I'm a bit on the over-tired side, from staying up working on... no, I'm a lot on the over-tired side. This is a two-edged coin.* In the "pro" column is that my posters and flyers are going to look MUCH awesomer than previously. What's sad about this is that I put a lot of time into the posters and flyers for the last two runs of Tired Clichés, and that I have designed good flyers and posters at other times in the past. But my posters from 2009's Montreal Fringe run, in which I painstakingly integrated stars and quotes into all the crooks and nannies of a large image of myself and a yellow traffic button - and which looked fabulous up close - seemed to actually vanish immediately once placed onto a wall decorated with other, better designed, Fringe posters. Last November's Toronto run had a publicity décor of black backgrounds and strange production photos, which I got tired of pretty quickly. I have about 20 of those leftover postcards sitting on my desk right now, taunting me with that finger-on-kazoo kind of taunt. I like my production photos, but not on a postcard. No. Stop.
So the current poster - which, remember, has to keep me happy for two whole months - sat on my computer screen with a dull solid navy background until I became so disgusted with its dullness that work ground to a halt. Then I stumbled across the secret: texture! I gave the background a fibrous texture and suddenly everything else makes sense. If the background is given an identity as a fabric, or fibrous paper, or brick wall, or asphalt pavement, then everything on top of it becomes collage - especially if you give those things drop shadows. Suddenly my poster had an aesthetic! Follow that up with a cute little asphalt-backed flyer, and suddenly it's been a bunch of late nights and an obsessive search for the printing company with just the right balance of eco, affordable, and a turnaround time that will still work if I find out my confirmed Edmonton performance dates less than 3 days before I drive to Regina!
Going back to the pros and cons of my Tirednesse, the other side of the sword is that I'm too tired to be certain whether I had a dream last night in which John Malkovich, dressed in a white suit and Austrian accent, repeatedly strangled two young women as they sang arias while accompanied by a Baroque orchestra. Complicating everything is that there is a show that played this weekend at the Luminato festival in which that exact thing happens. And, as far as I can tell, yesterday a pair of comps for that show fell into my exhausted hands, and I went to see Malkovich do his thing. Which he did, amazingly. But what a strange piece!
Malkovich. Malkovich, Malkovich? Malkovich!
I mean, it worked. We liked it. The hour and forty-five minutes without intermission slid by. His stage presence was casual but totally seductive, and his interaction with the sopranos was electric. It was weird to have a conductor for a Baroque orchestra, but I accepted him as a kind of persona for the group, and his finger-flicky conducting was pretty adorable. The first thing that happened in the show was one of the horn players dropping his crooks (extra tubing to change the key of natural horns). I'm pretty sure it was not deliberate - brass repairs would add up - but it sure it set up a kind of casually menacing atmosphere in which anything can happen. The show definitely had a plot, and an arc, and some gorgeous singing, but what I remember most is that each soprano got strangled about 25 times in hyper-realistic ways. It's hard not to feel a bit uncomfortable watching something like that.
(A friend just called as I was writing this. I tried to describe the story of The Infernal Comedy (oh, that's what it was called) and failed. He is a singer. He thought the idea of strangling sopranos - repeatedly- was not only funny, but every music director's secret wish. His words.)
Anyway, I can't mention John Malkovich without bringing this to the table:
On Friday night we saw "Dark Star Requiem", an oratorio about the AIDS epidemic by my old U of T colleague and friend Andrew Staniland, who is doing really well for himself. So well, in fact, that he can get The Gryphon Trio to do somewhat embarrassing things. At one point, pianist Jamie Parker got slapped by a nun. I'm not kidding.
The music was great: restrained but powerful, lots of tonal centre to hang onto but always skirting the obvious. I suspect most of the audience liked and appreciated the music, especially since they had a strong context to put it in. But it was hard to gauge what people thought, for the reason that they were never given a chance to fully applaud the piece.
The piece just eased into an ending, everybody left the stage, the house lights had already come up... and our applause never brought the performers back on to take a bow. I loved it! I've wanted to see something that edgy in a concert hall for a *long* time. It was sort of like the gut-punch at the end of the modern production of "Cabaret" when the orchestra is missing from the pit and turns up in striped concentration camp clothes. It was also sort of like the time I asked people not to clap at the end of my first Fringe show (WOOL), which made for some interesting confrontations with irate audience members who clearly needed to vent their feeling through applause lest they explode. This included a strange encounter with the brother of a friend who subsequently became my director.
There was other edgy stuff too: a black man played a chimpanzee (didn't bother me, but my companion never trusted the piece after that. The HIV virus was personified - brilliantly - both as a black woman and a gay man. There were extended sections of awful nicknames for the disease (like "gay plague") that left it to us to re-humanize its victims. There was a section called "Every 14 seconds" where a projected stopwatch ran in time to Gryphon Trio music, and every fourteen seconds a slash mark and a tasteful accent in the music marked the death of someone in the world from AIDS. I quite seriously enjoy the opportunity to feel emotion about a piece itself, and about myself. It made me angry at the piece (how delicious!) for having to sit through something so obvious for nearly 4 minutes; it made me angry at myself for paying a fair amount of money to enjoy some really great music while noting a series of human deaths - and THAT is the most I would do that day, or any day, to help the problem.
I really love getting het up like that - but I'm not entirely sure I *enjoyed* the oratorio as a whole, if whether I was really supposed to. I felt a little bit like I was being kept at arm's length by a sometimes obscure libretto that was more about viruses than people. But intriguing, very intriguing.
Holy carp, I'd forgotten how long blogging can take!
* Quick as a nimble whip! Let's make haste to check whether this expression has yet been submitted to Conflations.com!