Our December EyeSight was to have spun out news of our newest show GIFTS, previewing at our Sebastopol home. It was created specifically for house concerts and intimate venues, so this was the obvious first step.
It didn’t happen. For a week or so, I’d been battling fatigue, working a few hours in the morning, then napping, then getting up for a couple of hours’ rehearsal in the afternoon, living a strange half-life sprawled on the couch reading mystery novels—not my normal fare. Soon I added a cough to the repertory, then fever and chills.
After a week of this, I went to our doc, who immediately diagnosed bacterial pneumonia. A chest x-ray quickly proved otherwise, and I began getting fever spikes up to 103. Then followed every test known to humankind, reminding me of my three days of Ph.D exams. When a lab report came back indicating “gram negative coccus,” I was told to get to the ER now!!!
We had already decided a few days before, after postponing the first performance of GIFTS, to cancel the rest of the previews: nice idea that “the show must go on,” but not a show about a feverish, shivering zombie. So I went in to the Sebastopol hospital late evening Wednesday, got hooked up via PICC-line (clever little thing) to an antibiotic drip, and continued getting tested from upside to downside.
They finally isolated a very rare bacteria that probably sneaked in when I had my teeth cleaned a couple of weeks before. Meantime, the fevers have vanished, the fatigue is gone (except for what’s induced by the hospital itself), and I’m out of the hospital. Fortunately, it’s covered by Medicare.
Downsides aplenty. I’ll be coming into the hospital for the next four weeks for daily doses of the antibiotic. And as the bacteria like to colonize around internal anomalies, the tests revealed a severely damaged mitral valve in the heart that will require surgery once the infection has cleared. Which means that our lives from now through March at least will be somewhat different than planned. Heart surgery wasn’t on the agenda.
Two look-on-the-bright-side blessings of this episode have been real. The damage to the mitral valve has apparently been long-standing, but never detected in a physical; it’s apparently worsened recently. Had the blood infection not happened, I would have been a prime candidate for heart failure.
The other blessing was, on my way to the hospital, to pick out the longest unread novel on our bookshelf, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. I’d seen the musical, disliked it. Now I’m halfway through the 1,500 pages and stunned at its breadth, depth, and sheer humanity. Melodramatic, sure, discursive, and not much of the humor of Dickens, but the honesty of the character portraits in all their contradictory dimensions is tremendously moving. And the very concrete link between the action and the social & historical dimension of its setting paradoxically “distances” it and makes it all the more startlingly contemporary. I’m just wondering why it’s taken me 71 years to get around to reading it.
We still expect to do GIFTS, though not till this circus has sent in its last batch of clowns. And I’m hopeful that this forced theatrical hiatus will give us a chance to focus on our fiction writing projects. Of course I’d rather be deep into our novel without a Viking ax stuck in my chest, but you can’t always bargain with the Norns.
Peace & joy—
...on our Hearth—
You’re invited to the first showings of our newest work. That’s not very appealing if you’re 3,000 miles away, but hopefully you can catch it on our next tour.
Gifts is a gift: it’s free. We’ll pass the hat at the end and have books & dvds on sale, but it’s for you to offer as you will, and for us to offer you something deeply from our hearts.
Like our Co-Creation readings, Gifts is designed for house concerts. That’s why we’re presenting these preview performances at our home in Sebastopol.
They’re Saturday, Nov. 24, 7:30 pm; Wednesday, Nov. 28, 7:30 pm; and Sunday, Dec. 2, 4:00 pm. You absolutely need to make reservations—707-824-4307 or by email—as seating is very limited and we can’t make exceptions without knocking out a wall.
What’s it about?
Oh damn. It’s like pulling elephant tusks for me to describe one of our own pieces—I’ve been trying to do it for 50 years. Should’ve forced one of our kids into slavery as our publicist.
Well, it’s two actors, vaguely resembling ourselves, revisiting stories that are metaphors drawn from their life as a duo, an interplay of loss and gift. A young couple are trapped on an endless freeway leading them back, at last, to another try at Life. The dream of a prestigious award dissolves into begging for scraps, and finally a banquet. The gods offer us a gift, and we have to choose.
Or, in Elizabeth’s words: “It’s about our experience of going from place to place, friend to friend, carrying our lives in small bags and boxes and putting them on display in intimate circumstances. We’ve taken three short theatre pieces, all involved with the journey of life, and it’s all in the webwork of the actual event, the audience looking at the show, sometimes eavesdropping backstage, always knee to knee with the action. And we’re working with puppets and objects, projecting life into something that’s lifeless. When you put a tiny top hat on top of a pepper grinder, there is really a creature there.”
We expect to start touring Gifts on the West Coast in January and launch another Eastern tour in late spring or summer. We’re starting to solicit hosts now for performances in living rooms or small venues in the Bay Area & North Bay starting in January.
So if you’d like to attend one of our November previews, give us the word. There’ll be socializing & refreshments, and we hope to be able, from your responses, to find out what it’s all about.
For one night at least, the humble city of Vallejo was the hippest spot in the Bay Area. Fire puppets, a graceful mist figure, a stumbly but charming marionette of neon tubes, a Japanese ghost story told on a postage-stamp toy-theatre stage, a shadow Miss Muffit and monster spider, a smart-mouth skunk, the goddess Kali, and a parade of festive, improvised zombies—the Oct. 27th Zombie Jamboree, the second event of the Forbidden Cabaret Puppet Slam, and more to come.
We performed our sketch “At the Prom with Kali,” with effusive response. For us, the great thing about a variety-show format is that no one knows remotely what to expect. We’ve sorta made a life career producing stuff that’s impossible to describe—really bad for business if you’re trying to put out publicity but great if you come before an unsuspecting audience for that “Wow!” effect.
Other big project: Elizabeth’s canning 17 jars of tomato sauce from our garden—last batch shown here. I peeled onions & garlic, and washed the pots.
Peace & joy—
From Sebastopol to Brooklyn to Millbrook NY to Sutton MA to Portsmouth NH to Hoboken NJ to the Bronx to Philadelphia to another Philly to Pottstown PA to Nazareth PA to Bloomsburg PA to Philly again to DC to Baltimore to Norfolk VA back to Philly to Lancaster PA to Philly to Milwaukee to Boulder and home. 21 readings in all of our memoir Co-Creation: Fifty Years in the Making, plus visiting countless friends.
Just a taste of the old days of touring, when we might be two or three months on the road. Very different driving the Prius rather than the Dodge Maxivan, and no kids now bouncing in the back. These days, if there’s nothing on the radio across Nebraska, we can plug in the iPod for Brahms, Beethoven, Roger Waters or Tin Hat. And then pull into a Mcdonald’s where we can get a wi-fi signal outside the building to collect email while studiously avoiding the so-called food.
But it’s much the same in many respects. Crashing one night in a truckstop, another at a campground, then a string of guest rooms or floor futons, from elegant to minimalist. Fierce storms, gorgeous vistas, flaming sunsets, then dodging psychotic drivers in a cancerous megalopolis or bound up in constipated construction zones. Trying to finish the second draft of our novel or learn lines for the next show or struggle through the cartoon wilderness of a Thomas Pynchon novel in the short bursts of free time before arriving and setting up or crashing after the show. And above all, the intensity of reunions and post-show connection—encountering the vast diversity of the worlds otherwise known as human beings.
And between sales of books and dvds and the generosity of folks passing The Hat, we’re actually making money. And drinking a lot more of our hosts’ wine than we should.
What comes next with Co-Creation? We’re not sure, though we hope to continue more touring on the West Coast: our 41 readings to date have convinced us that we’re doing something important with this. (If you haven’t seen the book, you can still order online.)
And another notion has been confirmed by this tour: our desire to redefine our theatrical events outside the bounds of the “entertainment calendar.” All but five of our 21 gigs have been in the homes of friends, and all to some degree in a celebratory, get-together atmosphere. There’s an intimacy there, a vulnerability, the sense of a gift exchange that bypasses the commodity culture that pervades even the most serious art scenes. That’s the cradle we want to nestle our new babies in.
Many unanswered questions: Can we return to some of our old hosts as well as expanding our network to new friends and new locales? Can we perform a fully-mounted production—even if simple—in very confined spaces? Can we produce a King Lear in a party ambiance? Will gas prices outstrip the capabilities of The Hat? We’ll see.
Meantime, we continue learning our lines.
Peace & joy—