The Winter’s Tale

“Though I am not naturally honest, I am sometimes so by chance.”
― William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale

Dallas Theater Center
Wyly Theater
Dallas, Texas

A couple weeks ago, I received an email notification of tickets being on sale for Shakespear’s The Winter’s Tale at the Wyly in the Dallas Arts District. I am always up for a play at the Wyly so I clicked in. They were almost all gone, but I found two seats together for a Sunday Matinee performance. When I checked out, I discovered that the play was free… better still.

When the Wyly was built I was amazed by the architecture and unique coolness of the venue, but I thought to myself, “Shame I’m poor – I’ll never be able to actually see anything there.”

The Wyly Theater in the Dallas Arts District

I was wrong. Between the “pay what you can” dates (essentially being able to attend a final dress rehearsal) and other special performances I am able to go a few times a year without breaking the bank.

This free performance was put on by The Public Works and was a mix of professional and volunteer actors. I knew nothing about it and The Winter’s Tale was one of the few Shakespeare plays I’ve never seen. So I was excited. It turns out that my son would be up for the weekend, so we decided that he and I would take the DART train downtown, go to the play, and meet up with Candy afterward.

The play was fun. The trained actors were easy to spot – but they were good enough to carry the night (or afternoon). The play had music added – music of every imaginable genre and style – from hoe-down country, to a Mariachi Band, to a New Orleans Second Line, and more. The only performance that seemed a bit too out there was a number by the Dallas Maverick Dancers in their cheerleader outfits. That was a bit strange – but still entertaining.

I had never been to the Wyly for a matinee. At the end of a play, the outer curtains are raised, exposing the outer wall of the Borg-like metal cube. At night this is no big deal, but in the afternoon the sun streamed in, making the top of the building seem to float in the sky.

Nick and I walked outside and started to walk to Deep Ellum, where we would meet Candy. It was about a mile and a half – doable, but a long walk in the heat.

But, there on the corner, was two Lime rental electric scooters. After the lunacy of the invasion of the rental bikes, Dallas has now picked up on the dockless scooter craze – they are all over downtown and Deep Ellum – at certain times there are more people on scooters than in cars.

Nick and I grinned, loaded the apps on our phones and unlocked the scooters. Being a Millenial, he was quicker at this and shot off down Ross. When mine beeped and lit up I thought, “Better go into this parking lot here and practice for a minute.” To the best of my memory I have never been on a scooter in my life – let alone an electric one. But my son was already moving away and I decided, what the hell, and hopped on, kicked twice and pressed the GO button.

We sped down Ross (the scooters go… what? maybe 15 miles per hour, but it feels really fast) and the light was green with no traffic so we turned down Good Latimer towards Deep Ellum. It was a blast. At the end of the block was a big red light and beyond that were the busy lanes of the Highway 75 frontage and the DART train tracks.

And I realized I had no idea how to stop the scooter.

“How do I stop?!” I yelled, while I flailed around.

“On the left!” shouted Nick.

I remembered seeing scooters with brakes in the rear and fished around with my back foot – nothing. Meanwhile, I tried steering back and forth, then dragging a foot. I was slowing, but not fast enough. As I went by, Nick reached out and grabbed me, causing me to skid off the road into the grassy area bordering the train tracks. I stopped and didn’t fall, though it was plenty scary.

I looked at the scooter and, sure enough, there was a brake lever on the left handlebar. I had been so engrossed and then so panicked, I never saw it.

The rest of the ride was easy – a hand brake is a really good idea. We dropped our scooters in front of Braindead and before we were through the door someone else rented them and sped off. We ate at Monkey King and then stopped off at Armoury D.E. (one of my favorite spots – great craft cocktails) and The Anvil Pub. It was only a block or two of walking, but Nick kept renting scooters and going around the block. He thought it was great. They only cost a couple bucks for a short trip.

I never could figure out why I would ride a rental bike in Dallas – I have my own bikes (though I enjoyed riding one in New Orleans) but those scooters are another thing. They are actually a replacement for walking. If you have more than a couple blocks (but less than a couple miles) to cover, especially in the heat, they are a great option.

The next day, the news was covering the story that a young man had died on a scooter in East Dallas over the same weekend (though the story is a bit weird). With this many people riding these, there are sure to be more accidents.

If I was to ride one on a regular basis, say on a commute to work, I would definitely wear a helmet (when you rent one, you agree to wear a helmet, but I’ve never seen anyone actually with head protection).

This is a brave new world, that has such people in it.

“Exit, pursued by a bear.”
― William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale

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Rumour Is A Pipe

“Rumour is a pipe
Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures
And of so easy and so plain a stop
That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,
The still-discordant wavering multitude,
Can play upon it.”

― William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2

Downtown Dallas, Texas

Where do these pipes go to? What do they convey? What comes pouring out of them when they decide it’s time to go to work? What happens if you are on the sidewalk beneath?

Complete Steel

What may this mean.
That thou, dead corpse, again, in complete steel,
Revisit’st thus the glimpses of the moon.
Making night hideous ; and we, fools of nature,
So horridly to shake our disposition,
With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls?
Say, why is this?
—-Shakespeare, Hamlet

Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas Untitled, Ellsworth Kelly (click to enlarge)

Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas
Untitled, Ellsworth Kelly
(click to enlarge)

As Flies to Wanton Boys

King Lear, Dallas Theater Center, Wyly Theater

King Lear, Dallas Theater Center, Wyly Theater

“As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport.”
—- Shakespeare, King Lear

As I’ve said before – I was excited to watch the fantastic new venues go up in the Dallas Arts District. I especially was fascinated by the Wyly theater. Designed by Pritzker Prize winner Rem Koolhaas and associates it was a unique building, resembling nothing more than a Borg Cube. I distinctly remember thinking that it was such a cool place that it was a shame I could never afford to see a production there.

The Wyly Theater.

The Wyly Theater.

“When we are born we cry that we are come
To this great stage of fools.”

I was wrong. It is quite easy to find affordable tickets to most of the productions. Especially on “Pay What You Can Night.” Most productions have one performance (actually, you might call it a dress rehearsal – but it’s the full thing) that they sell the tickets for whatever the audience wants to pay.

These can sell out quickly, of course. But I have the site bookmarked and the dates on my calendar, and I can jump in there and buy them quick. We have seen The Tempest on a cheap day and The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity on a Pay What You Can night.

I snagged two tickets to King Lear on Pay What You Can Night. I won’t say what I could pay… right now, it’s not very much, I’m afraid.

“Through tattered clothes small vices do appear.
Robes and furred gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold,
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks.”

Candy couldn’t go, though, and I ended up going by myself. On Friday morning I thought about bailing, things were so complicated. I didn’t have a car, would have to ride my bicycle in the cold to work, and then get to the theater. Thursday night I rolled all the possibilities in my head, where to ride, where to lock up my bike, what to take, all the timing.

“I am tied to the stake, and I must stand the course.”

I decided to give it a go when the day turned out to be sunny and warmer than I expected and I actually enjoyed my commute to work. Afterwards, I had to ride around to a couple DART stations looking for an open bike locker – I didn’t want to leave my road bike locked up outside for fear of finding it relieved of vital parts.

“We are not the first
Who with best meaning have incurred the worst.'”

I have only seen King Lear once. Decades ago, I took Lee to see a production outside at the Dallas Shakespeare Festival – I’m not sure of the year, but I guess he was ten or so. Lear is such a dark and complex work, I worried that he would be bored – but there was enough sword fighting and action that he was enthralled, even if he didn’t really understand what was going on. In the infamous eye-gouging scene, an actor actually threw two grapes on the stage and then stomped on them. Lee perked up.

“Hey, what just happened?” he asked.

“Oh, nothing, Lee.” A father has to lie a little now and then.

“I want that glib and oily art
To speak and purpose not; since what I well intend,
I’ll do’t before I speak.”

He especially liked the army scenes where they had a large crowd (probably every stagehand and a lot of local volunteers) moving through the trees around the outdoor venue with lamps and rattling swords. It was pretty impressive – he was a tiny bit afraid… just the right amount. He used to really love going to the Shakespeare plays and I wish I could have done more. We were so busy.

Lee, at the Dallas Shakespeare Festival's production of Hamlet, a few years ago.

Lee, at the Dallas Shakespeare Festival’s production of Hamlet, a few years ago.

“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless child!”

So, on Friday, I rode the DART train downtown and walked to the Wyly for the performance.

It started out with a very spare stage – a wooden wall, a door, a heavy chair, and a candelabra. I noticed before the performance a couple of stagehands on hands and knees, carefully wiping the stage down, as if they were worried about bits of slippery water.

“Time shall unfold what plaited cunning hides.”

The play started very formal and stiff. The actors stood arranged around the seated king in symmetric positions and delivered their lines. It was all very good, but not very exciting. King Lear is an avalanche of a play; it delivers its punches full-bore – heavy and hard. It doesn’t fuck around.

Still, to entertain a modern audience, you need something more than a static composition, no matter how talented. You need a gimmick, something to entertain the masses. I worried that they had decided to go all old-school, plain, simple, and it was starting to get a little boring. I thought it might be a long night of interesting but not very passionate storytelling.

I was wrong.

“Oh, that way madness lies; let me shun that.”

When I think of King Lear, I don’t usually think of the play itself… or even a film of the play. I think of Ran – the incredibly powerful film by Kurosawa. I saw it in a theater when it first came out and it affected me as much as any film ever did. Based on Lear, set in samurai-era Japan, it captures the tragedy and hopelessness of Lear in an amazing, colorful… Kurosawa style. A work of genius.

“Have more than thou showest,
Speak less than thou knowest,
Lend less than thou owest.”

Still, to this day, when I watch Lear, the back of my mind flashes to the battles and pathos of Ran. It is engraved there forever… I’m afraid.

“This is the excellent foppery of the world, that,
when we are sick in fortune,–often the surfeit
of our own behavior,–we make guilty of our
disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as
if we were villains by necessity; fools by
heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and
treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards,
liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of
planetary influence; and all that we are evil in,
by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion
of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish
disposition to the charge of a star!”

Then, suddenly, about a quarter way through, the formal stylized play ended. As Lear was thrown into the storm of madness the wooden walls that formed the back of the stage fell forward into a tumbledown confusion, huge doors swung down from above and a gigantic torrent of water waterfalled down (sort of Flashdance style – on steroids) onto the King.

And all Hell broke loose.

The rain comes down and madness conquers all.

The rain comes down and madness conquers all.

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s moulds, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man!”

The formality gone, torn to the four winds, the rest of the play was a tsunami of a powerful madness, a foil for the Kings insanity and despair. The fourth wall was broken, with actors fighting in the aisles and lightning screaming through the theater. I noticed that even the sound effects added to the disconcerting craziness – every time the King’s mind took a turn for the worst, a crackling buzz came from hidden speakers above the seats – a subtle effect that enforced the impression of insanity and doom.

“Rumble thy bellyful! Spit, fire! Spout, rain!
Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters:
I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness;
I never gave you kingdom, called you children,
You owe me no subscription: then, let fall
Your horrible pleasure; here I stand, your slave,
A poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man.”

And then, the tragedy. As the inevitable doom unfolds, the tragic events set in motion by the Lear’s egocentric arrogance in the first scene come to their conclusion, the horror sets in.

“The worst is not,
So long as we can say, ‘This is the worst.”

This is a play written four hundred years ago by a mysterious man living in a world that is so different than ours. I always wonder what Shakespeare would think, seeing his work performed in a place such as the Wyly theater – which is essentially a huge theater machine, a reconfigurable, hydraulic, giant metallic cube, able to morph into whatever shape is needed. It is thick with electrical wiring; looking up you can see wireless routers laced with tangles of blue Ethernet cables blinking yellow and green in the darkness. Shakespeare would shake with fear at this mechanism which has swallowed his actors and audience whole.

“Come not between the dragon and his wrath.”

Still, it is his words. The same words he must have scratched out with a quill on thick paper four centuries ago. It is a miracle that they are still so effective after all this time… and space.

“Who is it that can tell me who I am?”

Those of us in the audience must know what to expect. It is a tragedy. There is a warning on the sign out in the lobby that the play contains nudity. This story is not going to end well. Everyone is going to die.

“He’s mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse’s health, a boy’s love, or a whore’s oath.”

But we have all been spoiled… softened and weakened by Hollywood Films and Television Productions that must have happy endings. The hero will be rescued at the end, despite all odds, and the villain will get his just comeuppance, after he repents and is forgiven. The performance will end with sweet music, with the hero kissing the girl, while a Technicolor sunset flares behind the closing credits.

Shakespeare plays with us. He always adds a little tiny bit of hope – the soldier is dispatched to stop the execution, the poison doesn’t seem to work at first, the bad guy seems to realize the folly of his ways. It is a ruse.

We should know better, but we don’t. When doom descends, we are shocked, shocked even though we knew it was coming, shocked even though we have seen this before, shocked even though we know this is how the world works.

“Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these?”

So stunned we sit there. Then we realize what we have seen. A work of genius.

“The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.”

So now I have set a mark on my calendar for February 1. That’s when the Pay What You Can tickets go on sale for Red – a play about the artist Mark Rothko. If you want to go, contact me and I’ll see if I can get an extra ticket or two.

Getting ready for NanoWriMo

Underwood Typewriter

Underwood Typewriter

November is approaching rapidly and I have the usual annual decision to make. Do I do NanoWriMo?

One thing is nice this year. Usually November is a nasty busy month for me at work, which makes getting the time… and especially the energy, up for the fifty thousand words extremely difficult. This year, October is the tough month and November will be easier – except for the first week. The first week is brutal – so I’ll have a slow start but should be able to catch up. I have to take some vacation time, so maybe I can even go on a bit of a writing trip.

As you may have guessed by now, I am going to give it a go. (my Nanowrimo page) I have tried four times and made it once. The other three I wrote myself into a corner and couldn’t get out. They weren’t total losses – I still had a few tens of thousands of words that I might be able to use someday. Probably not. Crash and burned NanoWriMo paragraphs are hoarder houses of writing – piles of useless mouldering crap that seemed useful once, but really needs to be chucked into the dumpster out on the front yard.

I will say the one year I made it was a bigger thrill than I thought it would be. That year I picked a novel idea that I knew had no dead ends. It was an old man, caught in a life-or-death situation, reminiscing about his life during lulls in his struggle. I knew that if I was stuck I could always come up with another memory.

When my word processor said I had hit the fifty thousand words, I uploaded it and discovered that by the official count, I was still about ninety five words short. It was amazingly difficult to write one more little cluster of paragraphs at eleven fifty on the last night. I almost couldn’t squeeze it out.

So this year, my idea to avoid the dreaded dead end plotting is to develop the ideas ahead of time. I want to have about a hundred scenes listed out so all I have to do is write each one, five hundred words or so each, and then I’m done. No possibility of sliding off into the ditch.

The other day I saw The Tempest at the Wyly theater in downtown Dallas. I had seen it before, but I was still impressed. What I think I will do is update the basic plot lines of this last Shakespeare play to modern times. I’m tentatively making Prospero a deposed drug kingpin named John Prosper. Starting from that point, most the other characters start falling in line.

I’m working on Ariel… that is a key character. Setting too…. Maybe an actual island is doable… maybe in a lake. Do I want a supernatural element? Haven’t decided that yet.

Of course, I won’t follow the Shakespeare plot too faithfully. For example, somebody, probably more, will have to die. I do have my writing station set up nice… one less excuse.

So much writing. So little time. Wish me luck.

My secretary setup

One place where the magic happens

We are such stuff as dreams are made on

I remember when each and every building in the Dallas Arts District went up – starting decades ago when I worked downtown and they built the Art Museum and I’d sit in the sculpture garden and eat my paper sack sandwich lunch (it was free back then, believe it or not). Then the Symphony hall, and the Nasher. Finally, the completion of the district with the Opera House and the Wyly theater (there is still one more theater under construction).

I love the area and hope that Dallas can make it into the vibrant urban spot they want. So far, it’s a beautiful but usually desolate destination. It hasn’t reached the tipping point where the vast population out in the suburbs think of downtown as a place to go – but the city is working on it.

One fact that I was definitely wrong on is that, as much as I loved the Wyly as architecture, I was afraid I’d never be able to actually go to the thing. It felt like a gift to the wealthy, a plaything for the rich, and the poor proles like myself, the workin stiffs, would never be able to afford to visit.

I was mistaken. I read that the Dallas Theater Center was producing The Tempest at the Wyly and I surfed over to check out the price. It cost about what a 3D movie is going for. Well, I love me some Shakespeare, so I clicked on to a Tuesday night and bought a couple tickets. I was as interested in the theater itself as the play, so I bought the cheapest seats – up in the nosebleed section.

The Wyly Theater.

The Wyly is a magnificent and unique piece of architecture. It is a theater of a revolutionary “Stacked” design – the the boxoffice and lounge, performance space, rehearsal and ancillary spaces are piled up on top of each other to give tremendous flexibility and endless possibilities for unique performances. I looks like a Borg Cube has landed in downtown Dallas and it operates like a theater “machine.”

I was excited to actually see the thing in action. Oh, and I love “The Tempest” too.

We rode the DART train downtown to the Pearl Station and walked over to the Wyly. You descend down a ramp to the main entrance which is beneath the building itself. Then you ride an elevator up to the seats. We were in the cheap seats – but they were still great. We were looking down onto the stage from a short distance away – I can’t say these were any worse than the premium seats (only a few dollars more, actually) below us.

Kids Splashing in front of the Wyly Theater. An HDR image I took on the opening day of the theater.

This was a pared-down version of The Tempest which let the skills of the actors shine through. Still, there was plenty of clever stagecraft – a terrifying plane crash in the beginning (with the rows of seats tumbling down through a hole in the floor) – a character emerging from beneath the earth through a crack in the chalky island soil, and a terrifying spirit descending from above to deliver the message of doom.

The production was gorgeous to look at.

One nice touch was that the lighting would subtly change whenever a character would deliver a soliloquy or aside. It was an effective way of signaling what was going on.

All modern Shakespeare productions, especially The Tempest, are modified to some extent. At first, I thought they had simplified the language, because I understood it so much better than I usually did. After a while, I realised that the text was the same, it was simply that the acoustics are so good in the Wyly that I could hear the actors like crystal. Greatness! Oh brave new world that has such people in’t.

In my opinion, a production of The Tempest rises or falls on Ariel. Can the Actor/Actress (I’ve seen both… about 50/50) make a believable sprite? Can they be light as a breeze when needed while as powerful and terrifying as a storm? This production had a local actor that has made it on Broadway, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka … and he did a great job. They were able to use his singing voice as a powerful tool to move the drama along – too often I’ve seen the songs in The Tempest be more of a distraction than an effective part of the play.

Reviews:

So, I went down there to see the theater, and I was not disappointed. And I came away impressed with the production, I really enjoyed it… and after all, the play’s the thing (oops, wrong Shakespeare play).

Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant;
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be reliev’d by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon’d be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

Aluminum Tube Skin on the Wyly Theater

Aluminum Tube Skin on the Wyly Theater