Lear in April. . .
We’re in the third of fifteen months’ work on our King Lear. I’ve finished the text edit — condensing it to a playable length, making dozens of choices between alternative words, phrases and whole speeches that vary between versions. And in my script I’ve reproduced the punctuation and capitalization of the First Folio, which I’ve found helpful in emphasis and scansion. It’s a debatable theory that they’re related to spoken rhythm, but as an actor it offers me fruitful hints. We’ve done a rough staging of two of the five acts, and I’ve almost memorized the first two.
And I’ve cast the heads of 10 hand puppets and 10 finger puppets (30 puppets total) plus a Fool doll for the Fool. Still a vast amount of work to do on these: eyes, paint, hair, bodies, costumes. We’ve bought a dandy bald wig with frizzy ruffs of side hair for Elizabeth’s Fool, and today went out for thrift-store inspiration on her costume.
Elizabeth has constructed the aluminum-tubing frame for the set from my model and devised a set of clasps that will serve up our puppets as needed. Hand puppets are normally hung upside down, but we need our hands to go through a slit in their backs rather than up their skirts, as there are times when we shuffle them in a mad scramble.
And I’ve written two grant requests. We’ll do the show no matter what, but a grant would fund a Bay Area run as a starting-point for the touring. And it’d mean we’d actually make some money for fifteen months of work.
Every morning, walking home from gym, I struggle with memorizing a couple of pages of text. As an actor, I’m astonished not only by the language but by the small surprises, the things I missed reading it the first three times — Cornwall advising Gloucester, “Come out o’th’ storm,” as a coded way of saying, “Keep your nose out of this business.” And for a writer, every day is a master class in language, like the rhythm of my grandpa honing his blade on the razor strop. In memorizing, one’s mind runs through multiple paraphrases of a line until you finally grasp the words as they actually are. Generally, Shakespeare’s words work better.
Strange to be working on Lear while watching Oliver Stone’s ten-hour TV special “Untold History of the United States,” a chronicle of our less savory moments from WWII to the present. It calls to mind the Polish critic Jan Kott’s comment, speaking of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, that he “falls victim to his own mythology.” The same might be said of Lear’s image of kingship and our own image of empire 2014.
Next week I’m scheduled for sculpting & casting two minor characters’ heads, Elizabeth for building a half dozen puppet bodies, and in rehearsal we plunge into Act 3: the storm. At this point, staging tends to be very mechanical: who’s handling which puppet and on which hand? how do I get Oswald across from the left-hand bar? Sometimes early rehearsals are more improvisational, more exploratory, but with this one, often the creative leap happens in the midst of working out some trivial technical problem.
Strange too, knowing that 3/4ths of what we come up with will change. In writing, I’m a terrible writer, but a damned good rewriter. So too with directing: I just have to get it on its feet, then look at it and say “Who came up with that junk?” and make it work.
DamnedFool.com. . .
Our personal blog is now in its 13th weekly edition. It’s free. Visit and subscribe. It includes my voice, Elizabeth’s, and the channeled voice of Lear’s Fool, who has his own way of looking at things. Hope you’ll visit
Ko. . .
There’s an annual festival in Amherst, MA — six weeks of progressive-theatre performances and intensive workshops (intensive = 6 hrs. a day, 6 days a week). This summer, we’ll be part of it, presenting an amalgam of our Co-Creation memoir and Gifts, in keeping with the Festival theme, Work/Job/Career/Calling. And we’ll torment workshop students the next week in “Shape-Shifting Your Story” — our process of evolving stories, shaping them, and finding the best “language” for them. If you’re interested, keep abreast of the KoFest website.