Locking down at home has certainly created a new cultural phenomenon in everyoneís - and I mean everyoneís (except first responders facing a different kind of phenomenon) - lives.
Iím not going to try to navigate the ins and outs of all the different experiences out there. As one colleague said, ďThis isnít much different than what I do in between shows.Ē That I understand. In between shows, I basically sit, with Netflix or DVDs in front of me, and books at the ready. While this lockdown has its own particulars, hereís the culture thatís sustaining me.
LUCK Before this all started, two fortunate things befell me (or I had them befall me.) Late last year, I got a book out of the library, saw its potential, and put it on my Christmas list. Itís YEAR OF WONDER by Clemency Burton-Hill, a UK native, now a Creative Director, Music & Arts at New York Public Radio. An award-winning violinist herself, she has created a book which is a day by day introduction to classical music (one of the many gaps in my artistic repertory.) Every day, sometime keying the music to a performance premiere or to an artistís birthday, or sometime to the season or a holiday, she introduces a short piece of classical music, and accompanies it with fascinating stories about the music, the cultural era, or the people involved. So every day, I now have the time to dwell on all of this great work.
Another bit of luck I had was becoming a member of the St. Louis Art Museum. Somewhat like Burton-Hillís daily approach, during this time, the Art Museum is posting an Art Object of the Day from the Museumís collection, complete with interesting introductions to the artist and work.
Both cultural pursuits anchor my endless days in specific cultural pursuits.
WATCH PARTIES Of course, like everyone else, Iím knocking off a lot tv viewing. Iíve done most of the obligatory Netflix series - 3rd season of OZARK, 4th season of MONEY HEIST, intro season (thereís bound to be another) of HOLLYWOOD. Plus many of the other shorter run gems that hit Netflix. I also get discs from Netflix in the mail, so Iíve been checking off many of those. Leading up to this whole thing, I was a pretty impatient movie watcher - if something looked a little loose, I wouldnít hesitate to cut it off after just minutes. But patience is something that Iím working on, while I have the opportunity.
Following a tip from the New York Times to catch something you might not consider, I requested and received five Randolph Scott westerns from the late fifties - SEVEN MEN FROM NOW, DECISION AT SUNDOWN, BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE, RIDE LONESOME and COMANCHE STATION - one a year produced up till 1960, each directed by Budd Boetticher, all very similar, but each produced with a ruthless economy, each set on the great set of the American West. Most of the stories are the same - Scott plays a tough, humorless man whose wife is dead, usually killed by an outlaw or a renegade - and Scottís mission is to hunt the bad guys down.
I watched all of them, all the way through, impressed with the efficient, spare production approach and the solid storytelling. It led me to a few other classic films. Iíd never seen MAJOR DUNDEE, Sam Peckinpahís predecessor to THE WILD BUNCH. Itís a big, sprawling film, with Charlton Heston in tough guy mode as Dundee, Richard Harris as his former friend and now foe in the latter days of the Civil War, plus a cast of supporting actors that became Peckinpahís repertory company, most of them subsequently appearing in THE WILD BUNCH. You can see many echoes and specific scenes that Bloody Sam restaged for THE WILD BUNCH, but supposedly his drinking on DUNDEE was out of control and the film ultimately suffered for it.
Another classic that impressed me was SEPARATE TABLES, based on two one-acts by Terrence Rattigan that they put together as one film script. It came from Burt Lancasterís company - one of my favorite actors and one of my favorite producers - He took a chance on any number of movies that went against his star status. Heís solid in this film opposite Rita Hayworth, and both David Niven and Wendy Hiller won Oscars for it.
SOOTHING THE SAVAGE BEAST. Besides the daily injection of classical music, I hit a lot of other favorites. Sirius/XM with The Beatles Channel was a constant. Listening a bunch, I did get to hear a number of new things (you think youíve got everything under your belt about the Beatles, but the hits just keep coming) - intriguing cover versions, like Bob Dylan doing ďThings We Said Today,Ē a straightforward version from some tribute album that does justice to the song, and Diana Ross and the Supremes doing ďYou Canít Do That,Ē one of my favorite Beatle songs. And speaking of Dylan, besides his other superhuman talents, his timing is always good. Somewhat like his album MODERN TIMES was released on 9/11, his new album, first batch of original songs since winning the Nobel Prize, called ROUGH AND ROWDY WAYS, is coming out mid-June.
PLAY BALL. But thereís no baseball, which means thereís no fantasy baseball for those of us who depend on it to literally get through out lives. However, in another stroke of luck, the great baseball board game, STRAT-O-MATIC, is simulating the entire 2020 season, day-by-day. Check into their website every day at 1pm, and you can see the results of the day as it may have happened in real time. And given STRAT-O-MATICís penchant for exacting detail, these scores seem fairly accurate.
And, of course, THEATRE. While theatres are shut down, like everything else, one can still stay busy with it, trying to plan upcoming shows or participating in ZOOM theatre meetings or productions. Iíve had to juggle Midnight shows - moving NOW PLAYING THIRD BASE FOR THE ST. LOUIS CARDINALSÖBOND, JAMES BOND - from late May to late June to now mid-August. Unfortunately, my friends at SATE cancelled their August production at The Chapel, due to the financial stresses of the time, but that opened up the time for me. And with three months from the time Iím writing this to BASEBALL/BONDís opening, just maybe weíll be prepared, and safe, and clear enough to put on a show, especially with many Covid-fighting procedures in place. Iíve also been preparing marketing for planned Fall shows at the Kranzberg, and that organization seems to be taking the lead in preparing the possibility for events at their spaces. So, again, with their help, Midnight has the best chance to play in September and October, as planned. Speaking of these safety procedures, ZOOM meetings with theatre people and discussions about safety and the challenges of producing is also a regular phenomenon. Due to the shifting winds of this virus, one has to stay current with these meetings, as planning and perception change with the findings on the pandemic.
The other ZOOM phenomenon, of course, is creative expression with the format. I participated in a ZOOM play, a newly written (by Michael Long) Seinfeld episode with the coronavirus as a major character. I played Frank, George Costanzaís father, and while this format is limited for theatre, it was fun to see colleagues and friends, and participate. But there may be another way to do something fun with this, and that is a ZOOM play which simulates a ZOOM meeting. To that end, I wrote one for the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival. My idea is a family ZOOM meeting, titled COME TOGETHER. Iím leaving the production in the capable hands of the Shakespeare Festís people (theyíve already done a few of these), so it will be interesting to see what happens.
So thatís my Quarantine story and Iím sticking to it. I guess Iíll be happy to continue these pursuits for a short while longer. But like everyone else, I pray, ďLETíS GET BACK TO IT!Ē