals of delight and excitement from the young patrons in the house gives an incomparable sense of accomplishment. I have found, in my short career at Lifeline, that creating theatre for children is a very unique joy and challenge, with deep rewards for a story well told. For me most recently, the addition of a child of my own in my life has made a deep connection to the work.

My first directing gig ever was in the spring of 2006, directing Christina Calvit’s adaptation of Kipling shorts titled Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and other “Just So” Stories. I remember how thrilled I was at the honor and opportunity to helm the ship for one of Lifeline’s prized production slots. I also remember a terrifying sense of dread that I wouldn’t really know what I was doing, that I wouldn’t be able to form a rehearsal process to inspire the actors or guide a creative process for the designers. The feedback process and gentle counsel from the ensemble supported me greatly and taught me that the most important thing to focus on in any theatrical process is ensuring that the story is being told. Working side by side with Christina, I learned the value of imaginative theatricality as a way to encourage investment from the children. Christina showed me that children are quick-witted and attentive when given the chance to engage. Presenting Rikki-Tikki to its first audiences taught me something else about children: they are honest. With laughter and giggles, shouting out at the actors, bouncing or squirming in their seats, singing along of their own accord, what have you, in the very moment of presenting a play to children, you know whether you’ve got them interested.


Photo by Kevin D. Gawley

The next show I would direct for children would be 2009’s Flight of the Dodo, adapted by Rob Kauzlaric, with whom I experienced great success in our director/adaptor relationship with The Island of Dr. Moreau. I was eager to get to work on Dodo for the sheer pleasure of his hilarious script treatment and the exciting demand of placing four singing, flightless birds in a hot air balloon floating through the sky and going on various adventures. My directing experience had been through some interesting challenges at this point and I had the bold impulse to conceptualize a meta-theatrical construct on the way the play would be presented. I created a “Stage Manager” character who, with a wink and a nod to the audience, would manipulate the scenery and puppets around the central characters who took no notice of her themselves. The kids LOVED her and appreciated how much hard work she had to do, running at a full sprint through the majority of the show. It taught me another truism about children: that they are inherently empathetic and kind-hearted. They saw and they cared what the actress was going through, and enjoyed her storytelling all the more. They are able to quickly grasp layered concepts and invest in them so wholly that their belief takes on wings of its own, buoyed by their open hearts. It was inspiring to witness their reaction to the show every time I came back to enjoy it.


Photo by Victoria DeIorio

I wasn’t to direct another show for children until last year’s Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, also adapted by Rob. The whole concept of the show was silly fun, all in all, about a naked mole rat named Wilbur who likes to wear clothes and is ousted in a society where clothing is NOT an option. Before that process started however, my own son arrived. Gus Carlson Holmquist was born at 8:33pm on September 12, 2011, weighing in at 10 pounds even and 20 inches long. As he took his first squeaky breaths, I just marveled at him. Those of you with children of your own will smile at this, but as I looked at Gus I felt that nothing would ever be the same as it was; l now knew a deeper kind of love, I felt a stronger connection to my wife than I ever had before, I had a renewed purpose in my life.

Suddenly, my perspective on what Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed was really about began to shift. It became important to me to focus attention on the theme of acceptance and tolerance inherent in the story, and how we can be transformed by our own efforts to understand and embrace differences. Gus was five months old when we were ready to open Naked Mole Rat, and I remember bringing him to the theatre one early morning before rehearsal. I held him in my arms as he looked out at the actors with his soft jaw and curious eyes and I told my cast that I wanted to direct this play for the opportunity to maybe, just maybe, contribute to a better world for my son. I didn’t plan on saying that, but it was true. It’s not that I lost any enjoyment of the novelty of entertaining children, but there was a new awareness in me of the incredible influence we can have on our children by telling them stories. And several parents who brought their kids to see Naked Mole Rat reported back greater expressions of empathy, which was the greatest praise of our work that I could hope for.

What I experience parenting my toddler is how much he learns by reflecting or repeating back what he’s seen and heard. That’s an essential part of growing up and being in relationship with others. And I know now more than ever what a precious and vital responsibility we have as theatre artists to encourage, enlighten, educate, ennoble, and yes, entertain. The Mystery of the Pirate Ghost has been crafted by adaptor Scott Barsotti with great care and attention on themes of feeling fear, feeling brave and being loved and cared for unconditionally. It brings me such gladness to see the kids in the audience snuggle up to their caregiver in a slightly spooky moment, or ask their buddy next to them, “Are you scared?” Simply by engaging them in our story, we have given them permission, in the moment, to acknowledge their feelings and communicate them, and that’s incredibly gratifying. It is times like that where I count my blessings and good fortune that brought me to Lifeline Theatre.


Photo by Kelsey Jorissen

Paul Holmquist
Ensemble Member

Previews

Note: This is a cross-posting from Paul Holmquist’s “Neverwhat?” blog, chronicling his research for directing our spring MainStage production of Neverwhere.

Previews

We have been through three incredible previews thus far. Previews are full runs of the show with lights and sound and all tech running as a performance with paying audiences who are invited to give feedback via paper surveys in their programs. It gives me a chance as director to sit in the back of the theatre and watch the actors juggle their many roles in front of a large audience (about 300 people saw the show this weekend) and to gauge how our show might be improved.

Clearly the show is working, the audiences are enthusiastic, but with consultation with my theatre collective, the Lifeline Theatre Ensemble, and Rob as adaptor, we have made some significant cuts and re-writes and are re-staging some elements this week, tightening choreography and fights, and making some of the technical elements clearer.

Our Ensemble is fortunate enough to own our performance space – a luxury not common in Chicago Non-Equity theatre. Since we are constantly producing world premiere adaptations, we have adopted this preview process with a full week of rehearsal between previews and opening for just this purpose – honing and enhancing our work with the benefit of audience experience and thoughtful feedback.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Note: This is a cross-posting from Paul Holmquist’s “Neverwhat?” blog, chronicling his research for directing our spring MainStage production of Neverwhere.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Tonight begins the first time we rehearse on the nearly completed set, constructed in wood and metal in four hundred or so square feet of stage. We’ve been rehearsing in a bare room upstairs at Lifeline Theatre’s space since early March, imagining various platforms, ladders, doors and stairs, we’ve experimented with movement through different entrances and exits to help us tell the trajectory of the story from London Above to London Below and back again. We’ve fidgeted with the script, tweaking here and there or asking Rob to rethink whole passages. We’ve speculated on what props need to be tracked onstage and off, how we deal with them, which of the characters my nine actors are channeling in each scene, how they use their bodies and focus to create the environments we need and I’ve pondered much about how lights and sound and projections will help us get where we need to be. We’ve choreographed the fights, including the epic battle with the massive Beast of London. We’ve tried to time and foresee how all of this movement will work once we get on the set. And now we get to find out.

It’s an incredibly exciting moment. We’ve been peeking in downstairs every now and then to watch the progress as scenic pieces are being built. We all have had our oohs and ahhs over parts of it and we also have had our fears – about how a clumsy step on a high platform could spell disaster, or how a whip quick costume change could affect a timely entrance on the other side of the stage. No doubt about it, this is another part of the process calling for brave hearts and flexible thinking. I assume I understood the way the space will work for us, but that vision will be tested this week.

Last night I met with members of our technological design team on lights, sound and projections for five hours to talk through the script from start to finish and decide what we want to happen when. The meeting for this is called a Paper Tech in that we technically work out on paper the results of our conversations. (In an interesting turn of technology we had four Mac laptops plugged in, our lighting designer Skyped in to attend from where he was in Wisconsin, and yet still all of us had pencils and erasers and paper in hand – it does not appear that Paper Tech will change to “Laptop Tech” any time soon.) We talk about how long a transition should feel like, what it might sound like, how our various arts can combine to help tell the story, tell the story, tell the story. We tie the cues for these lights and sounds to specific actions the actor’s have created in rehearsal or we tie them to a specific line – even down to a word. So gestures, words and movement cue the stage manager to drive the tech. Now my designers, encouraged and empowered by our meeting, will have almost two weeks to build their contributions in preparation for our actual technical rehearsals, the next big leap in our process when we put all of that theory into practice.

First Weeks

Note: This is a cross-posting from Paul Holmquist’s “Neverwhat?” blog, chronicling his research for directing our spring MainStage production of Neverwhere.

First Weeks

We are now out of the theoretical and in practical research mode, testing staging theories on an approximation of the set and figuring out the way we are going to tell our story. I say “we” because the process, for this director at least, is about collaboration. I can’t imagine doing this alone, the show will be that much richer for the contributions of all involved.

There is a sense of enthusiasm that continues to develop as we get into the scene work and discuss characters and as we stage this sucker. Rob has had to cut much, but he tried very hard to keep in as much of the dialogue from the book he could, often rearranging some small bits here and there to emphasize thematically the growing trust, honesty, and heights of courage and speak to the heart of what is in the book. And the entire cast is on to it.

We came across a particularly tricky page or so in the script where Richard is in a variety of different locales trying to get to work and No One notices or recognizes him. The morning after Door leaves, Richard is running late for work and the people on the street almost knock him down by bumping into him. Gary and Sylvia at the office look at him like they never met him before. His desk and things are gone. Jessica doesn’t recognize him. His apartment is being shown to a potential new renter. And the phone stops responding. Then Croup and Vandemar show up, and they are not happy.

This all takes place in about a minute. There is no way I could imagine staging this without the cast in the room, just for the sake of seeing the bodies move in the space. On top of this physical necessity though, many of the cast members are directors and fight choreographers themselves and frankly there is no end to the feeding we get off of each other when we try and sort out a problem. This sequence took input from most of us to figure out.

This is such an incredibly rewarding way to begin a process – collaboration and enthusiasm will go a long way for us in rehearsal and make the run for the actors that much more enjoyable. Everyone is getting along great, thinking and chattering and joking and figuring it out together.

It is hard to judge what to blog about or share at this point. We’ve blocked the play. We are performing the entire play from start to finish for the first time tomorrow night. The fight with the Beast of London, which we haven’t had the pieces in place to play with before, comes Wednesday. To tell you about specifics or show you video of some of the combat we’ve choreographed would be showing too much – we want you to come see the show LIVE and not know what’s coming in advance! Just trust me – I’ve collected some of the best minds and voices in Chicago theatre to this project, and we’re going to show you something incredibly special.

Beginning with Bravery

Note: This is a cross-posting from Paul Holmquist’s “Neverwhat?” blog, chronicling his research for directing our spring MainStage production of Neverwhere.

Beginning with Bravery

On a personal note, I have been enjoying this researching and information gathering and the whole evaluation process like a warm blanket. It is an indulgence, in my experience, to really incubate these ideas and notions theoretically without having to make any real decisions. Without any pressure to PRODUCE RESULTS, the experience of sitting with the material and investigating sources of further inspiration without committing to them is a delightful notion. Like bathing in the creative flow of possibility, irresponsibly and childlike.

The time has come for that process to have some closure and for realization of the ideas to become manifest. I enter it with a bittersweet heart. Now all the ideas of this baby’s realization must become guidance, authority, structure and technical actuality. The reality of our medium and the technology available at our level of budget and space must be dealt with.

I’ve taken the time in the past week to enjoy some other manifestations of similar creative works. From Hell, Beowulf (thanks again, Neil), and Alice in Wonderland come to mind. I’m also this close to finishing Watership Down. There is an element of steeping myself in these epic works that speaks true to the process of creating theatre to me and I’m compelled to share it with you.

Any journey in our life, planned or sprung upon us, involves a deeply personal confrontation with the inherent truth of the self. We must look within, face our utmost limits of fear and identity, before we can complete our quest. All quest stories, from Frodo to Luke Skywalker to Harry Potter echo this. Neverwhere is no exception. Epics or quest tales evoke our innate sentiance to see ourselves and judge our own actions, our own decisions that brought us here and confront our moving forward and realizing our true potential. Therapeutic technique is based in this notion as well. We dig in the dirt of our past to figure out how to grow and be whole, we seek a holistic identity coupling the forbidden wounds of our past with the ideals of our present. And we become something indelibly, singularly, personal and present.

This journey takes great imagination, reflection, honesty, wit and resilience. Our natural leneancy and laziness hopes to say NO, I wont go there, I know myself well enough thank you. It takes a huge amount of bravery to confront your reality and say this is not what I want, this does not fit me, I am SOMETHING ELSE.

Richard is helplessly thrown into this process, he doesn’t enter willingly. He is tossed asea in this fantasy left and right. Coming to a crisis of identity in The Ordeal, he finds he does have the strength to be Himself in The World. He actually does have enough self value to Go On. It is this strength that changes him in action, from this point forward he acts more bravely, becomes a Warrior instead of a Follower, finds his gumption and his resolve. He screws his courage to the sticking place only by discovering there is a sticking place and a courage to work with.

After arriving back in London, the current status quo doesn’t seem to fit. Ultimately, there is a lie present. He is faking something that isn’t true to his knowledge of himself. It doesn’t matter what other people think he should be, he knows better. He knows he is The Warrior. He believes his greater power. And he goes back to seek it.

Simply put, the experience of actor, designer, and director in a theatrical production is a similar process. There are preformed ideas of what will be. There are realities to confront. There is a strength of resolve that must be honored. There is a bargaining process. And then there is a belief that makes everything else is unimportant.

I am here. Now. I am committed to this beauty of Truth, I am an embodiment of Honesty, I face my limitations with bravery because I am a Warrior. And I fight for Trust, Truth and the Story. My purpose is greater than me, I am humbled and at the same time exaulted by it. We are one in the same. And we are inpenetrable. The Truth will stand even if I perish in the attempt to exemplify it. Without me, where will the Truth be told?

We are always questing. I think of this process being an expression of that quest. It will be deeply personal, honorable and truthful and scary. It should be. Such demons must be present to be dealt with or we aren’t doing our jobs.

The Director’s Cut

Note: This is a cross-posting from Paul Holmquist’s “Neverwhat?” blog, chronicling his research for directing our spring MainStage production of Neverwhere.

The Director’s Cut

Last night Rob and I got to see Neil Gaiman in the flesh, thanks to a cousin of a friend snagging some extra tickets for the annual Naperville Reads event, featuring Neil this year. We arrived with our copies of NEVERWHERE in tow, in case there would be a book signing, and just soaked in the ambiance of the pre-event buzz building around us.

Probably close to 450 – 500 people were packing in the Waubonsie Valley High School auditorium. I was lamenting to Rob that we should have postcards and banners promoting the show everywhere – so many avid and adoring fans of Gaiman’s work right here and NONE of them, at least MOST of them, have no idea that they could see a flesh and blood NEVERWHERE not an hour’s drive away. Maybe Gaiman would mention it himself? There was a Q&A as part of the meeting, how could we gracefully promote ourselves?

Once the man came out and got to the podium, a spell was cast and any thought of marketing to this gathering of the faithful went furthest from my mind. He is so charming and present and his sense of humor so warm and inviting, I just settled back to enjoy the art on display. He read a chapter from Stardust which was a delightful revisiting, having worked on a stage adaptation of it back in 2005 as a movement coach. He then read a chapter from Anansi Boys, the one that begins with the incredible layers of describing Fat Charley’s epic hangover, and the audience was rapt.

And then the lights came up and Neil did a half hour of Q&A. The line was long quickly so I just sat and watched. Someone asked about the process of writing NEVERWHERE, and while it isn’t news (Neil has written and been interviewed about this a lot) it is interesting to see how even 15 years later, the pain and frustration of writing the TV series is still very powerful for him.

How about that? The director’s cut.

His book will always be definitive, of course. We are making a theatrical adaptation of his book not because we think the source needs any improving or we want to re-imagine his story in any way but because we love the story and want to bring it to physical life. We want to play in that world, say those words, believe in that storytelling power to transport us outside of our known into the new. We respect the work, respect his process and in OUR process we do have to cut and change things.

We cannot have a giant boar set loose in the theatre, so we have to find a creative solution to making the boar feel right, feel like Neil wants us to feel when we read his words. What we can’t achieve in pure details that our imagination conjures up when reading Neil’s work, we will evoke and inspire our audience to create with us.

Neil ended with a reading of his poem Instructions, which will be published with new artwork by Charles Vess later this Spring. I wanted to record it but it is so beautiful and magical I just wanted to listen. It is an invitation to living creatively and courageously. Here is a clip I found of him reading it elsewhere… enjoy.

“Designing a set is like trying to find your keys: when you find them, you can stop looking.”

Note: This is a cross-posting from Paul Holmquist’s “Neverwhat?” blog, chronicling his research for directing our spring MainStage production of Neverwhere.

“Designing a set is like trying to find your keys: when you find them, you can stop looking.”

Last week’s production meeting was chock full of inspiration. From collages of magazine clippings and sketches of various costume possibilities to the sounds of Savage Aural Hotbed (google for samples) and a discussion of how machetes make sparks when they hit each other. We are all in the inspiration stage, taking in sources that initiate thought and discussion of the practical realization of how we can make this world feel right theatrically and do justice to the storytelling.

Scenic designer Alan Donahue provided some early conceptual ideas for what we will do with the space we stage NEVERWHERE in, addressing right off the bat that there is a conundrum of making both London Above and London Below co-exist while creating a visual cohesion that fits on our “postage-stamp sized” stage. We also need to make sure there is a large enough playing area for the combat to take place and ensure that the set can be struck back in a reasonable amount of time and effort between shows for our KidSeries production of THE BLUE SHADOW that runs in repertory with NEVERWHERE for the first few weeks. A herculean task to be sure. Alan was inspired by materials – black industrial palettes – and the architectural element of doors. He showed a few sketches of ideas and even made a quick miniature of what basically looked like the inside of a black cube, made of doors, skewed at an angle. These were very much thoughts for incubation, and we agreed we needed to meet just the two of us to talk through the functionality of these abstractions.

Alan and I met Friday evening and again yesterday. Friday night had us breaking down the elements into individual pieces. He considered columns, doors big and small, platforming and catwalks. By the end of that meeting we had kind of settled on something actually quite spare with three tall (12′-15′ high) doors upstage center with perhaps some platforms in front and behind. Honestly, Alan didn’t seem very settled and nether was I. We set up a meeting for Sunday afternoon, only about 36 hours later, to talk again.

You should know Alan has a lot of irons in the fire right now. Two of the other shows I know he is currently designing, Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Dancing At Lughnasa (directed by my good friend Elise Kauzlaric, Lifeline Ensemble member and our Jessica/Lamia/Anesthesia) are coming up soon and I wasn’t convinced he would have the brain space, let alone the time, to spend working on NEVERWHERE. How he did it, I don’t know, but when I met with him yesterday, he showed me something completely different and really exciting.

Alan went back to his early sources when he was searching for pictures of underground tunnels. He landed on a few specific images that really spoke to him. Tunnels reaching away to unknown depths and some very intriguing vertical elements, connecting the Above to Below. He recalled a Shakespearean design of discs of playing space in layers, representing earth and heaven, and considered how they would help create this sense of verticality in the structure of tunnels and add to the above/below relationship. It is a sculptural approach to the space that doesn’t overwhelm the stage but creates a true sense of where while allowing a variety of entrances and exits, ups and downs, ins and outs. Lighting designer Kevin Gawley requested areas of the set where lights could be planted so that lighting sources could be very focused and intimate and Alan has possibilities all over the place. And while it isn’t formally, logistically designed, there is now a sense of arriving at a place of agreement and mutuality. Something’s here we are both interested in getting our teeth into.

Alan teaches at my alma mater, The Theatre School at DePaul University, and occasionally gives me examples of how he speaks to his students. He said to me “I often say designing a set is like trying to find your keys: when you find them, you can stop looking.” As a director I get to witness a lot of individual creative processes and sitting in on Alan’s fascinating depth of research and creative thinking is exactly the kind of thing that makes me excited to work on this project. Here then are some of his sources, for you to get excited about it too.

Here Be Monsters Mapmaking and London Below

Note: This is a cross-posting from Paul Holmquist’s “Neverwhat?” blog, chronicling his research for directing our spring MainStage production of Neverwhere.

Here Be Monsters Mapmaking and London Below

I have been a tad neglectful in my blogging but not in my reading.

Here is a link to a fantastic article in the Guardian about Henry Beck, the who created the famous map (he would call it a diagram) of the London Underground.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2004/sep/16/2

Neverwhere makes use of the fact that London has so much beneath it. It is built on the remains of the earlier cities that were London past. it also has the intestines of the underground railway that wend their way underneath it.

I wanted to share a picture from Bath actually where the layers of civilizations have been excavated and coexist. Here you can see the Roman baths built after the displacement of early Celtic peoples and above you can see Bath Abbey looming in the background. In the Abbey, which was first Catholic and then after the dissolution of the monasteries Anglican, you can see the layers of tombs and memorial placards. The Abbey was bombed in World War II and only recently were renovations completed. I indulge in this digressive story about Bath because it illustrates the layers of history, religion, geography and human experience compressed into a single space. It is the compression of London Below. London Below still has Roman soldiers and black friars. It hasn’t forgotten the history merely added to it. I can only imagine that those early Roman soldiers must have been so happy to have found the magical hot waters of Bath having left their warm climate to travel in this strange, cold, and to them god-forsaken country. Being able to build baths like they had at home at to feel amazingly civilized.

Speaking of compression I also wanted to share a bit more on the London Underground which is featured in Neverwhere. More specifically, the map of the London Underground which we know so well. This map (diagram)was designed by Henry Beck and it was a leap forward in map making. Beck realized that a map of the underground did not need to show actual distances but the relative positions of the of the stations along a route. All maps in someway alter reality. They are smaller than the thing they claim to represent. They leave out details. The exaggerate the shape of Greenland so that they can show a round globe on a flat surface. I have always found maps fascinating because they hint at something not seen at that moment strange places. In Neverwhere, these places are strange places but they are also more what you would imagine if you were just reading a map. Shouldn’t Blackfriars have black friars?

In addition to this the Underground does have closed stations that are not used and it makes you wonder what might be there. Much in the way that early map makers put monsters on the edges of the map where they were uncertain what might be there. At the edges of the earth at the edges of reality you might fall off the map. You might meet monsters.

This is perhaps why the places one visits in Neverwhere feel so real, or at least possible even while feeling magical and impossible. We’ve seen these places on a map or at least imagined them. Like the Roman soldiers that arrived in Bath and London these places were off the map and full of monsters. That is why it is so exciting to go with Richard off the edges of the map.

Mom writes in

Note: This is a cross-posting from Paul Holmquist’s “Neverwhat?” blog, chronicling his research for directing our spring MainStage production of Neverwhere.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mom writes in

… my mother wrote the following to me in an email response to the previous blog entry and I want to share it, it’s good…

Is it too simplistic to think this is a coming-of-age story for Richard? Although plenty old enough in years, Richard starts the story awfully immature in all the areas you mentioned (responsibility, self-direction, purpose, etc.) He (to an almost self-destructive effect) allows his dreaminess, his not paying attention to the real life of a grown up, to sabotage the things he does believe he values–Jessica, for one. In a way, to me, he starts out as a Boy.

Because of his Good Heart (he certainly does not seem to be thinking, deliberating, choosing), acting on instinct only, on “a feeling” only, he rescues Door. A more grown-up “old” man would not have done this. Jessica (as I recall) has a list of sensible alternatives to get the girl cared for and the two of them on with their adult life full of adult plans and responsibilities. Grown-up men cannot risk behavior like Richard’s–to scoop up in your arms a strange girl from off the street (strange, dirty girl) walk away from your fiancé and install this girl in your bachelor apartment. Once done, this simple act starts him off on a quest from which there is no return.

Coming-of-age is also a no-return deal. You just relentlessly forge ahead, meet those various demons and challenges, some of them disguised, to cope with and conquer as best you can. In the very end, he cannot return to his former hum-drum paper-pushing life because it is a Boy’s life and he is now a Man.

In the back of the book there’s a short interview with NG in which he says that this story is a lot about the homeless people in London and that the Underground was always going to be the setting. He also says “I wanted to write a story about someone growing up and changing.” and this really makes the story very meaningful to me.

…thanks mom…

Marinating and Pondering Journeys

Note: This is a cross-posting from Paul Holmquist’s “Neverwhat?” blog, chronicling his research for directing our spring MainStage production of Neverwhere.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Marinating and Pondering Journeys

Been a while since I posted – sorry for that. I’ve been enjoying some R&R after the holidays and simply marinating on some things, reading and making notes.

Under the tree for me this year was “Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman” which is a passionate guide to Gaiman’s work published before Fall 2008. A great reference of the behind the scenes development of the man’s career and just a fun read. In it I learned that Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar make an appearance in “Mr. Punch” which means I must stop by my local comic shop and investigate.

On Saturday the 2nd, Maren and I went to the Art Institute of Chicago to visit the collection of Victorian photo-collage art that recently passed through, our interest sparked by the art of the music video costume designer Elizabeth Wislar shared with me a few months back. Ultimately the art is not relevant to our production values but was an illuminating immersion into the bizarre and fantastic minds of the idle Victorian woman, influenced heavily by Darwin and Lewis Carrol.

Last Wednesday I had a fascinating chat with Rob over some beers and BBQ. He’s in the midst of some thinking and pondering on the script before diving into more writing probably in February he shared with me notes and thoughts and ideas from feedback given to him after our reading a few weeks ago. Our discussions continue to delve deeper into Richard’s character arc; where is he at the beginning, where is his shift, and where does he end up. There is something very interesting to me about Richard being a blithe participant in the modern cultural machine, a cog, a brick in the wall, at the beginning of the play. He’s absent minded and doesn’t seem to be able to make any long term goals. He has no vision and little purpose. As he gets wrapped up into the adventures of London Below, he continues to go along with what’s demanded of him, more or less with bravery but without much personal investment. He feels somehow deep inside that he must intervene and protect Door when and where he can. When he loses Anesthesia on Night’s Bridge, he experiences what may be his first profound sense of responsibility. Further trust and emotional investment and even vulnerability with Door deepen his personal connection to the quest before him and in The Ordeal Of The Key there is a deeper, more radical shift.

What The Ordeal is, what it actually symbolizes and provides for Richard, has been a challenge for Rob and I to articulate. There is a tricky combination of Richard struggling with his sense of what is Real vs. what is Imagined and his being urged to off himself. What he ultimately wins, besides the key, is a grounding – he feels more deeply and truly that he has purpose and that he is Doing The Right Thing. And he gains that knowledge by rediscovering Anesthesia’s necklace and confronting that guilt and loss. He then becomes something of a leader, more confident, less whiny.

Fighting the Great Beast of London is the next evolution of Richard’s character, but one I wonder if it may be even more felt later, when Richard returns to London Above. At that point in the story, when Hunter dies and passes a torch of sorts to Richard, he must quickly go forward to complete the quest. Time is of the essence and self-reflection is a luxury he cannot afford. But when he finally gets what he’s been wanting all along, like Dorothy, to just go home again, he’s left feeling deeply dissatisfied. At the moment of killing the Great Beast and painting its blood on his face, he becomes The Warrior. How could he go back to paper pushing then?

Our next production meeting is coming soon. Between now and then I am:

1. rereading the script and pondering the logistics of the transitions and what they may mean tech wise
2. considering the many pros and cons of using liquid blood on stage – a HUGE question
3. investigating the use of puppets (rats, pigeons and the Great Beast) and thinking logistically of which actor will do what and how should they be seen, what are they in the world when they are manipulating a puppet