Archive for the 'Icons and Superstars' Category
Blade runner is the movie based on the novel by Phillip K Dick, âDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheepâ
Rutger Hauer plays Roy Batty â an android, with a limited lifespan,(he dies in the scene above), but who nevertheless possesses emotion and self-awareness â Hauerâs role made him a cult icon.
I remember walking towards Hauer in a backstreet in London, some years ago. He was magneticâŠbig and tall, with piercing ice-blue eyes. I thought he was like a giant, brutal Paul NewmanâŠperfect casting.
Synthetic life is now upon us. Only yesterday the press proclaimed the creation of an artificial reproducing cellâŠartificial DNA, typed on a computer and inserted into the hollowed out shell of a bacteriaâŠ
Is it right or wrong? Is it simply inevitable that science will finally be able to create life â intelligent, self-aware life â from scratch?
Or does possible distaste depend on a localized GodâŠwho does Godâs work
What aboutÂ a universal âGodâ which includes ourselves and everything â plants, animals, rocks âÂ even âsyntheticâ lifeâ.
If we are part of that âAllâ, does that allow us to âplayâ God?
I think humanity will inevitably create synthetic living creatures from the living cells that scientists have just begun to create. We have always made images of ourselves and our fellow creatures â perhaps reaching for theÂ immortality that Rutger Hauerâs Android desired.
Will they go to Heaven when they die? Will they re-incarnate?
Or will they just be the children of a lesser god?*
*Children of a Lesser God is the title of a play by Mark Medoff
Craig Price as Jesus in Bill Kenwright’s Production of Jesus Christ Superstar
~ I have always been fascinated with the characters of Jesus and Mary, so when the chance to help to direct a new actor in the role for the National Tour of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s âJesus Christ Superstarâ came along, I naturally grabbed it with both hands.
In order to prepare, I turned first to the Bible and re-read the accounts of Jesusâ brief ministry. The New Testament seemed to exhibit the signs of censorship and âspinâ. Was Jesus really like my childhood hero, Marshall Matt Dillon in the television series Gunsmoke? If Matt was Jesus with a Stetson on his head and a star on his chest, did Mary Magdalene work behind the counter of the Last Chance Saloon, in the guise of Kitty the barmaid? A celibate hero of fairplay and humanity and his platonic relationship with a tarnished woman of the world?
Tim Rice seemed to think so:
Judas: âItâs not that I object to her profession. But she doesnât fit in well with what you do and say.â
Times have changed and todayâs action heroâs are more vulnerable, flawed, lusty and three dimensional than my pure and innocent stereotypes of the 1950âs. Could the canonical gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, be presenting a cleaned-up version of the Jesus-story? Could the New Testament be simply an authorized biography, compiled and edited for the purpose of evangelistic recruitment and the promotion of the central figure of Jesus as being supernatural and divine.
When I have the choice of an âauthorisedâ or âunauthorisedâ biography, I invariably choose the âunauthorisedâ version. The other may have been censored and airbrushed to project an approved image of the personality in question. This is usually for the benefit of that person and the organisation surrounding them.
âLet me try to cool down your face a bit.â Mary sang and glided across the stage, through the excited apostle-dancers. âOh Mary, that is goodâ Helen the actress playing Mary, hugged Jesus close and lovingly, as she massaged his forehead with ointment. I worried â was the scene going too far? Outside the Bristol Hippodrome, Christian fundamentalists were picketing the entrance. Would their presence increase or decrease ticket sales?
Was I wrong in thinking about money? What about the reviews? I compromised, âCraig love â can you stop looking so turned on?â Mary giggled. Suddenly Craig launched himself at Mary âStop it Craig!â blurted Helen. Somewhere underneath the mass of white robes and long wig that had been Jesus, her giggles had turned to shrieks of laughter. The apostles sniggered and the bellowing laughter of Ciaiphas echoed in the wings. âOk guys â letâs have a break.â I went for a short walk in the fresh air to mull things over. Standing on the theatre steps, I was confronted by an unhappy protestor. âThis is blasphemyâ he said. As I walked around the theatre, I thought about the angry, unhappy faces and how they contrasted with the hilarity I had just witnessed on stage. Surely Jesus had laughed and teased Mary and the apostles? I made a mental note to find places in the production for a laughing Jesus.
I realised that Jesus had become a symbol and a bridge of belief that for those outside the theatre was being threatened. Yet during the evening performances, other Christians were being moved to tears and even non-believers were being made to think twice about their discarded beliefs.
It had started to rain, so I pushed through the earnest crowds and walked down the central aisle of the theatre stalls. Jesus and Judas were sharing holiday photos with Annas and Ciaiphas. âOk, Letâs pick up from where we stoppedâ Craigâs face became âvisionaryâ, Alistair and Steve retreated to their high balcony on stage right, to look down on them as the ominous Ciaiphas and Annas and Helen once more became the loving âredeemedâ Mary. Well almost; âHelen! Put those photos away!â.
Even though Jesus Christ Superstar is about Jesus the man, the transformation became two dimensional. I remembered Jimmy Porter in John Osborneâs last play ,DĂ©jĂ vu and his cynical remark on society âStereotypes allâ Even John Osborne became the stereotype of the foppish country gentleman in his last days.
What I mean about two-dimensional is the physical appearance of Jesus and Mary. As you can see in the illustration at the bottom of this post, there is an expectation that Jesus will be tall, slim and with a handsome aesthetic face. Jesus should also have white robes and preferably blue eyes.
Mary the Prostitute: Mary Magdalene has become so linked with the prostitute in the bible (although that is not certain - I will write about this soon) that she is seen as having dark hair and is usually dressed in red (see illustrations at top and bottom of article). A squat, swarthy Jesus would not do - neither would a plain studious woman fit the public expectation in the part of Mary.
Jesus the symbol and the stereotype: The protestors did not want Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webberâs Jesus to be a three-dimensional man. Superstar or not â to have Jesus as a man, would imply that Jesus would have had human failings, as well as his sanctity and divinity
Judas sings: âIf you strip away the Myth from the Manâ âYouâve started to believe the things they say of you. You really do believe this talk of God is trueâ
Later the spirit, (or is it the soul?) of Judas, descends a staircase (from Heaven?) and admonishes Jesus:
âEvery time I look at you I donât understand, how you let the things you did get so out of hand. Youâd have managed better if you had it planned. Why did you choose such a strange time and such a strange land. If youâd come today, you would have reached the whole nation. Israel in BC had no mass-communicationâ
Mass communication or not, the life of Jesus had spread rapidly throughout the east. Jesus became a prophet of Islam; the Jewish God YHWA became also Allah and Jesus ascended as a symbol to be found in Tao and Buddhist philosophy. In a sense the spirit of Jesus was released from his earthly body at the moment of physical death and is still radiating outward, touching and affecting people in such a personal way, that he is represented as Asian, Caucasian, Oriental, Negroid. That is the Spirit of Jesus
But what of the Soul of Jesus and is that different from the Spirit?
In the beautiful translation of the Gnostic Gospel of Mary Magdalene by Jean-Yves Leloup, Mary receives a vision of the resurrected Jesus:
Then I said to him: Lord, when someone meets you in a Moment of vision, is it through the soul (psyche) that they see, or is it through the Spirit (Pneuma)?
I doubt if the Gospel of Mary Magdalene will ever be accepted into the church establishment. The thought that Jesus may have been a vision and not re-incarnated flesh and blood may be shattering and casts immediate doubt on the account in the Gospel of John (and only in the Gospel of John) of âdoubtingâ Thomas placing his fingers into the wounds.
But Jesus answers Mary: It is neither through the soul nor the spirit, but the nous between the two which sees the vision, and it is this whichâŠ.
(My father had the “Nous”) - http://soulmerlin.com/almanack/?cat=30
Tantalisingly, the next four pages are missing. Could they have been censored? Would the revelations of the supposed Jesus-vision have destroyed the symbol and therefore the stereotype Jesus the early Christians sought to create?
Certainly the next pages after the omission resemble the journey of the soul toward the light, as found in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Perhaps the Gospel of Mary Magdalene was written by a Taoist monk, himself reacting to the story of Jesus and integrating it to his beliefs.
Nevertheless what follows is stupendous in its spirituality and mystery:
âI left the world with the aid of another world; a design was erased, by virtue of a higher design. Henceforth I travel toward Repose, where time rests in the Eternity of Time; I go now into Silence.â Having said all this, Mary became silent, for it was in silence that the Teacher spoke to her.
That silence is something that every Spiritualist and Quaker; every monk and nun who has taken a vow of silence will understand. Only when the relentless chatter that goes on, both inside and outside of a personâs head, has been silenced, will the âstill small voiceâ be heard.
Directing Craig as Jesus, involved finding the spirit of Jesus within the man. As Elaine Pagels says so clearly in her book âBeyond Beliefâ, in the conflict between the Gospels of John and Thomas:
âFor what John rejects as religiously inadequate â the conviction that the divine dwells as âlightâ within all beings â is much like the hidden âgood newsâ that Thomasâs gospel proclaims. Many Christians today, who read the Gospel of Thomas, assume at first that it is simply wrong and deservedly called heretical. Yet what Christians have disparagingly called Gnostic and heretical sometimes turn out to be forms of Christian teaching that are merely unfamiliar to us â unfamiliar precisely because of the active and successful opposition of Christians such as John.
So Craig and I looked at the Queran (Koran), the Holy Bible and also the Taoist “Guru” Osho, who in his book “The Pathless Path” states that the teachings of Jesus indicate that he must have spent some time in the East - strange but not impossible as there are three “lost” years just before Jesus commenced his teaching.
The lyrics of Tim Rice also give a thoughtful slant on Jesus “the Man”
“I only want to say, If there is a way
Take this cup away from me, cause I don’t want to taste it’s poison
Feel it burn me, I have changed, I’m not the same as when I started.
Then I was inspired, now I’m sad and tired…”
For me, the vunerability of Jesus is as important as his Divinity. I can identify with him as a human being and through him, rather like a lens, I can perceive something of “The Light.”
I can accept the right of the Christians outside of the theatre to protest and try to stop the performance â but at the same time, when a belief becomes so set and rigid that the believer attempts to stop others from following their own pathway, that belief becomes frozen, petrified and without the prospect of further growth and development.
Oh yes â Craig and Helen were
wonderful as Jesus and Mary.
ps - that’s not Craig and Helen above, but an illustration of the stereotypical perception of Jesus and Mary. Now go and look again at the photo at the top of this post.
Â Is the Queen a demi-god? Certainly she is a strong woman, judging by her reaction to Annie Leibovitz, who was photographing her at the time. Also the other sequence of her, striding down the corridor at high speed, whilst remonstrating with her Lady in Waiting, showed a woman, who at 80yrs, possessed the strength and fitness of a young woman â neither the robe, nor the poor footman seemed designed for such a high velocity. The whole thing seemed to have something of Jesus throwing the merchants out of the temple, or indeed Elvis aiming a hail of bullets at an unfortunate television receiver.
Ladies First however â
Was the BBCâs Blunder only a smokescreen?
In my opinion Yes. I personally think that it was a very deft piece of âattention deflecting.â Amongst the hand-wringing apologies and indignant press reporting (even Helen Mirren gave a little poke at the Beebâs misdemeanour), I could see the image of a little boy singing, âThe King is in his altogether, his altogether, his altogetherâŠâ there he stood in my mind, a copy of Hans Christian Anderson under his armâŠ
You see, I donât think it matters one jot if the Queen was filmed walking into or out of the photo session. It is of little consequence to me, if she was remonstrating with the Lady in Waiting or Annie Leibovitz or if she was going to, or coming from, the photo session; the almost amazing thing was that she âlost itâ and had a âgoâ at someone â (and this is the important point) - whilst she was being filmed. The double-decker hamburger was the sleight of hand, smoke and mirrors furore that was subsequently presented to the public.
Like a conjurer pulling focus from the hand that would produce the rabbit, the media hyped-up the âdisgraceâ of getting the sequences the wrong way round. So much emphasis was put on the âfactâ that the Queen had been wrongly represented by the BBC, that the actual dialogue between âLillibetâ and Annie was in some way vilified and lumped together with the Beebâs âmisdemeanour and therefore the âuntruthâ of it all.
âNo, little boy. The King IS wearing his clothes â IâM telling you!â
Consider the exchanges:
Us photographer Annie Leibovitz looks at the Queen in her full regalia and states: âI think it will look better without the crown, because the garter robe is so extrâŠâ
Before Ms Leibovitz can finish, âLillibetâ appears, straightens her back so quickly that her head raises by around 3â; she fixes the Lennon-spectacled Annie L with an icy stare and retorts (indicating her robe)
âLess dressy?â â âWhat do you think this is?â
Later (or earlier) the Queen berates her Lady-in Waiting, whilst striding down a corridor (or up a corridor â does it really matter):
âIâm not changing anything. Iâve had enough dressing like this thank you very much.â
Notice how, in the corridor sequence, the Queen punctuates her anger with a double-handed gesture of rejection, the cut of her arm movements separating her from everything belowâŠ
http://news.sky.com/skynews/article/0,,30100-1274866,00.html( footage taken from a new BBC documentary entitled A Year With The Queen.)
Reverse the sequences; does it change or falsify the fact that the Queen had indeed, âflung a wobblerâ?
The Queenâs full title in the United Kingdom is Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.
She is a Symbol
Is there no room for Lillibet?
Jesus is a spirit, a guide and a prophet in many religions, Christianity; Judaism, Islam all embrace him. Osho the Taoist guru even considered that his parables and teachings indicated that he must have travelled in the East. But what about Jesus the man? Did Jesus ever laugh? I donât mean a gentle smile; I mean a great throbbing guffaw â a laugh that would bring tears of mirth down his face and catch his followers up in a burst of Joy. Take a look at the pictures below; do they offend or delight you?
Jesus is the Son of God
He is a symbol.
Is there no room for Jesus the man?
no time ago
or else a life
walking in the dark
i met Christ
Jesus my heart
and lay still
while he passed as
close as Iâm to you
made of nothing
âMy God my God, why hast thou forsaken me?â
That for me is the moment of gestalt; a flash of imperfection that touches me, and like my own father when I first saw him falter - The moment I can love him.
It could be considered that we create everything. Many years ago, I used to choreograph for the âTheatre of the Deafâ, a professional group of deaf actors. I remember an enthusiastic, very hippy-like girl, who had come over from the States and attached herself to us.
Koo Stark was enthusiastic and warm. I remember her visiting Liz and I and racing my young son up a small hill; then having coffee at our small flat in Addlestone Surrey. I liked Koo a lot and got on with her in an easy wayâŠ
A few years later, I arrived back in England, after working in Sweden, to see posters of young Koo as âEmilyâ.
This elevation of a friend to celebrity status has occurred many times in my life; the latest candidate for elevation is Lee Mead as the new âWest End Josephâ. It always produces a slight distancing effect in me. It as if my âordinaryâ friend has become in some way more âspecialâ than an ordinary person. A sort of âGod-Lightâ has begun to shine.
An artist friend of mine remembers seeing Paul McCartney and Jane Asher, standing in the foyer of a London theatre. Trevor later remarked to me that âThere was a light around them. They seemed to glowââŠ
Scrolling forward to early 1986 and I again found myself working with Koo. Koo was appearing at the (aptly named) Duke of Yorkâs Theatre in St Martinâs Lane at around the time that Prince Andrew, who was previously her boyfriend, married Sarah âFergieâ Ferguson. It had been arranged that I would do some âmovementâ classes with Koo. No matter how much I tried to recapture our easy friendship of our âTheatre of the Deafâ days, something within me kept a little distanceâŠ.because she had become âdifferentâ and âspecialâ â or perhaps I had created the separation?>
Elvis Presley is depicted on an altar candle in author Gregory Reeceâs collection of Elvis art. Reece, a native of Limestone County who now lives in Montevallo, says Elvis is a popular religious figure in todayâs culture.
One of Elvisâs favourite television programmes was âMonty Pythonâs Flying Circusâ and his favourite character was the Eric Idle âNudge nudge Wink winkâ sketches. The concept of Elvis rolling about at the antics of John Cleese and Co, are somehow at odds with the image of Elvis the KingâŠ
I remember sitting in the BBC canteen, during a break in recording âThe Old Curiosity Shopâ. I was around 18yrs and totally overawed by the ânamesâ I was eating with. I tried to appear relaxed and friendly with the âspecial onesâ Michelle Dotrice (later to become Frank Spencerâs âBettyâ), Patrick Troughton (a wonderful actor, later to become the second Dr. Who), and Anton Rogers, who I idolized, largely because when I turned up on the first day of rehearsals, managed to make me feel at home by making me a cup of tea.
There we all sat in the busy self-service area at lunch-break (me and the stars!) Anton and I (wow!) went to get the âaftersâ - I chose apple pie and custard. I remember thinking how strange it was to have the custard in a glass jar with a metal screw cap and a spout. Nevertheless undaunted, I poured the yellow contents over my portion of apple pie and went back with my idol to the dinner table. I really adore apple pie and custard, but despite Michelleâs smile and Antonâs âIs it ok?â I found it very difficult to eat my portion. Was I Overawed by their âspecial nessâ? I undoubtedly was, but at the same time, itâs very difficult to rehearse after consuming apple-pie laced with half a jar of salad cream.
And yesâŠI did eat it (all of it)
And what of the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene?
The Gospel of Philip records: [âŠ] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples [âŠ]. They said to him âWhy do you love her more than all of us?â The Savior answered and said to them,â Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness.â
Whatever the relationship, it would seem that Jesus regarded Mary as of possessing a high spiritual evolution, higher than the male disciples and perhaps close to that of Jesus himself.
Were the Disciples Jealous?
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene states:
Peter said to Mary:
âSister, we know that the Teacher loved you Differently from other women. Tell us whatever you remember Of any words he told you. Which we have not yet heard.â
So far so good, when Mary answers however, does Peterâs green eye of jealousy flash?
And Peter added, âHow is it possible that the Teacher talked in this manner with a woman, about secrets of which we ourselves are ignorant?â
How about this one ladiesâŠ
âMust we change our customs and listen to this woman? Did he really choose her and prefer her to us?â
I am now in Da Vinci Code territory and it is easy to see why Dan Brownâs book has been such a success, even though the discovery of the Gnostic Gospels in Nag Hammadi occurred back in 1946. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene was actually unearthed in Cairo in 1896, some fifty years before. So why has their success been so long coming? My âtakeâ on it is that as a society, we are no longer so subservient to our âbettersâ. We now have a dual need:
We need a Symbol to aspire to â to be greater than us - even supernatural
We need to see that the symbol relates to us as human beings; that the symbol is personified as human - but without failings â In other words âa perfect personâ
We cannot tolerate absolute perfection; are as a society becoming increasingly secular and like to see a tiny glimpse of âhuman emotionâ on occasion â Jesus throwing the merchants and tradespeople out of the temple is an image that should give our Queen a certain re-assurance.
Now I think it can be seen more clearly, why the BBC went to such lengths to smokescreen the Queenâs betrayal of her natural anger. (Perhaps the ghost of little Lillibet had made an untimely appearance and smiling at the little boy with the Hans Christian Anderson book - just âwent for itâ). But the spirit of Lillibet is too human to be a symbol and must stay quietly in Elizabethâs heart. Her Majesty need only have answered âIâd prefer to keep it onâ with a slight and meaningful smile and all would have been well, but no, King Georgeâs strong spirited daughter shone through and in doing so, became for a glorious instant, the same as us all. (and I loved her for it.)
âTheyâre just like us really,â Christina my mother used to say. Well they are and they arenât. We need our symbols and our leaders and we do need a touch of their human roots, but we also need to know that they are different; that they are something more than us.âŠand so we help make them into âsomething moreâ.
(woe betide them if they fail)âtill the next time
Peter Lawrence (Jacob) Gary Martin (Pharaoh) Sian Evans (Mrs Potiphar) Karen King (dancer) Jackie Marks (Narrator)
So I turned on the TV and there was Lee! Lee used to be the Pharaoh in our tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. But could this handsome young performer, with all of the attributes of a âstar to beâ be really âour Leeâ â yes, of course it was. It was just that seeing him in the âpromoâ of Any Dream Will Do, made him somehow extra-special.
There is a sort of conceptual phenomena that happens when someone becomes famous. It is as though they grow in the reflection of the power that the public gives them â as if the desire of the public, makes them special and in some way more than they are.
Now donât get me wrong. Lee is one of the nicest people I have worked with, is just as handsome as you see on the screen and has a voice to die for. Nothing you have heard so far, shows the range and the sheer power of that young manâs voice. Itâs just that he will soon become more of a modern demi-god than just a really nice, talented guy. I expect everyone from Elvis to Robbie Williams has experienced what it is to become an icon.
But then, what do we all do when we have built an icon? We demolish it of course â or try to. Perhaps an inbuilt envy comes into play â
Q: How many theatricals does it take to change a lightbulb?
A= Ten. One to screw in the bulb and nine to stand around and say âI could have done that!â
(most couldnât do what Lee does â Good Luck Mate!)
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a total phenomena. I have been working on it, since around 1977, and I really do think it is impossible to âdateâ it.
It has the combination of the most spiritual lyrics (thanks Tim Rice) and the most infectious tunes (thanks ALW). Look at the lyric below from Any Dream Will Do â It could be the motto of every clairvoyant:
âI closed my eyes
Drew back the curtain
To see for certain
What I thought I knewâ
But then, nobody listens to the lyrics of a pop-song. Do they?
The Passport and the Pendulum
Itâs difficult to keep things together on tour. When I pack things away at the end of the week and if Iâm not careful, things go into my car and are not seen again for several months. Equally, if I put a newspaper down by my armchair, it will have been joined in a few hours, by a coffee-mug, two restaurant bills, a taxi receipt and an application to join the local Conservative party, (together with an old sweet, a pair of broken reading glasses with a piece of wire to hold them on, a bar of soap and a piece of string. Iâm not kidding because Iâve just looked beside my arm-chair â and itâs true!)
Anyway â what Iâm leading up to, is my forthcoming trip to the States. Iâm going over there to choreograph and co-direct a musical. (Iâll let you know what is, when I know I can tell you what it is!)
âCan you send me a copy of your passportâ quoth the on-line producer.
âOf courseâ I replied, with an uneasy feeling that my passport might have got (sorry America) âgottenâ mislaid.
Well, I spent around a day and a half, looking for my key to the greater world, but to no avail. I tried my grey suitcase first, where I keep most of my âpapersâ but no luck. Then I emptied every draw and cupboard in the house â but the passport remained hidden.
The next stage was to empty the car. Books, clothes, lists, more pieces of string and endless black bin liners, full of letters, disposable razors, nail clippers â I found three, but I can never find one when I need to cut my nails. Alas, no passport was to be found amongst the rubble.
In times of trouble, I go to the kitchen and make a cup of tea or coffeeâŠ
I was standing looking out of the kitchen window, when AndyM gave me a call. âSo why donât you use âdiviningâ for it?â said Andy. Andy went onto describe his divining skills:
âI get two metal coat hangers and straighten them out. Then I bend one end of each one in an L shape and holding them in both fists, I walk around the garden with them; when they move together, I know that something is below ground that my body reacts to.â
Andyâs contention was that we may be sensitive to different things; some people would detect metal (coins â even nailclippers!) and others would detect water. I went on to explain to Andy that I had done this for years, with a crystal pendulum, but that (guess what) I had not seen it for months and had no idea where it wasâŠ
After Andyâs call and another cup of coffee, I went back to work. There were still a couple of bin-liners in the car, so I went to get them. As I was struggling through the front door with the second one, I head a âclink-thudâ behind me.
My long lost pendulum had fallen out of the bin-liner and was glistening on the front door step! I smiled as I picked it up and went back into the houseâŠ
I tried the front room first. âIs my passport here?â I said out-loud, holding the pendulum over a heap of papers. The pendulum seemed to think for a moment and then swung in an anti-clockwise directed â no luck there.
The next port of call was the middle room. âIs my passport here?â produced the same response, no matter what pile of ârubbishâ I held it over. At last there was only the grey suitcase that I had searched through first, a day and a half before. âIs my passport here?â I intoned, with a sinking feeling. The pendulum swung clockwise for the first time.
Yes, it was there!
âtill the next time
I first met Sir Lawrence Olivier when he was patron of the (1)National Theatre of the Deaf, which I was attached to as resident choreographer. It was around 1970 and Sir Lawrence, his triumphant performance as the Moor in Othello not that long behind him, was sitting around half-way back in the stalls, intently watching our performance of âThe Odysseyâ.
Sir Lawrence was also battling cancer, but it was hard to tell because he was so strong. The company was just turning professional, thanks to the actors union Equity granting membership to the deaf actors and actresses. In those days, Equity ran a âclosed shopâ; a âcatch 22â situation, where you had to have an Equity card to get a job, but could only get a card, by having a job - if you see what I mean. This resulted in all sorts of schemes and âwheezesâ; would-be professionals would take jobs as strippers, alternative comedians, club singers etc, in order to obtain the coveted card. Not only that, but a probationary period of around 40 weeks, then had to be achieved, before the new member could take a lead part, or a West End role. I can remember that the Hexagon Theatre in Reading, had to give up their plan of having the glamour model Samantha Fox, as the lead in their Christmas pantomime because she lacked the little red card that looked so like the little red driving licences we had back then..
But back to Sir Lawrence. Night after night he would sit and watch our performances, his spectacles glinting in the half-light of the auditorium. I often wondered why he was so involved - after all as a Patron, a simple annual visit would have been enough. I eventually came to the conclusion that he really was âtakenâ by our use of âsign-mimeââŠ
The relationship of Sign-mime to normal deaf sign language parallels the relationship of poetry to prose. The symbolic everyday deaf-sign gestures are simplified and then made more visually beautiful and expressive. As a young performer, I was fascinated with deaf sign-language and found I had a natural ability for it. I expect it had something to do with my expressive dance and mime training, much of it from the fundamental training I had received from the work of Rudolf Laban. Even today, some of our performances are âsignedâ by a visiting interpreter, for the benefit of deaf people in the audience. One of our regular âsignersâ is (2) Paul Whittaker. Paul is profoundly deaf, but has enough residual hearing and skill, not only to complement the performance, but also to enhance it.
Sir Lawrence watched and watched, hunched forward in his seat, in full concentration. His relationship with the deaf actors was also very good, but one remarked that, if he was such a good actor, why was he so hard to lip-read? It was true; if you look at Olivier in one of his many films, you will see that he hardly moves his lips; the beautifully spoken lines are totally formed, modulated and delivered from somewhere deep inside his mouth, entering the world through remarkably still lips. It made me think that, if deafness was the ânormâ, Sir Lawrence would have been lucky to have made the chorus, never mind the status of leading actor-legend of our time!
At the end of Sir Lawrenceâs three-day visit, we all lined up âroyalty-wiseâ on stage, and he walked along the line, shaking hands and having a brief conversation with each one of us in turn. Eventually he came to me; I was impressed and aware of how strong he was. He stood in front of me, his shoulders so broad in the dark blue blazer he was wearing, that they made him seem rather smaller than his 5â10â height. âThank youâ he said through unmoving lips, âWeâll work together again.â I was thrilled â until I found out that heâd said the same thing to every member of the cast line-up!
And there the story of my brief association with Olivier might have ended â a pleasant reminiscence from my rather long career, except for an occurrence at spiritualist church a few months ago.
We had reached the part of the service, where the visiting medium gives messages âfrom beyondâ to members of the congregation. Eventually she came to me. âI have an actor hereâ she said; âhe was a famous Shakespearean actor, the most famous actor of his timeâŠ.he played all the major roles in Shakespeareâs playsâŠhe sayâs he is going to work with youâŠ
I am the Owl and the Echo
(1) The National Theatre of the Deaf was founded by Pat Keysall, the presenter of BBC televisionâs âVision Onâ. I first met Pat, when she was director-presenting an episode of the series, in which I played the Sorcerer in a dance version of âThe Sorcererâs Apprenticeâ. I was to meet Pat, a few years later, when she needed a choreographer for her newly formed Theatre of the Deaf performing company. I always admired Patâs simple and sincere approach to her work. She never disguised the fact that the performers were profoundly deaf and she brought out performances of surprising quality, from initially untrained deaf people. I followed her lead by refusing to stand, just out of the sight of the audience and wave my arms up and down in time with the music, to give a bogus impression that they could really dance to the music. Of course deaf people can dance, but their sense of rhythm comes from an internal drive and is distinct and separate from dancing to music. It could be considered that they dance to the rhythm of emotion and of life.
Patâs son Mike McGurk was the drummer in the companyâs small orchestra and together we experimented with sound-to-light converters, where his drum beats were translated into rhythmic light pulses, which we incorporated into our stage-lighting plot.
Sadly the attitude toward deaf people at that time was cosmetic, in the sense that they were encouraged to âfit inâ with hearing society, by appearing ânormalâ. Many schools banned sign-language, even between the deaf pupils themselves, and in consequence, severely hampered their interaction and communication with each other. Deaf children were discouraged from shouting or talking too excitedly, so that ânormalâ people would not be offended by the âstrangeâ sounds they made. I was disappointed with our first review, where the theatre critic, obviously wishing I had been standing in the wings and drilling them to stay on the beat (of something they couldnât hear) wrote: âAnd the choreography was regrettably crude.â What an idiot.
(2) Paul runs an organization that you may be interested in contacting and supportingâŠ.
Last weekâs visit to the North-West, was very nostalgic. I first went to Blackpool, with âJosephâ around twenty-five years ago. I can remember that things were more extravagant then â we would probably say âtastelessâ and a bit âtrash-flashâ nowadays â and yet I feel a sense of confinement, a feeling of a âlack of freedomâ, when I compare todayâs life-style, to those times.
Here are two spiritual stories from âJosephâ.
Peter Lawrence (left) with Mike Holoway (Joseph) and Adoring Fan
Photo by Mandy Andrew
Our first âBlackpool Jacobâ was Peter Lawrence. Peter was one of the most delightful, outrageous â and spiritual people I have ever met. When Peter eventually passed away, a new actor was auditioned to play the part. One night Matt, a previous company member, brought a friend to see the show when we were performing at âThe Grandâ theatre in Swansea. Mattâs friend happened to be a clairvoyant, who thoroughly enjoyed the show, but asked; âWhy were their two Jacobâs on stage?â
It would seem that Peter had not really left usâŠ
Last Septemberâish, the Joseph Company visited the Edinburgh Festival Theatre. At the end of one performance, P approached me and whispered, ââŠDuring Caanan Days, a young boy took hold of my hand.â I was at first slightly irritated, as we often have a bit of restlessness amongst the local choirs, who perform on-stage with us, but then P continued: âthe invisible childâŠwhoever it wasâŠtook hold of my right hand. There are no children on that side!â.
Indeed there were no children to Pâs left â only a 10â drop to the centre of the stage. Now P was a sensitive lad, who played Benjamin and who being very talented, was at once a suspect for possible âromantic delusionâ. But noâŠfor the next three or four nights, P consistently reported his supernatural experiences. âA little girl took my other hand.â
I must admit to being rather excited at this stage; theatre ghosts have occurred several times during my career and each time has been a learning experience and this particular unfolding âeventâ had a ring of authenticity about it:
It seems that the Festival Theatre was built upon the burned-out ruins of the Empire Theatre, (note: 12th June 2007 ~ exact details of the blaze, its causes and the resultant damage are awaiting verification ~ see comments 3 & 4 at end of post) which was destroyed on May 11th 1911, in a fire that started during a performance of âThe Great Lafayetteâ, an American Illusionist. Lafayette, employed two children, a boy and a girl who were also midgets; the boy was the girlâs understudy and together they played many parts throughout the performance. During one of the elaborate illusions, an on-stage horse âshiedâ, upsetting a brazier which then set alight to the scenery; subsequently reduced the whole theatre to ashes. Lafayette and nine members of his company, including the two children, perished in the blaze.
A group of us, who I will call the âPsychic Circleâ, held an âon-stageâ sĂ©anceâŠ.I can remember asking P to choose the on-stage space to hold the âmeetâ; P chose âback-stage-leftâ in the wings.
I opened proceedings with an excerpt from the Gospel of St, Mary, and welcomed the two spiritsâŠ
We were sitting in a circle; Myself, P, (sound No2) D (The Butler), S (Apache Girl), A (Jacob No2) R The Baker) and JâŠthe events that followed were delightful:
At first P whispered that âtheyâ had arrived and were cuddling up to him, on either side. Then P whispered âtheyâre goingâ. Almost at once, G, on the opposite side of the circle, remarked that he sensed two children playing around him. (It was as if they had run over from P, to go and play with G). I forgot to say that P had also played a âOne Potato â Two Potatoâ game with the invisible pair who then went to D, who also played the same game - seemingly with thin air. We all left the seance in a very happy moodâŠ
P (when he felt their presence backstage) asked the children why they stayed âearthboundâ â he received an emphatic âbecause we like it hereâ.
On the last night, P said goodbye to the two children âAlice Daleâ and âŠâJosephâ. Yes, Joseph! Not only that, but his surname was âCoatsâ â Joseph Coats.
I am the Owl and the EchoNo comments