Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sticks pics

Very busy week. Very good. Very satisfying. Too tired for words, so - more pics from macro fun evening. Normal service should be resumed soonish.

Monday, November 20, 2006




Snap Happy

I bought my little Canon PowerShot A510 earlier this year. I wanted something idiot proof and not too expensive, but with enough features to let me play and experiment. At the time I bought, Canon had brought out an upgrade: more sophisticated, more expensive and more compact; but the original suited my needs. Its larger size was a factor too.

I have a real talent for putting things down without a thought, and just walking away. Sunglasses (taxi).
Prescription glasses (aeroplane).
Keys (tables, shelves, keyholes, bags; in fact just about any surface, transport or container I pass).
Mobile (most of the above).

I have improved with practice, partly as inconvenience, cost and paranoia have taken their toll.
Primarily, though, it's because I have learnt to go for accessories that are bright enough to see on any surface; rattly, so that I can hear them if I shake my bag; and large enough to find by feel when digging down into said bag. If all else fails, we give my mobile a missed call, which is fine, as long as I haven't got it on silent.......

See? Virtually unlosable!

You'll appreciate my difficulties when you see what else I've had in my bag for the last month or so, along with books and files.
May I point out that there was also lipstick and mascara in there last Wednesday and Thursday?

Anyway, I have been having fun with my little A510 in the last few days. Habibi showed me how to use Corel Photo-Paint 12 to crop and resize my rehearsal photos, and how to switch off the automatic flash on my camera, which otherwise goes off indoors in daylight, taking all the yellow tones out of whatever I'm trying to photograph. At the time it was the beautiful bouquet from the Merry Wives cast and crew, so I was getting quite wound up about it!

In addition, we've got guests at the moment, and in addition to being relieved of washing up duties (I've fought! I really have!) I have tonight had a little demo on using the macro setting and adjusting exposure time for close-ups. Oh I've had fun. See next pics.

(Mi casa su casa, chaps. Just as long as you like!)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Charity Performance, Nov 19th, 5.30

There will be a benefit performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor in the Student Lounge of UOWD (University of Wollongong, Dubai) on Sunday November 19th, at 5.30 p.m.

Tickets are 50Dhs, and proceeds will go to Families for Children. FFC is a Canadian-registered charity which provides homes and education for abandoned Indian and Bangladeshi children, and employment for destitute women.

Falstaff intends to seduce Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, in order to get his hands on their husbands' money.

Mistress Ford and Mistress Page have ideas of their own.
'For wives may be merry, yet faithful too.'
Has Falstaff underestimated his quarry?

A jealous husband.
A confident husband.
A justice of the peace.
A prattling Welsh parson.
A hapless young swain.
A bunch of actors enjoying themselves.

More enjoyment.
I don't know.
Kids today.
Don't they know that Shakespeare is difficult, boring, and so five hundred years ago?

Second Night

Not quite as good as the first night, but still a very good show, and an appreciative audience. I'm very happy.

Something that I've noticed about amateur casts doing comedy is that while there might be the odd logistical problem or lost line on the first night, their energy and enthusiasm more than compensates: an amateur company can frequently outshine a professionals with a first night performance.

On the second night, however, a professional company reaps the benefit of a morning lie-in and knowing how to pace themselves for the long haul. Meanwhile, amateurs, who have school, or day jobs, plus homework, plus final rehearsals plus evening performances; begin to realise how tired they are. (Thank goodness for the energy of a youthful student company!)

This fatigue, coupled with absolute commitment to making the second night even better than the first, often produces a very fast show. The actors' concentration on not forgetting or skipping anything can lead them to race through dialogue at a remarkable pace; and a second night can run fifteen minutes shorter than a first night - not a line missed.

The effect, not surprisingly, is to kill the laughs, because the audience is so busy keeping up with the flow of dialogue and action, that they don't have leisure to laugh. Comedy is often intricately plotted, so while they appreciate the jokes, they daren't laugh in case they miss something important!

As the show progresses, of course, the actors and crew start to wonder what's wrong with the audience, because they don't react, and to work harder and harder to compensate. Stressed actors are not funny. The audience begins to feel irritated. Stressed audience.
I speak from experience as an actor, and as a theatre-goer.

Soooo, as my darling cast hurtled into last night's performance like an express train, I had to concentrate hard to follow the dialogue, and I know the script! Oops.

How was the rest of the audience getting on? Applause in all the right places, but not a lot of laughs. Hmm.

After a while I went backstage, to creep around the set and dressing rooms telling everyone to slooooow doooown, especially on the big rhetorical speeches. Back in my seat, the change was apparent immediately (They're so good, these guys. An actor may understand the reason for a change, without being able to process and apply it immediately, but they did. Pleased and Proud, yet again!). As the pace slowed, there was time for thought and emotion to come through, breath to project voice, time to project character, space for the comedy to hit home. People started laughing! Oh good.....
From then on, they were just fine, and the second half absolutely rocked!

It's a basic fact of doing comedy that for the audience to see what had the actors rolling on the floor at the first read-through, then the timing of dialogue and stage business (comic use of props) is critical. Consequently, it often happens that the actors have to rehearse specific gags to the point where they don't feel funny any more: trusting their instincts, and their director, who is, after all, the only one who can see everything that is happening. Thus there comes a point when they need to get out in front of an audience, because the audience's response is the final element in the equation.

So what happens in a successful comedy show?
I think it goes something like this:

Actors act, delivering funny lines and looks, and generally laying down plot. (Exposition, if we're getting technical, but it's the weekend, so no more of that, thank you!)
Audience smiles.
Actors feel happy, warm into roles.
Audience giggles, exchanges glances.
Actors relax and settle into the job in hand, factoring all that lovely audience feedback into their performance.
Audience laughs, catches its breath, keeps on laughing.
Actors expand into the work; build on the rehearsed action; respond more spontaneously to the script, each other, and the audience.
Audience applauds, grinning broadly; retires to bar to compare favourite bits.
Actors and audience return refreshed and eager for more; pick up the second half and go for it.
Show ends.
Audience claps til their hands hurt. Curtains close.
Actors bounce off stage, hot, sweaty, exhausted, and happy.
Audience pours out into the night air, clutching sore sides and aching cheeks, and urging one another not to make them laugh any more because it hurts!

And here's that equation:

Damn good script + well-rehearsed, talented company + appreciative audience = the best fun you can have with your clothes on.

Movies are fun, but in a live performance, the audience counts for a lot more than box office revenue.

Comedy, tragedy, musical, straight drama - it makes no difference: in theatre, the audience and the actors are in it together.

Nothing like it.


As I was logging into Blogger this morning, Baa Baa Blacksheep came up on the 'just updated' roll. There were others on astrophysics for beginners, promoting world peace, etc. etc. but this was the one I went for. Bad decision. Baad decision.

Not because Bea (sole proprietor of said blog, est. Nov. 2nd. 2006) is a knitter. That's what I was hoping for. (Looks good, too.)

But because she's got a link to Interweave Press. Oh no...... And I am NOT taking out any subscriptions or buying any more books this year, because we are leaving here in approximately seven months, twenty-one days, and hours-minutes-and-seconds-subject-to-confirmation.

So frivolous spending on More Stuff is bad.

Check out the goodies in their Knits Holiday Gifts Issue!

(Model Not Included)

I can resist anything but....

Thursday, November 16, 2006

First Night

So go on. Ask me how they did. Ask me, ask me!

So how did they do, Mama Duck?

They did great!
They were wonderful.
My face hurt from smiling so much.
A few hesitant lines, one late entrance and one slightly premature sound cue, but that's it. Commitment , confidence and the joy of getting out there in front of an audience and giving them what they'd come for.
Actors continuing to develop their roles, really using their dramatic technique, enjoying themselves.
Techies so focused and cool.
Lovely play, lovely cast and crew working their socks off to do it justice. Fab.

And they're going to be even better tonight! Wheeeee!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

(He)artistic endeavours

I want to post some rehearsal pics, and show some of these fab costumes, but there's a smattering of school uniforms in every shot except these. Get a load of our Act 5 hoax fairies!

Anyway, we open tomorrow. Yay! Just two nights at our school, but then we've been invited to do a charity performance at Wollongong University on the 19th. Kids on tour!

It's actually a very busy week this week, with three schools that I know of doing, between us, Tom Jones, Merry Wives and West Side Story. And the reason I know this is that Tom Jones himself (of DAA) is a pirate in Treasure Island!

OK. Habibi's doing HMHB's Chicken Masala for dinner - yum!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Quite cheerful to begin with but rapidly going downhill

5 a.m. Still up.

Found this video link, at Google Video UK, courtesy of Desert Lady. There are lots and lots of vids about Dubai - this official promotional one, and others about events and ....traffic.. and other stuff.

Returning home today, I was quite overwhelmed by the sheer density of high-rise buildings on both sides of the Sheikh Zayed Highway. So many stacks of cells, like termite colonies. Vast, crowded, impersonal, inhuman. The stuff of sci-fi movies. You think you're an individual, but you're just clone model #5734985057635645651895-1561654, and you will occupy your place in time and space, surrounded by all the other clones, who also think that they count for something.

I read somewhere that ants, bees and termites have no higher sense beyond the urge to perform their particular function: the benefits of genetic programming. That obviously works for them. The trouble is that the housing model of the termite colony - especially in Dubai, where we have the biggest, tallest, goodgollymissmolliest of everything rising out of the ground 24/7 - brings on existential angst amongst creatures of higher consciousness. Or maybe that's just me. At 5.42 in the sleepless pale a.m.


I expect it will be beautiful when it's finished, but I shan't miss it.
It's four o'clock in the a.m.
and I've been awake since three.
I've read the paper,
been to the loo,
had a cup of tea.
I've mellowed down,
I've breathed deep.
I'll be up at six.
I need to sleep.
But at four o'clock in the a.m.
I'm as awake as I was at three.

Friday, November 10, 2006

I want it!

Confiture de Fraises

Jam. Not the most inspiring word.

Jam. It has about as much charm as 'lump' or 'bag' or any of the other sensible, sturdy Saxon terms that cover the essentials of daily life.

Preserve. Better.
Say it. Preserve. Those long syllables wrapped aound that sensual central 'z' and comfortably smoothed off with that 'v' (with the subtle iconic power of the spoken word.........) can conjure up summer sun, autumn harvest, and pantry shelves laden with potted pleasures.

And stimulate the senses with the prospect of thick butter spread on thicker bread, and a great dollop of gleaming colour; of the sweet sharp smell of sugar and fruit; and the simple, infinitely complex appreciation of that first bite into pure taste, texture and aroma.

And it sounds even better in French.
(If you've tasted French confitures, you'll know why.)
Repetez s'il vous plais: Confiture de fraises...... yeah....

Such pleasures need to be savoured, otherwise, it's just bread and jam - a tasty snack, grabbed on the hoof between one thing and the next. On a busy day I prefer savouries and plenty of water to keep me going, though jam doughnuts and chocolate fudge brownies have an important place on a mad busy day, especially towards the end of the week. This, of course, is all about comfort: nutritional value and the evils of bad-carb highs and lows are of no interest to me by 10 o'clock on a Thursday morning, when the priority is to get to the end of Thursday afternoon!

But when there is time, and time out, good bread and jam is a pleasure in itself, and in my case layered with memories of childhood quince jam from my grandmother's quince bushes, accidental blackberry toffee (and after all, anyone can make blackberry jam) made after a blackberrying expotition with my aunt, and all those sensory pleasures you unthinkingly soak up as a child. The associations are also part of that: Grandmere's quince bushes; Aunt D's visit; and there's more of course, like my parents' blissful discovery of Polish jams (Krakow brand, I think) ..... damson... morello cherry...... gooseberry....

However, I never buy jam. Childhood again. We would have porridge or toast and jam in the mornings, (How many loaves of bread do you suppose seven children can go through at one sitting?) a main meal mid-day, and plenty more toast in the evenings; as an adult, my pattern involves a morning refuelling stop with egg sandwich or muesli and yoghurt, a turkey and cheese sandwich from the gas station for lunch, and something fab cooked by Habibi in the evenings. Moreover, since my once fairly trim rectangle has subsided into an increasingly squishy pear-shape (sigh) hot buttered toast with lashings of jam - What's the point if you skimp? - is not a good idea! I know why French Women Don't Get Fat, and one of these days I'll do something about it, but for now............. sad, I know.....

Anyway, it's been a very tiring fortnight (very satisfying though) with another ten days to go before touchdown, and here it is, a bright Friday morning seen through a weary grey haze. And we have Bonne Maman Strawberry Preserve......

The latest association, therefore, is between the pleasures of a brand new pot of, not strawberry jam, but Bonne Maman Strawberry Preserve, with its red gingham patterned lid, that satisfying thwuk as the vacuum seal gives, and all the subsequent comfort of a perfect treat after an exhausting week - and my darling husband, who has not only put up with plaster of paris, zombie wife, and zombie wife's complete domestic hopelessness in the fortnight before a school production (every year for five years, though sometimes it's papier mache or wire or the sewing machine rather than p-o-p) ----------- yes, my Habibi, who brought home a pot of confiture de fraises especially for me, with love.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Merry Wives - 10 days to go

We're a little over a week from performance, and I'm surprisingly laid back about it. There's still a way to go, but the kids have done a very good job on those lines - the speaking, the understanding and the learning - and have got to the stage where they get creative, and start developing ideas that are entirely their own. Characters are coming to life with the energy I've been driving for, but the perceptions, ideas, movements and mannerisms are coming from the actors. Now that I've convinced them that their scripts are not extensions of their arms, their feet are not nailed to the stage, and that they have to play with their roles to discover their possibilities, they are beginning to fly with it. I love this stage!

I will confess to early doubts about the practicalities and merits of doing an almost complete Shakespeare production with students who had little experienceof theatre, and less of Shakespeare; and that's before we get onto the issue of English as a second language for several fourteen-year-olds in the cast. Reader, my doubts have been pushed aside by the enthusiasm and sheer determination of these lovely people. Not a wastrel or drama queen among them, but a great deal of talent and good will.

We had a full run yesterday - all in school at the weekend from 6 to 9p.m. They were obviously tiring towards the end, but kept right on going. We had another full run today, now that we know we can! They're relieved (as am I) that there's no rehearsal tomorrow because I have a meeting, and that Tuesday is the preliminary costume parade. They get to fix dodgy lines or cues before the next rehearsal on Wednesday, and the technical rehearsal on Thursday: I get to work with a group in class to fine-tune some work that's half-way to excellent; and oversee some fiddly costume details. I have not brought work home tonight. All I'm going to do is knit, watch some TV if there's anything worth watching (Dharma and Greg was the one with Penn & Teller, when Teller was Mr Boots - deeply wierd!) and have a warm bath followed by an early night.

Today I officially moved our open air show into the theatre. It's a shame, but the temperature is not falling, and the humidity has picked up again and stayed high for a week. We drip! And flies love dripping humans. I really did swallow a fly last week. OMG!

The kids have braved it all, but this is supposed to be theatre, not circuit training, so it's time to get realistic. The flats are being moved inside at 7.30 tomorrow morning, and the tickets are being re-done without reference to the Annexe courtyard. I'm sure the senior students will be relieved too, although they didn't hesitate when I asked if we could use their Common Room as our dressing room, and run music through their new stereo and fab speakers. They usually organise pizza in the interval, as a fund raiser for their prom, and this will also be less hassle inside than out.

The good news is that from seating 200 a night, we can now accommodate 500, so tomorrow I shall put the word out to other schools. Some will come for pleasure, others because it's Shakespeare and A Good Thing, and others because they have to write critical reviews as part of their coursework and at 15Dhs, this is a hell of a lot cheaper than Madinat Jumeirah. As long as they come!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Green Fingers

If you've never had a patch of soil of your own, these pictures might not mean much; but these little sprouts are causing us great excitement. First thing in the morning, we're checking the balcony. As soon as I get in from work, we have an update. It's terrific!

Habibi has never bothered with compost and greenstuff before, presumably because I was making enough mess for everyone, but this year I'm in a deep sulk about (^#@$%&*&^$) mealy bugs, plus we're leaving soon, so I haven't bothered. Consequently, our green and pleasant balcony was reduced to this for months.

In fact, less than this, until Habibibi bought fresh compost......

First there were the Basil Babies.

Then there was the coriander......and the carrots... and the onions.

Then he sprouted some supermarket potatoes and bunged them in, and now look at two days's growth!

Now, he doesn't even have to try. Look what the ginger did as soon as he turned his back.

Anything grows.

The weekend

Today's plan was to sleep til I woke, then go into school to go through Wardrobe for costumes to supply the gaps in our production.

That's the great thing about working in a school with a history of shows: plenty of costumes to be recycled individually or in sets.

In my mind's eye, I see the fairy costumes from our 2001 production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream': that production was very different in style from our 'Merry Wives' - and it was about actual fairies, not a bunch of jokers dressed up for a giggle - but the fairy costumes are the right colour, length and weight for adaptation for our motley assembly, so that will do nicely.

We're also using the Wicked Witch costume from last year's 'Oz*'; a veil from the 2002 'Arabian Nights'; the Blue Fairy from 'Pinocchia' (where we didn't have a strong enough boy for the lead, and cast a girl instead - and she was super), and some staff donations (our Expat Leaving collection).

Howsoever, having slept til I woke, at 9.45 - yay! - I plonked myself down on the sofa with a cup of tea and A Hat Full of Sky, sequel to The Wee Free Men, which I read last week, beginning reluctantly, and only for research purposes. I have to tell you, though: A Hat Full of Sky made me laugh and cry. Crivens!

The difference between this and the clever wise-crackery of Terry Pratchett's early books (as I remember them) is remarkable. Reading them, I could feel the writer working hard at being funny and clever; and there were times when the characters - however sympathetic or imaginative - read as vehicles for the tongue-in-cheek allusions and puns. And it irritated me.

Art catches you unawares, then draws you in through successive layers of meaning. (Note subjective opinion handed down as Truth. Don't you love blogging?) It gives you the swan (....just popping down to Cliche Central for a moment.......) gliding effortlessly on the surface of the water, not the rapid, urgent paddle of webbed feet, and a big sign with a pointing finger urging everyone to looklooklook at the cleverness of the illusion. Rembrandt and Monty Python don't belong on the same page except in MAD comics.

On reflection, I think that my irritation with the early Discworld books may have arisen from the day job. Habibi used to have a similar problem when we went out: he used to be an interior designer for a brewery chain, with the result that he could never go to a pub without analysing the use of space, texture, colour etc. Me, after a day spent recognising and guiding effort, encouraging potential and celebrating strengths in drama students, I just want to dive into a good book, and go with the tide - not get knocked back into teacher mode! There is also the fact that I know I generally try too hard to be entertaining company, so I recognise the signs and it winds me up! Gotta get me one o' they sense of humour thingies.

Anyway, I think that A Hat Full of Sky is superb: the work of a man who knows his craft; a writer of wit, intelligence and compassion.

I mentioned Philip Pullman a while back. Comparisons are odious, as they say. TP never set out to be PP, and vice versa. I'm enjoying both, and bouncing ideas that both have stirred. I really enjoy watching films, but I don't think you can beat the experience a good book. Riches for the mind and the spirit. Wintersmith next week!

As for the plan (Lie-In, School, Wardrobe) I'm not going anywhere today, because I am whacked. Body, mind and spirit. I need a break!

So today I'm going to
  • put on some music (because there's no intelligent talk radio here, except the BBC World Service, and we get too much interference for satisfactory listening)
  • potter about restoring our living room from workshop to home (sweeping up plaster of paris and odd bits of wire and plastic, so we can walk barefoot or sit down without first checking all surfaces) pick a favourite vid that I've not watched for a while - probably Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe, which I taped in about 1995!
  • and get on with knitting Habibibaba's birthday scarf. When I asked him what colour he'd like, he said dark brown and cornflower blue, to match the socks he was wearing at the time, and realised that he liked (male!). Unfortunately, I couldn't find the right brown or the right blue, or double-knit wool. Argh! What did I expect in a place where it's 30-something degrees most of the year round? (Meanwhile it's currently 6 degrees in London.) So here's a lovely blue, and yes it's acrylic, but it's ribbed, soft, and will be warm when I've added another 49 inches.....better get cracking!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Herne the Hunter

In The Merry Wives of Windsor' Sir John Falstaff is persuaded to disguise himself as Herne the Hunter, for a midnight assignation at Herne's Oak, in Windsor Great Park.

The original Herne the Hunter was the favourite gamekeeper of Richard II, but as ghostly Leader of the Wild Hunt he had the head and horns of a stag.

This is how Shakespeare had Mistress Page introduce the hoax:

Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg'd horns;
And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,
And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.
You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know
The superstitious idle-headed eld
Receiv'd, and did deliver to our age,
This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.

I'll come back to Herne another day, but my immediate interest lay in making a head, after the one I saw in a shop turned out to be impossible to adapt - which made me feel better about not being able to afford it anyway! It strikes me as quite insane that toy shops stock stylish (really, not bad at all) gimmickry (a karaoke deer head?!) at 899 AED. How much?

Anyway, I'll record my method here in case I, or anyone else, should want to do something similar in future. (I can't take the real thing with me when we move!)

The head has to be big, stable, and as light as possible, because the actor who will wear it has to move quite vigorously in it, and even lie down.
I started with some pictures, an idea involving chicken wire, coiled wire, Modrock (a roll of gauze impregnated with plaster of paris), and a collection of potential raw materials.

Also conventional and long-nosed pliers, tin snips or wire cutters. The long-nose pliers are useful for widening holes made with the carpet needle, while the conventional pliers give you enough grip to pull the needle through plastic.

Some defunct headphones provided a useful base, and the empty plastic bottles were rigid, thin enough to pierce with a carpet needle (so I could thread wire and string through), and light. They smelt good too!

Once the basic shape was assembled and wired, I went out looking for tree trimmings. I found two that could be trimmed back to a manageable weight and length, and tied them on with string.

This is Modrock, cut to length, plus water to dip it in.

Squeeze out the excess water, then lay/wrap the strip on the head base, and smooth in place.

Put out to dry! This was the night before Hallowe'en.

At this point my deer head looked more like a bicycle saddle, so I used layers and rolls of cut bubblewrap to bulk it up, and then added another layer of Modrock. I left the underside unplastered because it really does set like rock, which is not the ideal material for a headdress!

I also added ribbons of bubblewrap to broaden the antlers, plus Modrock, and a coat of paint - mixing odds and ends of coloured emulsion to get a good brown. In the end, the earphones didn't work because, while they are handy anchors for a chinstrap, the balance was wrong, plus they muffled the actor's hearing!

I gave the head a coat of brown paint, but left it to Habibi to turn the base into a recogniseable deer head. Pretty fab, hm? Of course, it took me a while to realise to realise that because of the way I'd aligned the antlers, there's nowhere too put the ears.........

All I have to do now is make it comfortable and stable for the actor, and find some brown fur fabric for a cloak. I've found black, leopard, tiger, zebra and white, but no plain tan or beige. If anyone can direct me to a shop I'd be very grateful!


Q. What do you call a deer with no eyes?
A. No idea!