Archives For theatre

I mentioned in my last post (Part One of this trip to London) that I was over to do some “independent study” of theatre. That’s quite true. Since I don’t see myself coming up with the cash and time off work to finish the degree I was working on in 2012, the next best thing is to continue my studies on my own. And since all that was really left was the massive research paper, which I didn’t want to write anyway, I’d say traveling around and going to actual shows is the next best thing.*

So aside from living the quiet life in Terenure, I’m also here to see a massive amount of theatre. Here are three I saw in June, along with a few brief thoughts of my own.

The Drowned Man, by Punchdrunk Theatre

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This was the show I was most excited to see, and the one I was most disappointed with. Punchdrunk stages their shows in massive spaces like old hotels and abandoned warehouses, and transforms them into interactive worlds where the audience and performers share the same space. All audience members are masked at the start and then set loose to wander through multiple floors of an imagined Hollywood film studio in the mid-20th Century. Few words are spoken, and most of the action is done via dance and mime. You are encouraged to wander freely through the space, creating your own version of the show, which will be different than everyone else’s version. Some audience members attend multiple stagings, searching for new scenes and clues, dissecting everything on Tumblr, desperately trying to figure out what it all means.

But, as many a rabid fan of shows like Lost or Twin Peaks (which The Drowned Man owes a lot to) can admit to, obsessing about the forest oftentimes means missing out on the trees right in front of you. I had no idea what the show was supposed to be about**, and instead just enjoyed the intricate set design, the expert choreography, and the overall spooky mood of the show. There’s something interesting about the audience members wearing masks, and how the anonymity allows you to, in a sense, become part of the show. My own movements became a bit more smooth and sinister as I moved from room to room, stumbling upon a scene in media res, or surprising a couple of audience members rifling through desk drawers, searching for those ever-elusive clues.

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In the end, though, a little of that type of show goes a long way. After a while you want some Story to suddenly step in amidst all the artful clutter and creepy straw men. The same basic conflict was repeated over and over again, and I grew bored watching couples flirt, fight, and murder each other.

King Lear at The National Theatre. Written by William Shakespeare, directed by Sam Mendes

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Now this was more like it.

There’s a reason these 400-year old plays by Shakespeare are still being performed in the West End, on Broadway, in parks and schools and studied in classrooms around the world: the man knew how to write a good story.

Lear was directed by Sam Mendes. You might know him as the guy who directed American Beauty, and Skyfall, but he’s got a rather extensive theatre background as well. This was at the National Theatre, the one with the statue of Laurence Olivier out front, so you walk in with certain…expectations. And boy were they met. I’m fairly new to Lear, having never been assigned it in school or seen it performed live before, or even on film. The closest I came was my old gig as Colin Firth’s stand-in for A Thousand Acres, a forgotten film based on Jane Smiley’s novel (which is based on Lear the stage play) about a farmer who divides up his land amongst his three daughters.

In the original, though, Lear is an English king who divides up his kingdom amongst his three daughters, and then everything falls apart. Lear quickly succumbs to dementia and madness, is cast out, and by the end of the play most everyone is dead. Typical Shakespearean tragedy.

There’s lots I could say about the show, but I figure most of my readers started to fast-forward once I busted out the phrase “in media res”, so i’ll wrap this up and just say I thought it was great, and Simon Russell Beale, as Lear, was heartbreaking. As someone who has seen a grandparent suffer and die from Alzheimer’s, I can say very truthfully that he got it. 

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Julius Caesar at Shakespeare’s Globe, Written by William Shakespeare, Directed by Dominic Dromgoole, Artistic Director of The Globe.

Later that night Kevin and I attended the third show we had booked, a Renaissance-staged production of Julius Caesar at the reconstructed Globe Theatre. I could probably write an entire post just on The Globe, and maybe I will someday, because I need to give a proper telling to the brief hello I was able to give Mark Rylance that night. Chills and butterflies, people.

Anyway, what the Globe does best is show how well Shakespeare’s plays work when presented in their original setting. There are no lighting tricks, no real scenery to speak of, just a bare stage where the actors make the words come to life. It’s all you need with him. Story is everything.

Not much needs to be said about this one. Most people know the plot, and I’ve directed it in the past, so part of the fun was seeing how the pros do it, compared to my own (former) youthful company of players. We didn’t have actual seats, but went the cheap route and bought groundlings tickets and stood stock-still the entire time. The air gets rather close inside that wooden O, and a few people had to leave because they were about to faint. One guy fell right to the ground right next to me, but that might have been because of the “blood” in the play.

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There’s Kevin! Actual proof that he and I were in London together.

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I have more to say about this remarkable place, and more about the London trip in general, so I’ll write more tomorrow. I’m heading back to London next week to see three more shows, including Antony and Cleopatra back at The Globe.

This time I’m sitting down, though.

 

*I bring this topic up, partly because I wonder how many people look at my time over here in 2012 as a sort-of failure. “Ah, he ran out of money and didn’t finish the degree. Poor, poor Brian.” It’s hard to control the narrative of your life, but I’ll tell you, it was the smartest move I could have made. I avoided a LOT in student loans and got the credits I needed for a theatre endorsement (which is all I really wanted or needed.) I had a lot of pining away for more time over here, though, and that’s why this summer has been so enjoyable. I’m filling up the cup nicely.

**I mean…I do, but I won’t bore you with all of my theoretical thoughts on a show no one else saw.

 

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Must Be Nice

February 22, 2014 — Leave a comment

Let’s just come straight to the point: I’m a teacher, and I get my summers off. And not everyone is as lucky as I am to have that much time off.

This is not going to be a screed about how we teachers “deserve” that time off from all the extra hours we supposedly put in, nor will it be an itemized comparison of salaries, job benefits, or a whine about how we’ve become corporate America’s favorite whipping boy. I’m not interested in that argument right now, because it’s not an easy one to win on either side. We get our summers off. Must be nice. ‘Nuff said.

In my fifteen years of teaching, I’ve taken a total of one summer completely off from working: 2012, when I packed up everything and moved to Dublin for six months to study theatre at UCD. Every other summer was spent working very, very hard for my theatre company I started. That usually wrapped up in late July/early August, and then I’d take my summer cash and travel overseas for a couple of weeks before returning to start another school year.

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Directing “All These Will Be Worthless”, Limelight Summer 2010. Photo by Amy Weiland.

Last summer I worked for Northwestern’s Center for Talent Development, a program for gifted youth offering classes in everything from advanced math and science courses to the playwriting course I taught. The program gears more towards the STEM realm of study, and so they’re not offering my theatre course this year. There is a possibility of me teaching a documentary film class, but I haven’t heard from them in over a month about this, so at this point I’m ready to start thinking of other plans.

And those plans involve heading back to Dublin for a while. Things haven’t really been the same for me ever since I headed back, and I’m finding it harder and harder to get excited about The Future over here. Some in my profession are getting excited (or are at least preparing for) all of the Big Changes that are coming, but I am afraid that I am not one of them. Certainly not from a desire to keep doing everything as I was fifteen years ago; I’m not one of those teachers who fear change or progress. I guess I’m one of those educators that looks at it this way: we’re just swapping out one set of rules and instructions for another, and we teachers love our rules and instructions. I’ve always been one who takes a casual glance at the instructions, then works from my instincts the rest of the time. This works for some, but in a profession that tends to be populated by rule followers, it means I’m also one that exists on the margins of things, as my habits can be frustrating to some.

I had my turn when I was the guy on all the committees, the one deemed worthy and important by the Ruling Gods, the last time we had our Big Changes come through. We made new rules and new instructions and those lasted a few years until the Old Gods went away and New Gods arrived. And now we’re dancing to a very familiar tune and it’s a song I never liked much the first time I heard it. I’m dreading all of the “here’s how you do it now” memorandums that are coming.

But anyway. For now I am presented with a summer free from youth theatre, free from responsibilities, free from committees and summer school and recertification demands. I will make sure that I am ready for the Big Changes that are coming for next school year, but I am more interested in following my instincts and a desire to chase that side of me that craves wandering and creating. This is a rare gift to have, this time to myself, and I am aware of how lucky that makes me, in a time where so many are struggling.

I’ve carved out a deeply-important second life over in Dublin, and so I’ll return there to catch up with old friends, explore old places and new ones, and always, always to search for some sort of guidance or inspiration for whatever I’m going to do with the rest of my life.

You know, like always, with me.

Institutionalized

March 19, 2013 — Leave a comment

Okay, enough with the the wanderer-is-lost repetitive business. Let’s look at this thing from another point of view. Because when all you have is time to think, it’s very easy to see things from many different perspectives. Why, sometimes I’ll have six different opinions on something before breakfast. (Apologies to Lewis Carroll for that one.)

Recently, I had to make a decision about what I’m doing next year, and deliver it in writing to my employers by March 1st. To say that I was conflicted about that decision is an understatement. I even had two letters written up, in case I changed my mind at the last minute. Which is typical of me. Sometimes I have a tough time deciding on something.

We’re not going to get into which letter was turned in, and what I’m doing come fall, because that’s a long ways off, and a lot could change between now and then. And while living in this strange ghostly limbo life has its downsides, it’s also kind of awesome. Let’s unpack that a bit, shall we?

1. I have a lot of time to myself.

I like to write, I like to read, I like to create websites. I also like to get lost in my head when I’m going through some big decision-making, and right now my lifestyle has a lot of room for all of that. Subbing in a high school room? While the kids are taking a test or watching Patton, I get to debate with myself different options for my future. Maybe write a bit. And read practically all of the Internet. I haven’t worked for the past two days, so I got to overhaul BrianFauth.com and finally create a theatre portfolio/personal website I’m pretty pleased with. And I got caught up on The Walking Dead.

2. I get to drop everything and go wherever I want.

When my buddy Drew suggested I go to the presidential Inauguration with him, it only took a few minutes before I said, “why not?” Free place to stay in South Carolina? Hey, why not drive down there and hang out in the south for a few weeks. Explore some historical sites and cities and listen to a lot of podcasts while crossing the Appalachian mountains. Not a bad life. Granted, I still have to pay for gas, food, and the occasional hotel room, so I’m a bit broke at the moment. And not getting a call to work for the past two days is putting a bit of a damper on possible future road trips.

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The Shenandoah Valley

3. This is all part of a Grand Plan even I can’t really explain. But I’ll try.

Let’s not forget the simple fact that I got to live in Europe for six whole months. My time in Dublin and at UCD was fantastic; we all know that. But it was the living over there that really taught me something; I only get so much from sitting in a classroom. Thomas Jefferson, when he founded the University of Virginia, didn’t want to issue degrees; he wanted it to be a place where you could go until you felt you had learned enough, and then you could move on with your life. Del Close, the famous Second City teacher, once said to Jon Favreau (the director of Iron Man and Elf), “Why would you go to school to learn about theatre?” He thought it more important to learn about philosophy and life and finding The Truth.

(I needed a certain number of classes to get a theatre endorsement, so there was a practical element to taking classes over there, but it was really about living a different life and spending time with some dear friends, while I could. Get a little bit closer to The Truth.)

I want to become a better theatre director, but I also want to become a better teacher as well. For the past few years, I’ve started to get honors and awards, and the phrase The Best Teacher I Ever Had starts getting thrown around a lot. And all of that is great, believe me. But the more you do the same job, in the same room, with the same lessons and jokes and stories, it’s very easy to become an institution. Mr. Fauth and Viking Day and the impressions and the Simpsons jokes.

I’m not really interested in being Institutionalized (in any sense of the word!) I wanted to kind of blow up everything and start over. Give away everything in my classroom, sell half of my possessions, start over somewhere else. Learn how to do it all over again. And subbing? That strips you back to the essentials real quick. No one knows who you are when you walk into that room, and you’ve got 41 minutes, or 48, or maybe a day to win them over. You aren’t The Famous Mr. Fauth. You’re just Some Guy, and if you can get a room full of bored high school kids to listen to you, then you can do just about anything.

So wherever I go and whatever I do come fall, even if it’s right back in the same 5th grade classroom, hopefully I’ve reset myself enough that I can bring something new into the room, and keep myself fresh and energized for the next round of this thing called life.

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To the Elephant! My personal motto for living life.

In Dublin

August 15, 2012 — 7 Comments

Friends, family, students, actors, and random people stumbling across this thing: Welcome, I says!

So…I’m living in Dublin now. Most of you knew that already, but for those that had no idea I had left my job teaching fifth grade (or the other one running a theatre company), um…yeah. Big changes, right?

I’ll spend some time detailing exactly how I came to the decision to pack up one life and start another in future posts. For now, the short answer is this: I’m taking a year’s leave from teaching and will be attending University College Dublin to get a Master of Arts in Directing for Theatre. I’m hoping to do more theatre education in my career, and I felt it was time to add some tools to the toolkit. And, you know, actually study theatre for once instead of just making it up as I go.

I’ll be writing about four main subjects on this site: teaching and theatre, travel and tech. In whatever order I want, when I want.

My students wanted a way to keep in touch with me and follow my travels, so that was the beginning of this site. Some of them will be reading this, some may even comment, so we’re keeping things nice and clean on here. No angst-ridden tales of sorrow, no political rants, no swearing. And that goes for the comments as well, so keep it nice and positive, people.

Students: remember your internet safety lessons: don’t put your full name OR your email address in the comments if you happen to leave one. “Liz H” or “Mike A” will suffice. I’ll know who you are.

The site is pretty bare-bones right now, so sit tight while I tinker and add some cool stuff. You can subscribe to it via email or RSS, depending on how tech-savvy you are. I don’t know how often I’ll be updating, but I promise I’ll do my best to be fairly regular about it.

For now, feel free to say hello in the comments, and stay tuned for the next post.

Knowing the Ropes

August 15, 2012 — 12 Comments

The first time Limelight tackled Shakespeare was in 2001. I ran a one-week workshop where we took The Tempest and cut it down into a faster, easier show for young actors to perform. I then turned it over to another director while I busied myself with getting The Hobbit ready for its debut.

The kids that were a part of that show always liked to laugh about how in the opening scene, during the “shipwreck,” they had to pretend to be working the ropes for the sails, shouting and pulling and grabbing at nothing. It was always told as part of the, “look how silly and low-budget our early shows were” conversations that would pop up from time to time.

Last Saturday I caught an open-air production of The Tempest in the Iveagh Gardens in Dublin. And during their version of the opening scene, they didn’t bother using actual “ropes” either. Just some guys yelling and a few simple set pieces to suggest a ship’s prow and the waves crashing over them.

It was very reassuring to see, actually. I’m over here to dig deeper into my theatrical knowledge, which has been an exciting and terrifying experience so far. I like knowing that even in a well-publicized production in Dublin, Ireland, they still have guys grasping at nothing. It reminds me that I might actually be able to do this thing.