Category Archives: Posts by Paul

Last post of 2009

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Last post of 2009

Before the year comes to a close I am excited to share with you the news of the last weekend. On Saturday the 19th our production team met for our first Production Meeting. Then on Sunday the 20th the cast assembled to read Rob‘s latest draft of the script, which has gone under some revision in the past month through banter between him and I.

A Production Meeting, in case it needs explaining, is a gathering of all the designers involved in the play, the writer, director, assistant director and production manager, and occasionally the artistic director of the company producing the play is there too to have a greater idea of how all resources will be used in realizing this sprawling urban fantasy. We all sit in a circle and after confirming details like dates, rehearsal schedules and deadlines, we start a creative discussion of all the aspects of the script that require that special art of stagecraft to do.

The theatrical medium is uniquely different than movies/television. We take the arts of sound and lighting design, the technologies of craft and sculpture and flash animation projection, the textile fashion creative art of costume design, the creative architectural magic of scenic design, the thoughtful and exciting passion of combat choreography and the inspiration of puppet techniques to try to create a cohesive world that will help us tell the story of NEVERWHERE. There were 12 of us in the room and for about four hours we bantered over everything. From the look and feel of the costuming to the use of projections to create mood and atmosphere. We always struggle with budget and scope and think out loud on how to creatively work around a our resource limits to fit the storytelling we are all so motivated to get right. It takes a group of very smart and experienced people, all of whom must be motivated by the play itself as well as inspired by their contribution to the whole, and I am overjoyed to say this meeting illustrated how right this group of collaborators is for this production. When you come to NEVERWHERE on Lifeline’s “postage stamp” sized stage, you will be transported to another world.

Sunday’s reading was terrifically exciting as well. My job as director involves wrangling the various gifts of the designers into a cohesive whole as well as casting the show and guiding those actors to perform their lines and move in a way that effectively conveys the emotional and grippingly adventurous through line of the quest. Again, all in the room are enthusiastic and engaged by the material and bring a wealth of experience, intelligence, passion and imagination to their work. Hearing it read aloud is such an exciting thing, you feel the beginnings of something incredibly special going on. After the reading, many of the cast stuck around to talk about the script, ask questions about it, wonder aloud at plot points and give Rob some things to think about as he makes another revision before we start rehearsal. One of my joys was being present when stage directions (those parts of a script that aren’t character lines but describe Rob’s vision on how special effects are staged) were read. My assistant director Jessica would read something along the lines of “She walks to a bookshelf with her hand outstretched. A small panel on the side swings open and DOOR reaches inside. She pulls out a sphere of brass and wood, polished copper and glass. She picks up a small platform from the desk and places the sphere atop it. The sphere begins to spin and a beam of light projects onto a nearby wall.” and everyone would start laughing at me – it is apparently very funny to them that I will have to somehow make this happen. 🙂

I can’t help but smile, sure there are demands in signing on to steer a ship this big and wild, but it feels right, and I am in a comfortable place to be filled with questions and wonderment over answers. Something my mom mentioned to me yesterday (she just read the book) is that quest stories speak to all of us because they magnify something very universal. We all face challenges not knowing whether fortune or fate will make us fly or fall in our endeavor. We chose to go outside and face a world that can be dangerous, we take risks and go on quests every day. That’s what makes us rock stars.

I’m proud to be a member of this team of rock stars and wish you all a very safe and splendiferous New Year of bold choices and risky adventures.

A partial telling of the Story of the London Underground

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

A partial telling of the Story of the London Underground

It should be no surprise that a major part of my visiting London involved a growing fascination with the London Underground.  I tried to catch as many pictures and ogle the tile work of the tube stations I visited as much as possible without blocking pedestrian traffic.  Sadly for me, London Transport officials have stopped allowing public tours of the derelict stations, of which Down Street was high on my wish list.  But I wandered happily around where I could, paid a visit to the richly curated London Transport Museum (where I bought the souvenir you see above) and I recently watched for the last time The Story of London’s Underground, the cheesy 2006 doc I’ve had on loan from Netflix for over a month. The music is annoying and the presentation grainy but the information is fascinating to someone who’s a little fanatical about finding bits of history about the London Underground.

In as early as 1800 London was the largest city in the world.  In the early years, horse was the only way to get around and traffic congestion was a huge problem.  A commission started in 1855 looked at the problem of traffic congestion and one of the members of the commission, solicitor Charles Pearson, saw public transport as a way to clear London slums and get the poverty stricken, disease ridden populace into safe, affordable homes.  At the end of the Crimean War, parliament voted public money for a vast network of sewers, fearing the city would not survive without them. Thus begins a new London under ground.  Cholera practically disappeared and London engineers began to lead the world in tunneling.

The horse driven bus first enabled London to grow outwards but by the 1840’s London had grown beyond an hour’s ride to the city center. The arrival and development of the steam rail by 1829 didn’t solve anything, because the main railways wanted to build their termini as close to the city center as possible. A commission early on decided that railways couldn’t build too close to the city center because of the destruction of property that involved. As a result, they came in to a periphery of the city so that people arrived into London by train and immediately wanted to go elsewhere, which meant either by foot or by horse drawn cab.  So the railways brought more and more people to London and actually made the congestion worse. Pearson’s idea was to connect the mainline railway stations with a new system, the issue being how to build it when London was so built up. Money was raised and work actually started by cut and cover tunneling – dig a trench, put a railway at the bottom and here and there roof it over so that property could be restored on top.  Today’s Maryleborne and Euston roads cover the first section of tunneling.  In many cases they did actually have to purchase property and demolish it.

Steam was the only viable technology present to propel the trains and they had areas of open tunnels to allow the steam and smoke to escape. A condensing engine was developed to consume its own smoke but it took some revising.  The 1866 engine for the Metropolitan Railway was the most successful first development, used until 1905.  In 1864 the Met started to issue workman’s fares – costing less for the skilled working class to move out of the center to Hammersmith, Waterloo. The system was the first classless public transport with no classification for seating.

The construction of new suburbs did not take place as rapidly as Pearson envisioned while the slums were being torn down and the central tunneling of the Met didn’t really extend outwards as much as envisioned meaning it didn’t solve the congestion as much as it was hoped to because the lines circumnavigated the city center.   The concept was okay but clearly the cut and cover record wasn’t working and was too expensive.  They needed to find a new engineering method.

Marc Brunel constructed the Thames Tunnel, a 20 year long financial disaster, started off an engineering process of a tunneling shield held back the walls while the tunnel was bricked off.  He succeeded at building the tunnel eventually but his technique, developed by James Henry Greathead and William Henry Barlow, using hydraulics, would erect an iron lining behind the shield advancing the tunnel by 13 feet a day.  The fact that beneath the city was there was a huge bed of clay, made this kind of tunneling possible.

Propelling trains still being a problem that deep under ground, steam powered cable hauling was tried but in 1888 an inventor and engineer named Frank Sprague proved that a number of trains could be run simultaneously by electric motor in Richmond, Virginia. First everything was built too small to make enough money, the first effective tubeline ran from the city out to Shepard’s Bush.  Infamous financieer, Charles Tyson Yerkes arrived in London from Chicago to persuade the Americans to finance a plan to further the underground by 1907, providing electrification and the building of a number of new lines.

The new system had a distinct marketing problem asking pedestrians to feel that going underground was safe, clean, easily accessible and sensible. Frank Pick lead the charge on developing a bold marketing move across the board. The use of high quality graphic design was established, with new artists and traditional designers creating beautiful poster art advertising the system.  A new typeface was commissioned in 1916 and the Bar and Circle logo was developed. Charles Holden created a functional and marketable design for new stations utilizing the logo design that was also highly functional.  And in 1933, a man named Henry Beck designed a map of the underground system some say revolutionized the way the public perceived the system (though not all agree).

Investors in the development of the underground were also investing in property in the green fields surrounding London, knowing that suburban development would soon follow. “MetroLand” was begun by Metropolitan Railway, given free reign to develop land as they wished, establishing ten huge estate near the railway, encouraging other developers and builders through 1933.  The West End flourished thanks to public transport, what was once an upper class residential area without commercial business development welcomed big department stores, theaters and movie houses, creating a great draw for the public.

World War I saw the first use of the tube as a bomb shelter which returned in World War II.  While some bombs did fall on stations and lines, people by the thousands would bring their families underground and lie there on the platforms through thesuspenseful nights. In 1942 some stations were converted into underground arsenals and munitions factories.  Here’s a clip from the doc about that:

Story of The London Underground – Underground Shelter

Of course after I dropped the doc back in the mail I found these clips online that are much better. Oh well.

Rememberance Day

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

Rememberance Day

Being in London so close to Remembrance Day meant that the cultural heritage of war was very present. Everywhere you looked there were red “poppies” – signifiers of a society that shall not soon forget the devastating experience of violence in their City, in their communities.  There are many families still living in the aftermath of World War II’s blitz, less than a generation after the Armistice that marks Remembrance Day.

I saw the National Theatre’s production of WAR HORSE at the New London Theatre and was heartbroken by the story.  As enamored as I was by the production’s incredible use of Handspring’s articulate puppets, seeing the horror of World War I though the eyes of Joey and Albert, the British calvary and the German soldiers, the French peasants and British countrymen, made the story rich and evocatively emotional.

My personal experience of war is removed – I’ve not known one person in service to the United States Army, Navy or Air Force involved in any war. I haven’t been faced with the savage loss of living under siege, seeing my neighbors’ homes destroyed, my proud city burning, my family taken from me, my peers hurt by PTSD or loss of limb or brain injury. I am always fascinated in the culture of being British, due in no small part by my many experiences playing Brits and directing plays about them and the dramaturgy that accompanies this work.  Also thanks to public television in the States broadcasting BBC television shows.  Americans are somehow aware of a common idea of what it means to be a Brit, and like racism, this (to coin a phrase) culturalism is deeply rooted in prejudice and half truths. It incorporates a wry wit, a stalwart determination, stoicism, a “stiff upper lip” and any number of fill-in-the-blank ignorant assumptions about the stereotypes we use to isolate ourselves as different from Them.  But we must acknowledge that there is a stark influence of violent war on the culture of the country and its people.  The legacy of war in the attitudes and traditions of the populace is a direct and clear influence on the realites of being human in that community.  And like humans all over the world, it is passed on, from parent to child, generation to generation.

Where Old Bailey revives the Marquis de Carabas

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

Where Old Bailey revives the Marquis de Carabas
I walked along the south bank of the Thames and caught up with the HMS Belfast to check it out before moving on to take a tour of the Tower of London. I really was curious to see what Old Bailey had to deal with, going to the Floating Market to barter for the body of the ex-marquis and get it to the wall surrounding the Tower to perform a bit of unholy magic and bring him back to life.

I had the fortune of a gorgeous day, one passing light rain surrounded by sun and blue skies. Imagining the setting at night makes it all even more impressive a view. First, the HMS Belfast is HUGE. You can hopefully catch some of the scale here by seeing some people on deck from the shore. The HMS Belfast is a retired World War II and Korean War battleship, used now as a museum and occasionally for reenactments.

Nearby Tower Bridge connects me to the north bank where the Tower of London sits, as it has in various forms for almost 1000 years. I took the tour and would so again. The Yeoman Warder who gave our tour was particularly interested in defensive architecture and had an enjoyable enthusiasm for describing the horrid condition of the moat, the tales of prisoners and executions at the Tower, the description of what happened in the dungeons and how some executions up on Tower Hill didn’t always go so cleanly. He set a perfect stage for the macabre scene of the marquis’s resurrection. The arches here and gargoyles and original Roman walls and banded doors also provided some juicy inspiration.

I ended with a shot of the wall most accessible to the river and the view of the ship from there just to tie it all back together. Enjoy.

Who ARE these people?

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

Who ARE these people?

I’m going to let you folks who’ve never been on the inside of a New Theatrical Adaptation Process in on a little secret: the process of creating a live performance of a well-loved novel involves a bunch of planning.

Much of it happens before the actors go into rehearsal.  The writer, the director, the designers and (hopefully, which is not always the case) the dramaturg, discuss the characters in a different way than the author might. We have to take the author’s art of fiction writing and extrapolate that into a totally different format that exists physically outside the imaginations of the audience.  We manifest, to the best of our abilities, the author’s intentions as we interpret them into a physical presence. I’ve often felt that New Adaptations don’t get the same respect a New Work gets, but they really are different beasts.

When enjoying a good read, like NEVERWHERE, the imagination fills in all sorts of detail thanks to careful and skillful storytelling and the reader’s own contribution to making the world feel real.  You have your favorite parts of the book because you personalize them, you fill in the detail based on your own experiences, parts speak to you or don’t and the book becomes a part of you in some way.  Which speaks to taste as well – I’ve traveled with Roland Deschain on many a commute and I voraciously read Dinah’s story but never was able to connect with Lila du Cann, for example. That’s me. You may have different hooks into a story, which is why reading is such a special, unique and deeply personal experience.

A few years before I joined the Lifeline Theatre Ensemble, the company producing this theatrical production of NEVERWHERE, they did a new adaptation of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (years before the movie franchise) and experienced a wide range of feedback from deeply passionate fans.  “Gimli wields a halberd, not a guisarme. Please change this immediately.” is one comment I heard about.  Imagine hearing that as a director when your “coffers” are exhausted and safe fight choreography is well established a week before opening!

Here we are also dabbling in fan fiction that has a ravenously passionate following. In distilling the story to a reasonable amount of pages to perform onstage we are bound to disappoint some people.  That is an unavoidable casualty of the art. As Stephen King says, to paraphrase, you have to kill your darlings when editing, and editing we must do.

As a director I must coordinate the efforts of all of these collaborators – designers, writer, researcher, actors, puppeteers – to create an approximation of what NEVERWHERE means to me. In the interest of fleshing out my ideas, I engage my collaborators in ongoing dialogue. Feldenkrais practitioners encourage curiosity – Remain Curious – and it is a practice I try to honor, as I find it a fruitful one.

Here then is a snippet of dialogue between me the Director, Rob the Writer, and Maren the Dramaturg about some of the characters of NEVERWHERE.  I’ve edited the conversation a tad, and tagged Rob’s responses in blue and Maren’s in red. I hope you enjoy this discussion and that it sparks some thoughts of your own.  Better to know a fan feels adamantly about something before budget and design is beyond adjustment!

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The tunneling in London didn’t really begin until the early 19th century, so London Below is a mythical place that had some other existence before it moved into the sewers and tube and shunt tunnels. Some ideas?

I think London Below’s origins far pre-date the modern tunneling as we know it. When traveling into the Labyrinth, Richard refers to construction by giants, kings of mythical ancient London, Gog and Magog, door with hinges taller than a man. And we must remember that London Below is not precisely *literally* under the city Above. There are passages of travel describing (one of my favorite passages): “They walked through daylight and night, through gaslit streets, and sodium-lit streets, and streets lit with burning rushes and links.” Even the roofs that Old Bailey loves so much are somehow part of what is known as London Below. Thinking too literally of London Below being made of *just* sewers and tunnels steals much of the magic of the realm, somehow. It doesn’t allow for LB to be “built of lost fragments of London Above: alleys and roads and corridors and sewers that had fallen through the cracks over the millenia”. One of the reasons why (in my opinion) the BBC miniseries fails to capture the magic of Gaiman’s London Below is that it’s all so very literal… LITERALLY sewers and underground tunnels and stuff. I think we have the opportunity with clever design, theatrical design, to encompass so much more, to SUGGEST so much more, and *if we’re lucky* open the audience’s imagination to so much more than cameras in abandoned sewers could ever allow us to imagine.

I love getting to be part of this conversation. I was actually thinking about how tricky the shift from novel to play is on so many levels. Gaiman gets to evoke and describe, he does not have to create sets or say lines in the same way that a director or an actor has to make choices (granted this is muddied by the BBC production and his involvement there) but so much of the casual references like gog and magog can be casually thrown in and yet the actor who had to be that or say that has to understand something about the world for him/herself even if there is still something ambiguous for the audience.

Early early early London below and Gog and Magog this makes the references very early since Gog is in the Bible and in the bible it seems to be referring to something old. There are also multiple Gogs in the Bible but I suspect the one referred to since it is paired with Magog places it in Revelation where they are (I think) demons or spirits that are part of an attack against God which fits with Islington. There is also a Gog referred to in Ezekiel but both books are visions and intensely tied to prophesy so they are fairly opaque when you read them

Here is a link to Biblical references from a concordance. I am sure there is more digging I can do on that one. I’ll have to see if there are pre-christian references to Gog and Magog or similar names anywhere.
http://refbible.com/g/gog.htm

I love the idea of Neverwhere sort of slipping side by side our world overlapping and existing without our knowledge (it is a little like the worlds in Philip Pullman occupying the same space at the same time in a different dimension though not so literal). I have been sort of fixating on the title. Neverwhere. The people who exist in London Below call it London Below. Interestingly they are aware of London Above they simply don’t pay it much mind I suppose in the same way we think about the homeless. But neverwhere is everywhere, it is clearly under other cities as well. Neverwhere evokes neverland. Never as though something not only is not but had never been (which is what happens to Richard when people fail to notice him) and where. Where is a question word not a place name or even a place pronoun. It is slippery just like the realm we are entering. (Note: from the unreliable Wikipedia: According to the legendary Historia Regum Britanniae, of Geoffrey of Monmouth, London was founded by Brutus of Troy after he defeated the incumbent giants Gog and Magog and was known as Caer Troia, Troia Nova (Latin for New Troy), which, according to a pseudo-etymology, was corrupted to Trinovantum. Trinovantes were the Iron Age tribe who inhabited the area prior to the Romans. Geoffrey provides prehistoric London with a rich array of legendary kings, such as King Lud ( see also Lludd, from Welsh Mythology ) who, he claims, renamed the town CaerLudein, from which London was derived, and was buried at Ludgate.)

The Sewer Folk and the Rat Speakers could be more contemporary. One of the things the tube was meant to do was to relocate the masses of destitute poor living in the city’s alleys but housing for them never came to fruition. So some Rat Speakers may be Victorian. During the Blitzkrieg, Londoners sought refuge in the Tube and even formed small communities (as we do). So some of these folk may have a 40’s feel to them.  Then there’s Anesthesia, poor girl, who may have come from the 60’s or 70’s or 80’s.

Rat speakers- there is a certain lost boys quality to the rat speakers isn’t there? (not to force too much of a neverland comparison) They slip through the cracks and become rat speakers which would fit with the more contemporary feel but perhaps date back as much as the turn of the century. I’ll have to look into stories with talking rats. I can’t think of any but their might be.

There is also that sort of history of traders/gypsies/vagrants travelling up and down rivers that feels like it might be tied to the sewer folk or the rat speakers since essentially the river became the sewer for London as rivers often do for big cities so that they weren’t always sewer people or perhaps sewer people supplant river people in this world.

I’ve been picking my own brain about our Marquis De Carabas. He’s a mysterious figure and one we could make any combination of choices about. Something I’m turned onto right now is that he was a Roman soldier in Londinium at the very beginnings of the city. Gaiman describes his dark black face and I’ve cast a caucasian actor in the role, but I wonder what a thousand years of bartering immortality for your soul will do to a guy. I also caught at the London Transport Museum that early public transportation were men rowing single skiffs in the Thames before it became too disgusting to get close to. They would sing on the river side about their comfortable, cheap and quick transportation and often, when he had you out in the middle of the river, shiv you and take your wallet and dump you overboard. Sounds like early Marquis to me. I also heard a story during my tour of the Tower of London about a Bishop imprisoned in the tower who had enough money to have a number of casks of wine delivered to him, which he used to host a big party for the tower guards.  When the guards passed out, he used the ropes binding the casks together to fashion a 30 foot long rope he usede to climb out the window and escape. Again, very Marquis De Carabas to me.

I want to quickly point out that Gaiman describes de Carabas’s face just as “extremely dark,” not specifically as “black.” It may seem a irrelevant distinction, but it’s something that’s stuck with me. It’s a wording compellingly vague enough to allow the creators of that graphic novel to make the (interesting, I’ll give them) choice to have his face just be featureless inky nothingness. (Well, with lips… shudder) One can probably assume, given the casting of the miniseries, that, yes, Gaiman envisioned a black man, but that’s not exactly what he *wrote*. I think you’re very much on the right track to start thinking about his face as being cast in a darkness of the soul more than a literal “color black”-osity.
De Carabas is interesting as a name. In the Perrault version of Puss in Boots the cat makes his master who is a millers son the fictional name of the Marquis De CarabasHere it is in translation http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/perrault04.html and I’ll need to go back and look but I think Bruno Bettleheim talks about the Moral ambiguity of the characters in Puss in Boots which might be interesting. Perrault himself was 17th C so that might give some time insight into De Carabas and whether or not his title is one he has found it convenient to assume.

The name was also used as a title for a novel by Sabatini who wrote Scaramouche and Captain Blood
http://www.amazon.com/Marquis-Carabas-Raphael-Sabatini/dp/0755115465/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1257878653&sr=8-1

I haven’t read it but the Amazon description places it during the French revolution and includes bloody death so that could also be important for the Marquis.

I also didn’t find Carabas on any Maps so it seems to be a made up principality but I can look a bit more.

I believe Gaiman has acknowledged that the Marquis de Carabas as a name was taken from Puss in Boots.
It would make sense that Gaiman had acknowledged the Puss in Boots bit  – he’s too clever not to be drawing on all kinds of things.

I’m keen on the marquis being almost in a way older than some of the older LB peeps. They all seem to share a form of immortality that makes the aging process slower or that at some point in their lives they became immune to the effects of time. Being raised from the dead is a different matter and maybe one that has been employed by them a time or two before but strikes me as a rare and dangerous and special magic. I make a distinction then between “being little affected by time” and “regeneration”. Make some sort of sense?

The Earl suffers from onset of dementia. Old Bailey seems rather spry – physically quite strong and agile and mentally a bit softened by age but generally with it. Marquis de Carabas is dark – makes me think of Dorian Grey. Croup and Vandemar seem none the worse for wear for their age, aside from maybe an encroaching obsolescence, Hunter too for that matter. Hammersmith seems demi-god like.

Yeah, I’ve long been interested in the “rules” of aging in LB. Don’t quite understand them myself, but it feels (to me, at least) like aging is more a function of the mind (strength or lack of will) than of time. And it may be a function of when/how they were born into or fell into London Below.

Yes, to me, the marquis and C&V are some of the oldest folks we meet, regardless of their appearance. Maybe even Hunter. And that they’re all older than Old Bailey, for sure (he seems, to me, frozen at the age he fell into LB), and the Earl. (Note: Rob, if you could explain this notion about Old Bailey stuck-ed-ness in time in the comments section, I’d be grateful to hear it.)

I like your thoughts Rob on the age issue. It is interesting because I always felt Door in spite of appearing young was older or at least had experienced time differently. Perhaps it is because she feels so self-possessed in contrast to Richard who is in a world he doesn’t understand.

C&V I have always wondered exactly what they are since they are not human and have been around a very long time. The names are interesting too. Croup I suppose there is the children’s respiratory illness of the same name. Vandemar feels vaguely dutch like Vander mar. I think vander is from the and then it would be a province or location but mar feels like the english mar and marring things would fit and I couldn’t find any Dutch meanings for mar on line. I love the pairing too. There is something about pairs like this menacing and complimentary to each other.

Hunter feels very ancient- Artemis like but also like those prechristian green men.

The earl is interesting in that he is just the Earl no further patronymic implying perhaps that he is old enough or important enough to just need the one name.

I still need to think more about Old Bailey. I suppose Old indicates he is old. I suppose it is appropriate that that is the British criminal court. It seems to date to about the 1580s but was burned and rebuilt (the building that is). I will think more about the character as I reread.

I remember thinking it was interesting in the TV adaptation that the Marquis de Carabas was killed in a way that had him visually looking like that Davinci illustration of man (sort of on a wheel). I suppose it allowed them to avoid the crucifixion appearance which is heavily laden with symbolism and put him more in that rakish humanist world though I agree he feels older than the Renaissance.

Hammersmith has me recalling something from a linguistics class about ancient place names in a place like England (or elsewhere) how they often referred to some feature of geography or important person so Oxford was a place where oxen could ford the river. Cambridge was Cam’s bridge.

Hammer smith feels like the ancient smithy that he is but there are such great mythological smiths like Hephaestus but surely there are Celtic and Norse smiths as well.

Something else in my craw is that the aristocracy of London Below would have come down and stayed down around the Victorian era, so gentry like the Porticos could be of that era. Yet the Earl is definitely from the Medieval age. Hrm. I dunno. Definitely they are archetypal characters and all and one shouldn’t think too hard about they all fit. But design wise and storytelling wise I want to have some assurance that I get the background of these people.

I agree that the Earl wants a highly Medieval feel. There were “Earls” in England from as far back as 1020 or so, so there’s lots of time leeway there.

It’s interesting that you see the Portico clan as Victorian. I always envision them as Renaissance-era. Like Portico was a contemporary (friend?) of Leonardo da Vinci. An inventor not decades before his time, but *centuries*. Mid-millennium steampunk, almost.

I felt the Earl as Medieval and I confess I also felt that the Portico’s felt Renaissance especially in their sort of grand humanism but Victorian gives you different scope for the sorts of technology in their world. I felt their home had astrolabes and Galileo thermometers and sextants all those hints of our earliest and most beautiful technologies. Also because Portico is an Italian name and the Renaissance started in Italy perhaps I made the assumption.

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And on and on it goes! Really.  I met with our costumer, Elizabeth Wislar,  to chat about preliminary stuff before a sketch is even drawn and she wondered aloud if Croup and Vandemar were Cerberus missing their third head. In a brief car ride Rob and I bantered about Richard being awarded the title Warrior and why this title is given to him, why is he not the next Hunter – perhaps because he kills the Beast of London to save his friends. de Carabas seems rather confident about the blood ritual Hunter asks Richard to perform, how does he know what will happen? Are there other Warriors or is Richard THE Warrior, like Hunter was Hunter?
Then Elizabeth sent me this YouTube clip, which I can’t stop watching.  It has a wonderful sense of movement and the collage-like artwork is both creepy and beautiful.

After seeing that, Maren pointed out that there is an exhibit at the Art Institute right now on Victorian collage art that we plan to go see.
This is a really fun part of the process, gathering information and geeking about the material a bit and percolating, simmering, fermenting on it all.

Mind the Gap!

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

Mind the Gap!

Richard, while trotting alongside Door, Hunter and the Marquis de Carabas, looking for Earl’s Court, finds himself in the pedestrian tunnel connecting the Monument and Bank tube stations. I had to see this.

That hallway entrance in the center of the picture is on the Westbound platform of the Monument District and Circle lines.  Join me wont you?

And that’s about it. Not much to write home about right? Well, that’s the thing.  You see Richard go through these intense periods, right before this little trek he had actually been crying thinking he had been abandoned by Door, Hunter and the marquis, and then he finds himself somewhere very familiar and ordinary.  Then something extraordinary happens to him again.
He’s heard and seen this phrase hundreds of times and understands the danger implicated. How could it be any more dangerous than what he knows? It is right there in front of him, the same scene he’s experienced over and over – the wondering which of the rails is the Really Bad one, the scuttling of small brown mice as they search for remnants of lunches. What in the world could actually be THAT dangerous? A grabby smokey tentacle from another dimension, that’s what.
All on his way to

in the quest to meet the

See what I mean? Richard has got to hold on to his sanity in a very real way as he experiences the convolution of all he knows to be true and real and unquestionable.

Frankly, I think we can relate to that. It is a part of the process of living. Richard just gets the quadruple extra large version.

Temple and Arch

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

Temple and Arch

The architecture of England’s oldest and most revered churches are founded on the sanctity of the Temple and the invention of the structural marvel of the Arch.  It is a fascinating choice of Gaiman to use the phrase “Temple and Arch” as an evocation, a prayer, an oath. London Below is dependent on the tunneling technology of the Victorian era but before there were tunnels, the churches of England unified the greater culture of the island.  Roman technology journeyed north in the settlement of early London and the surrounding countryside.  And as the Christian faith was spread through the countryside, heathen temples became churches, the communities were centralized by parishes, church leaders maintained lineage and family records giving even deeper generational connection to the area, and eventually the identity of the township was known by the sound of its church bell.

Here are two slideshows of pictures of two well known churches.

The first is of St. Paul’s (Old Bailey’s favorite site), one of the tallest buildings in the City.  It stands as a sentinel, with its iconic dome and central location in the square mile known as the City of London. There is something incredibly gratifying about finding it randomly as you scan the rooftops of London; a landmark that immediately orients you to where you stand, where North, South, East and West is, where to find the Thames, the Tate Modern, the Tower of London. It is also a beautiful site on its own.

This second series was taken on a side trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon. It is of the 13th century church where Shakespeare is allegedly buried, Holy Trinity Church.  While the actual exhibition space of Shakespeare’s grave was closed for renovation, I took a myriad of pictures of the mossy gravestones, flora and finials, beautiful and frightening gargoyles, stained glass windows, vaulted ceilings and carved wooden pews. The iconography of angels are everywhere. There’s a red winged angel in one of the windows that made me wonder.

Wrapped into the functional brick and tile of the London underground is great reference to the Temples and Arches of England’s architectural identity. With timeless characters populating our story, we could make reference to the Temple and Arch of their roots and beliefs somehow. Not to mention Bridges. And Doors. More of those to come…

Meanwhile, let me introduce the illustrious Maren Robinson, our dramturg. She will have many a thing or two more to add here, so I’ve asked her to feel free to contribute.  She’s already sent me some thoughts of greater depth on the relationship of the word Temple to London’s identity.  Instead of crudely regurgitating her thoughts, I’ll let her speak for herself.

Orme Passage

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

Orme Passage

First things first, as far as I’m concerned, is hitting the actual locations mentioned in the book. By tagging my book and a map I discovered that much of Richard’s journey involves the West End and Soho. Curious why this area of London inspired Gaiman so, I thought I’d follow adapter Rob Kauzlaric‘s advice and visit the highly specified location of Richard’s encounter with the Marquis de Carabas, where his first real experience of NEVERWHERE’s fantasy starts to get going.

“Richard had taken the Tube to Tottenham Court Road and was now walking west down Oxford Street, holding the piece of paper. Oxford Street was the retail hub of London, and even now the sidewalks were packed with shoppers and tourists….”

Absolutely. My first impression upon stepping up from the Tube station was how many thousands of people were packing the streets. I’m not inexperienced with crowds of people in public – I live not far from Wrigleyville in Chicago. Michigan Ave and the so-called Miracle Mile aren’t the least intimidating. This is exponentially different. The streets and sidewalks are narrow and irregular, poking around each other in curves and jots. Buses and cabs, mopeds and brave cyclists slalom around pedestrians who are jostling for purchase. The sidewalk has a tide to it, keep up with the rhythm or move off to the side.

“He turned into Hanway Street. Although he had only taken a few steps from the well-lit bustle of Oxford Street, he might have been in another city: Hanway Street was empty, forsaken; a narrow, dark road, little more than an alleyway, filled with gloomy record shops and closed restaurants, the only light spilling out from the secretive drinking clubs on the upper floors of buildings. He walked along it, feeling apprehensive.”

That shift is absolutely correct. Two steps off Oxford onto Hanway, suddenly I feel exposed and alone. There may have been a person here and a couple there but the extremity of solitude after riding the wave of the teeming urban parade is almost shocking.



“He did not remember an Orme Passage… as far as Richard could remember, Hanway Place was a dead end… He had been wrong. There was an Orme Passage…”

Well, I look around. I turn thrice widdershins. No luck. No Orme. Gaiman does write fiction after all.

Here’s our main character, regular guy Richard. A bit in a rut. A bit disorganized. Rather average. Lives comfortably enough but has no investment in fashion, style or status. Not much personality to him. His fiance Jessica is trying to groom him but that’s her ambition, not his. He goes along with what life presents him, a Taoist undercurrent of going with the flow of life and letting it carry him along. Ho hum.

Then he finds himself picking up a visibly injured homeless girl off the street and carrying her to his flat. Some sense of humanity lies deep under his shabby old sweater and he becomes something, not quite as grand as a Champion of Justice, but suddenly we realize he is a Good Man at Heart, maybe even Brave. Definitely maintaining his impulsive flow-going, he’s also sensitive, and the immediate commitment to action to try and “rescue” this young woman feels foolish yet Right. By leaving Jessica and skipping out on their date, despite her enraged threats shouted down the street, Richard makes a choice that no matter how improbable it is that he will benefit from this act, it is something he Must Do.

Thus he approaches the instructions (delivered by a Rat, with help from a Pigeon none-the-less) to meet up with the Marquis on the girl, Door’s, behalf, with the same vague sense that despite the improbability of the whole thing, he Must go through with it, maybe even to just test his own resolve. Facing the population of London and wandering around a back alley must feel incredibly stupid and embarrassing, but he goes through with it. Hidden within, like Orme (More?) Passage, he has a hero blooming. Believing deep behind that old shabby sweater that he Must Do Something, for Good, for Balance, for the Right.

And simply because he was asked to. How could he say no?

London

Note: This is a reprint of Paul Holmquist‘s first post at his new “Neverwhat?” blog, chronicling his preparatory research for directing our spring MainStage production of Neverwhere. We’ll continue to cross-post here from time to time…

London

About four months ago I decided A) I need a vacation, B) I should travel somewhere and C) I should go to London.  Many many years ago, when I was in high school, way back before I knew I’d be acting and directing plays, I went with a humanities class for a 10 or 12 day trip.  What I recall of the trip is a cacophony of teenage dramas and the striking images of the touristy highlights – Stonehenge, Bath, Shakespeare’s grave, the Tower of London.  What interests me for this go around includes the Must See attractions of London but focuses more on the City and experience of London as the setting of Neil Gaiman’s book, NEVERWHERE.

Chicago theater is rather anglophilic.  We love plays about Britain’s history. We like savvy upper crust Brit detectives and scurrilous cunning Brit villains.  Dialect geeks live and breathe for the nuanced sounds of the British isles and we’ve sighed over and over again at the romance of the English countryside.  NEVERWHERE is something a bit different though. As a modern urban fantasy we are drawn into a London that is current, vibrantly chaotic and full of life. The City of London is itself as much a character in the story as anyone else.  Gaiman names characters after streets and tube stations.  We are surrounded by her, steeped in her streets and alleyways, and most importantly, lured underground to explore her mysteries.

I will be touring London Above and London Below for inspiration, clarification, research and just shear geeky pleasure.  I have been digging through my copy of NEVERWHERE and tagging locations in my very own guide to NEVERWHERE’s London. Click on any of the blue tags in the map below for a brief description of the area’s significance to the story.


View Neverwhere in a larger map

This map will continue to grow and be edited with further detail, including photos, as I visit them. This blog will catalog those experiences and their relevance, but will also be a space for any and all pre-production reference, announcements, inspirations and ideas.

The London we create onstage will be an approximation, but one that I am interested in feeling right – very urban, very current, somehow ancient and modern at the same time. Starting with the City for inspiration seems like the right way to begin, as this is a London story.

An Ensemble Prepares

There has been some discussion in the blogosphere of late on the role of an acting ensemble, lots of debate on that mysterious question of what ensemble members are entitled to expect. From Our perspective, I think we naturally look at each other first as a group of artists we respect, that we want to support, collaborate with, and help to develop each other’s skills.

In early discussions with Frances Limoncelli on Busman’s Honeymoon, she made it clear to me that she wished for the Lifeline ensemble to be as integrated as possible into the production. This presented an exciting opportunity: Peter Greenberg and Jenifer Tyler would naturally resume their roles as Lord Peter and Harriet Vane (now Lady Peter Wimsey!), to the joy of our fans of the Sayer’s series of plays adapted by Frances and presented at Lifeline over the years (Whose Body? in 2002, Strong Poison in 2004, and Gaudy Night in 2006). The remaining cast of characters offered some choice roles to our ensemble of actors and I was determined to find ways to invite them in where I could. I was not able to find a place for everyone interested in the show, but I was able to tap Jim Grote, Rob Kauzlaric and Phil Timberlake for the production.

We’ve been rehearsing for several weeks now and having a team of easy collaborators like us around has been a challenging and productive process. Challenging due to the fact that I am one of the newer kids on the block (I feel like I only just joined the collective, though I’ve been official for two and a half years now), and having a constantly open and collaborative process means continual honest evaluation and discussion of the work – the piece as a whole and the individual experiences/processes of each and every one of the actors. Productive for the same reasons, however. The non-ensemble cast (all people I’ve had the good fortune to work with before) has taken on the collaborative spirit of the rest of us and there is a game and open atmosphere for discussion and problem-solving really being developed. As we prepare to move downstairs from the rehearsal room to the set, we’re in a great place to find our maneuvers in the new geography together. And that collaboration, part of the core spirit of our company, will usher us into getting ready for tech.

Paul S. Holmquist