Halloween Hip Shots 2013
By Jim Sizemore
(Click images for larger views.)
The “Hip Shots” series of photographs will feature images that were grabbed “on the fly,” with little or no regard for framing and focus. The object of the exercise is to create dynamic pictures, not perfect ones. With this ” shoot-from-the-hip” method the more frames exposed, the better the chances are that you’ll come up with something interesting—a related series that may be arranged as a post. If you’d like additional tips for using the technique, or to submit your own images, drop a question or note in the “Leave a Comment” section, below.
Copyright © 2013 Jim Sizemore.
Many people attracted to community theater—as actors or to work backstage—are involved for only a limited time, anything from the run of one production to a few years. Volunteering to work on a play, in whatever capacity, involves hours, days and weeks of hard creative work. It’s a huge commitment, especially if you have a day-job or a family (or both), and after awhile some folks—even those who love the experience and would like to continue—feel they have to drop out. On the other hand, there’s the long-term involvement of people like Sharon Weaver. (She’s pictured above rehearsing her solo in the Baltimore Spotlighter’s Theater 1977 musical production of Zorba The Greek.) After more than thirty years, Sharon is still at it. These days, though, she’s usually running the show. At a recent gathering of local theater people, Sharon and I had a chat about the Harold Pinter play “Old Times,” which she is directing for the Vagabond Players’ 93rd season. The theater bills itself as “America’s Oldest Continuous Little Theatre,” and Sharon has been active with it, or with other local stages, a full third of that time. Now that’s a commitment to community theater.
Editor’s update. The Zorba production was in 1977, the Pinter play Sharon directed opened in 2009, and she’s directed many more since. Now here we are in 2013. At another recent gathering—this time to read a draft of my one-act play about a young boy–Sharon volunteered to take the part of the mother. Her commitment continues.
This is a re-post from October 22, 2008.
Copyright © 2013 Jim Sizemore.
My Piano Lesson
By Jo-Ann Pilardi
On the Monday after a Saturday dance at my small, all girls’ high school, Pittsburgh circa 1959, Sister Mary Magnus, our principal, called a full school assembly in the gym. A non-Friday assembly meant something serious was up. Exchanging fearful looks, we girls proceeded to the gym. Upon taking a seat in one of the cramped rows of metal folding chairs, I straightened the Student Council badge on my shiny navy blue gabardine uniform.
Sister Magnus was a woman of significant bulk and height, and one who never retreated, flinched, or allowed excuses. That day, she began the assembly by reporting that “vandalism” had taken place during the Saturday dance. Someone had carved a girl’s name into the top of the dusty old upright piano in the gym. Through clenched teeth, she commanded that we tell all, and she threatened that the assembly wouldn’t end until there was a full accounting by the guilty party.
Moving menacingly up and down the rows of girls, Sister Magnus reported that a single clue had been left behind by the culprit: “It’s the name ‘Jo-Ann’—that’s J-O-Hyphen-Capital-A-N-N,” she said. Others in our school of 300 had the same phonetic name, i.e., there were a few “Joannes,” at least one “Jo Ann,” and a couple of “Joanns” and “Joannas.” But there was only one hyphen afoot—me: “Jo-Ann.” I knew my spelling was unique. Magnus knew it too—and so did the other nuns and all my classmates.
Magnus stopped to stare at me, silently inviting—virtually forcing—me to confess. Student Councilor Me. President of the National Honor Society Me. Member of the Latin, History, and French Honor Societies. Winner of the city’s “Seven Wonders of Pittsburgh” essay contest. All those Me’s. Was I also Guilty Me? And would I be a Confessing Me?
Of course I knew who the “vandal” was. He was a friend of mine—Ronnie R., cousin of my best friend, and a chronic tease. Ronnie attended the nearby boys’ Catholic high school, so if I informed on him, within minutes the word would reach the Christian Brothers who ran the school, and Ronnie would be yanked out of class and . . . who knows what? The thought of being an informant disgusted me. On top of that, I couldn’t make a public Confession to the assembly just because it was my name engraved on the piano and I knew the vandal. Confessing meant accepting one’s guilt, and I was guilty of nothing. Besides, Sister Magnus would never believe that I wasn’t a party to the act. Remaining silent to save Ronnie was also a way to save myself.
The tense interrogation continued as Magnus repeated the histrionics, threats, and calls for a Confession. But I continued to stonewall her. I already knew that the spoken word can intimidate, but now I understood the power of silence. So I faced down my Inquisitor—Jo-Ann of Arc Me against the judges of the court. Not guilty of the sin of vandalism, I wouldn’t confess. Guilty of the non-sin of knowing the vandal, I wouldn’t confess. Surprised by my own willful silence, I learned something about my own values. Maybe Sister Magnus learned a little something too.
Copyright © 2012 Jo-Ann Pilardi.
Jo-Ann Pilardi is retired from Towson University where she taught Philosophy and Women’s Studies for 38 years. A working class Italian from Pittsburgh, she moved to Baltimore in 1969 and was active in women’s movement groups through the 1970s. Currently, she teaches for TU’s Osher Institute, reads and writes, gardens, travels, and studies jazz piano. In the schoolyard photo above, Jo-Ann is in the center, and her friend Noriene is on the right. (Click images for larger views.) She thanks Jim Sizemore for help in shortening and editing this original essay for Doodlemeister.Doodlemeister is looking for short memory pieces up to 500 words, on any subject, in any style — as long as it happened to you. Whatever the subject, we have a bias for the lighthearted tone. If need be, we’ll help you to edit and/or cut your piece. If you’d like to submit a story, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Adapted From Paris Review, The Art of Theater No. 9
Interviewed by Anne Cattaneo
While I was a student at Yale in 1962, I took courses in set design, lighting, and costume from Donald Oenslager and Ernest Bevan. I needed to learn the light in which a play must live. I wasn’t any good at the technical bits, but that wasn’t the point. I learned the work processes and the range of possibilities of the design people with whom the playwright shares the stage. They provide the visual entry into the playwright’s world. The playwright is the person responsible for everything on that stage. If the play doesn’t work because of a miscast actor or because of a bad set, or it’s misdirected, it’s the play that will take the brunt. Anything that happens on that stage is playwriting. So the playwright better know the actors available, the directors, the designers, all of whom deal with the life being created on stage. I once saw a comedy in rehearsal, funny and knockdown, but not until it got onstage did we all realize that the costumes, which had looked so witty on paper, had been constructed in a very heavy fabric that disguised and covered the actors’ bodies and de-physicalized them. It was too late and too expensive to change anything. The costumes went on. They got raves. The play was a bust. So the playwright has to look at paintings, listen to music, to say, Yes that’s the effect I want my plays to have.
I love the part of playwriting that is a craft to be learned continually, the –wright part, like shipwright or wheelwright or cartwright. Whether Aeschylus or George S. Kaufman, a playwright is a writer who understands the technical aspects of knowing how to deliver exposition, how to get a character on and offstage, where to place the intermission, how to bring down a curtain. How to have all the characters’ stories end up simultaneously. That’s craft, and craft can be taught by emulation. You figure out how your playwright of the moment accomplishes those facts of the theater. You learn to study those playwrights technically, the way a musician does a score, breaking the work down to learn how its composer achieved certain effects. And then, having learned a technique, one can use it oneself.
Durrenmatt’s The Visit . . . had a profound effect on me. To have a play draw you in with humor and then make you crazy and send you out mixed-up! When I got to Feydeau, Strindberg, Pinter, Joe Orton, and the “dis-ease” they created, I was home. Pinter’s plays had the rhythm of high comedy trapped in the wrong surroundings; I identified with that. I loved the strictures of farce, besides liking the sound of an audience laughing. I loved Feydeau’s one rule of playwriting: Character A says, My life is perfect as long as I don’t see Character B. Knock knock. Enter Character B. And Feydeau’s hysteria opened the door to Strindberg.
I always liked plays to be funny and early on stumbled upon the truth that farce is tragedy speeded up. Filling up that hunger. Get to Moscow. Get into an adult world. The want becomes a need. The need becomes a hunger and because you’re speeding it up so much . . . it becomes ridiculous . . . . The intensity puts it on the edge. The top keeps spinning faster until it can only explode, and if you’ve got a stageful of people at that psychic, manic state, and an audience in tune with them, then something dangerous might happen out of that hysteria. You want to move the audience into a new part of themselves.
Beckett’s a great writer but a bad influence. Young writers used to think that tramps speaking non sequiturs was playwriting. As a teacher, you want to stop people from writing pastiches of Beckett and thinking that’s playwriting. You want them to learn how to admire him, but to know the aim of playwriting is not to become a ventriloquist in someone else’s voice . . . . You have to keep working to find your voice, then have the grace or good sense to recognize it as your voice and then learn how to use it.
If you’d like to read what people such as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates and other famous — and not so famous — playwrights have to say about the art and craft of writing for the stage, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button.
Part V of the John Guare series will post next Wednesday.