updates connected to the book Idylls for a Bare Stage
& to performances of the Idylls
& other initiatives related to the Art of the Poetic Monologue

Sunday, November 27, 2011

twentythreebooks publisher Doug Mowbray documents Idylls launch

 November 20th, Idylls Show at the Athenaeum in Alexandria


 I'll post highlights over the next little while, but you can check out a slew of pics directly from publisher Douglas Mowbray at the following links for the Cruellest Month website and Flickr:



and don't forget the twentythreebooks website itself:


all best from M.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Coming Soon - pics and more, from November 20th

Great times and excellent performances for the launch last weekend...   I'll post pics, and such, asap.

Enjoying the thanksgiving holiday and R&R.

Thanks to all who made it happen, and to all who came out on a Sunday night and made it a full house, great charge throughout the evening.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tonight: Idylls Show and launch party!

Performances, music, refreshments 

...including a wine tasting (funny thing happened on the way to Virginia's ABC Banquet license: the standard temporary liquor's license wasn't available to us, but we were offered a "tasting license" - so this adds another element to the evening, for sampling of wines and idylls...  )

Enter the Mindscape of 
a Sorceress and a Saint, a Horse and a Captive Woman
A Mother feeling her estranged daughter's labor pains 
Antigone burying her brother's body
Palamedes (inventor of numbers, alphabets and lighthouses)
and Leda (after the swan)
and more 

Featuring Actors’ Center performers:  Margaret Anthony, Genna Davidson, Carol McCaffrey, Kimberly Mikec, Rachel Morrissey, Paul Morton, Harlie Sponaugle, and Sue Struve.

Musical Guest: Old Songs, with Mark Jickling, Chris Mason,  Rebby Sharp, and David Brumbaugh.  Songs from Hipponax.

The show will begin soon after the 7pm arrival time;  please arrive on time so that you won't miss any of the performances.

See right side panel for venue address and map

And for those of you taking public transportation: closest stop to the Athenaeum is the King Street Metro stop in Alexandria. Walk down King Street (1.1 mi) turning right onto S. Fairfax then Left onto N. Prince. You can also take a free dashbus that travels every 20 minutes from the King Street Metro Station towards the Potomac River waterfront from 11:30 am until 10 pm, and stops at the corner of King and Lee Streets.The Athenaeum is located one block south, at the corner of South Lee and Prince Streets.

Looking forward to seeing you there.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Performer Profile: Paul Morton

Paul Morton in "Palamedes, Inventor of Numbers, Alphabets, and Lighthouses, Muses upon his Accomplishments"

Paul Morton - "Palamedes" in the Idylls

    The Palamedes Idyll is one of four original compositions in Idylls for a Bare Stage, although the only one to be performed Sunday night (the rest having some relation to source texts).  Still, I can't say it's "wholly" original - going beyond the philosophical difficulty in saying that about anything.  Although the piece doesn't jump off from or follow another specific source, trace materials about this mythic inventor, this great Greek originator, seeded the inspiration... mythic facts, such as the detail that Palamedes - like Heracles, Jason, Ajax, and Achilles - was a pupil of Chiron the Centaur.

     It quickly became clear Paul had the tools to take on Palamedes:  rich voice, instinct, understanding.

     Yet, it is his free-wheeling process that takes him into the part.  Plowing, plunging.  It reminds me of the first thing I watched him do, during that Actors' Center workshop developing the techniques of the Idyll/poetic monologue, when one of our exercises triggered in him an instant persona for the piece at hand:  suddenly, he had an appropriate accent for the part, and the right tone and pacing to take him all the way through the scene - basically, it was performance-ready immediately, albeit in so far as what it was on book. 

     For the Palamedes Idyll, the complications of its rhythms between the abstract and the personal, between pristine mind and messy human endeavor, between analytic science and irreducible awe make it somewhat more involving for any actor.  Paul's free-wheeling plunging with each rehearsal took him powerfully into it, passes by turns led on or driven by the text; he kept everything loose with pass after pass at it, each a deepening, "knocking it out" as he calls it, each pass an incorporating, soon to find the character, soon to find the voice, then soon to find the thoughts, into the life of Palamedes, into what was Palamedes and was now his, Paul's.  So stick around - he'll knock you out with his Palamedes constituting the finale for Sunday's show.

     Paul Morton is an actor and lifetime resident of Alexandria.  Stage shows performed in include Fences, Hair, Taming of the Shrew, Lysistrata, Of Mice and Men, Romeo and Juliet, Comedy of Errors, Native Son, The Music Man, Victor/Victoria, Teahouse of the August Moon, The Curious Savage, The Crawlspace Waltz, The Christmas Carol, Intimate Apparel, and The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia.  He is also an actor of commercials, educational videos, and industrials.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Performer Profiles: Carol McCaffrey and Margaret Anthony

The Idylls show is less than a week away now...  coming this Sunday!

Carol McCaffrey in "A Saint Preaches to the Birds"

"A Saint" in Idylls for a Bare Stage

     Carol comes by this piece honestly, not least because she's a bird lover and bird owner... she's devoted to her four cockatiels, Casey and Maria ("the girls," as she says) and Beanie and Buddy ("the boys").
     Actually, her love of birds indicates something more thorough in her than your average pet owner's love of a pet; it is part of her active appreciation of animals and nature in general, a reverence for life practiced and cultivated with an affinity for the example of St. Francis;  this is a conscious reverence, and a conscious spiritual journeying which informs her as a performer, and she has brought this to bear for "A Saint Preaches to the Birds."
     To the point that, in her process as an performer, Spirit demands of the Show - accommodation.  

     Now, it helps that she has years-long experience of being with birds on the individual level, interacting with her actual birds and understanding their responses, so that in this Idyll the responsiveness of the imaginary birds during her preaching can be very real to her and thus made real to audiences (indeed, she rehearsed regularly in front of Casey, Maria, Beanie, and Buddy, and when I once joined her for a session with them, I was charmed by how attentive they were, seemingly to the words themselves, but most definitely to whatever nonverbal communication Carol conveyed to them through their mutual trust and deep familiarity).  Then, from there, she taps into that broader attunement, that understanding of what it is to become one with nature - whether as an aspiration or attainment - and allows it to operate on a mass scale, for a vision of those flocks of birds surrounding the saint on the mountain.
     Of course, we're not really or only talking about birds here - neither with this saint (mine or Carol's), nor with the St. Francis who historically preached to birds;  and yet, hopefully, the high ceilings of the Athenaeum can accommodate such flutter of multiplicity.

      Carol McCaffrey is a DC-based actor, and Actors' Center Board Member, who performs on stage, film and video.  She studies with Carol Fox Prescott.  Her performances have ranged playing senators to scary daycare ladies, from Kate in Harold Pinter's "Old Times" to the Wicked Witch of the West in children's theatre.  Favorite past shows include playing a variety of characters in an evening of one acts by Christopher Durang - and most recently stepping into Clara Barton's shoes for a corporate event performance.  However, all that said, stepping into the shoes and sermon of Magus' "A Saint Preaches to the Birds," has been rewarding on an entirely new level, and Carol is most grateful for it. 

Margaret Anthony, reading Kharms

reading Daniil Kharms on November 20th

     The acting techniques developed for performing the Idylls and other poetic monologues also have their utility in readings, recitation.  I take particular pleasure in reading and hearing Daniil Kharms, a Russian poet of the early Soviet era (he starved to death in a prison hospital under Stalin), who has been becoming more and more widely known in English over the last couple of decades.  It seems appropriate to extend such techniques to reading Kharms, in consideration of the form of his writings and their naming as "incidents" or "incidences" mentioned in a previous post, happily compatible with the incidental nature of the Idyll.
     Margaret has taken on these efforts splendidly, honing what can be brought out during a reading, and she'll surprise you with her embrace of the brutal vigor, black comedic harshness, yet eruptive absurdist hilarious spontaneity of Kharms - a voice like no other.
     Margaret Anthony is a trial attorney in Washington D.C., and member of The Actor's Center;  she has acted and directed for Silver Spring Stage, and has had roles with  St. Mark's Theater and Amnesty International.


"Everything that's extreme is difficult.  The middle parts are done more easily.  The very center requires no effort at all.  The center is equal to equilibrium.  There's no fight in it."
     -Daniil Kharms, #5 in The Blue Notebook (Matvei Yankelevich translator)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Musical Guests for November 20th: Old Songs

It is my pleasure to bring Old Songs to Alexandria for the second time.

As part of the inaugural Yockadot Poetics Theatre Project show, in 2006, Old Songs played at the Lyceum, and introduced new audiences to their versions of ancient Greek poetry set to "old-timey" American roots music. 

The band covers a number of poets from the 7th through the 4th century B.C.E., and has gone deeply into Sappho and Alcman.

Here's a wonderful rendering of Sappho's "Anaktoria" Old Songs has up at PennSound:

For November 20th, Old Songs will go deeply into Hipponax; but I'll let Mark Jickling - also associated with Half Japanese - tell more:

Old Songs formed a decade ago with the idea of setting archaic Greek lyrics to old-time music. They have recorded over 100 poems and fragments, using their own translations. Many of these can be heard over the Internet at Penn Sounds, thanks to the University of Pennsylvania.

The band members are Liz Downing, Mark Jickling, and Chris Mason, all with roots in punk rock, mixed with everything else. For the Idylls performance, Liz will not be on hand, but Chris and Mark will be joined by David Brumbaugh and Rebby Sharp, incredibly talented multi-instrumentalists from the Charlottesville area.

They will play songs by Hipponax, an Ionian poet from the 6th century BC. His surviving poetry is satirical, abusive, scatological, pornographic, and firmly fixed in the gutter. Somehow, he gained a great reputation, and was quoted or name-checked by Aristophanes, Ovid, Horace, and others. Callimachus brought him back to life as a kind of zombie to sort out the Alexandrians who had strayed from the true path of poetic solidarity. There are distinct echoes of Hipponax in Rabelais, Villon, Rimbaud, and Nicanor Parra.

Old Songs (photo by Cynthia Connolly)

You can find more recordings of Old Songs on PennSound and find out more about the band at their website http://www.mindspring.com/~oldsongs/index.html

And for the November 20th Idylls show, I invite you to "Listen to Hipponax"!:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Performer Profile: Sue Struve

 Sue Struve in "A Native Chief's Captive Woman Guards One Freshly Caught"

Sue Struve - "Captive Woman" in Idylls

     The incident in this idyll has its source in the writings of Jorge Luis Borges, and corresponds to his fascination with real stories of people who chose so-called savage life, over civilization. (Noting how here, and in the profile just previously, the form of the Idyll is conducive to the presentation of incidents, as is this approach to acting - why we'll also present a reading of pieces by Stalin-era Soviet poet Daniil Kharms on November 20th, about which more on another post, writings somewhere between prose poems and stories, forms nicely translated from the Russian sluchai as "incidents," or sometimes "incidences").

     The "poetic" has always tended to ally itself with the wild, with wildness, with conscious decision to choose the wild over the tame: a tame poetry isn't poetry at all.  So too, for the Idylls, it has been my intention to create an acting technique for the poetic;  this is to keep the performance untamed, to free up the performer and allow entry into a script with immediacy, beyond the conventions of getting into character as if character were a logical and analyzable framework of motivations rather than the running stream of an irreducible consciousness.  Sue's work on this piece involves her recurrent eschewing the imposition of a logical framework to her character, and allowing herself to be taken forward moment to moment by the currents of language, the words of her character's thoughts.

     Poetry naturally gives itself over to this wildness, whether in form or content or both (getting to what reality lies beneath or in the interstices of sanctioned appearance/conventional psychosocial coherence): this, through its orientation to the true nature of our words as access points to aliveness, powers, and awareness.  In giving oneself over to the power of words in each moment - as writer, reader, actor, or audience - the subtleties tell, as does the sense, and shadings and shadow have their play; without our imposing an overriding, simplified interpretation, it's much more real.
     There's a shadow sense to Sue's piece, and fierce risk-taking in her performance;  the danger is you'll breathe in the wilderness with her, and - although caught between her and her captive - start to find indoor air stale.

     Sue Struve has appeared in Six Degrees of Separation (Ouisa), The Shadow Box (Agnes), Permanent Collection (Gillian), Electra (Clytemnestra), Rebecca (Beatrice), and Harvey (Betty Chumley), among other roles, at Bay Theatre Company, Dignity Players, Colonial Players of Annapolis, and elsewhere in the D.C. area. She has also performed at the Baltimore Playwrights Festival, The Actors' Center, and the Capital Fringe Festival. She is grateful to Magus for sharing his approach to acting poetic text, which has transformed the way she approaches a role.

Gratitude right back to Sue (after that end note to the bio she sent), for all the work and intensity she brings to the role, and for her engagement with the Idylls approach;  she'll be kicking off the show November 20th.

The issue above regarding the irreducibility of poetry to logic reminds me of what became the tagline for Yockadot Poetics Theatre Project, (2005-2010);  Richard Foreman's dictum,"Understand - it ALWAYS makes sense.  Sense can't be avoided.  If it first seems to be non-sense, wait:  roots will reveal themselves."

And of course, I can't pass up an opportunity to quote Heraclitus:  "The unapparent connection is stronger than the apparent one";  stronger is the word, or better - a wilder strength in the poetic leaps and juxtapositions.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Performer Profile: Harlie Sponaugle, on the way to November 20th

It's November now, and the show is less than three weeks away;  time for a close look at another wonderful D.C.- area performer.

Harlie Sponaugle in "A Mother Feels her Estranged Daughter's Labor Pains"

Harlie Sponaugle - "A Mother" in the Idylls

     The incident referred to in the title of this piece has its source in the French writer Colette's books Sido and La Maison de Claudine (Sido and Her Mother's House in an English version of the two together), with all marks of its being a real moment in the writer's family life;  though the mother in my Idyll is not "Colette's mother," this piece nonetheless should excite fans of Colette, because of its embrace of her feeling for people and the world of her place and time.

     The acting techniques developed for this project apply with precision to a piece having its basis in prose of such intricate detail, without poetic rhythms for the performer to rely upon as mnemonic and motive;  rather, the flow of the piece is internal (or, of internal person-to-person connection across external and psychological space, an increasing instinctual, sympathetic knowing), so that the "poetic" here is in illuminated moments of the movement of the character's soul in its reaching - or being pulled - towards her child...

     Harlie brings to bear her strong stage presence borne of experiences on the D.C. stages, as well as her skills as a singer applied to the handling of voice and phrasing of spoken word, so that she immerses herself in the flow of the language.  Again, this is a placement and moving within and between the internal and the (created-out-of-imagination, on a bare stage) external, with natural shifting back and forth.  One of the points of focus for the acting technique involved is, literally, a "point of focus":  actor's attention to "direction of address," a technique of fluid, shifting "direction of address" throughout the piece.  At different moments, Harlie's character - the mother - extends her presence and attention outwards towards her absent daughter, or closer, to the surroundings of her own window and yard, or inwards to her memory and thoughts, and viscerally, intensely, to the sensations of her body linking her to the estranged one. 

     Harlie Sponaugle’s most recent role was Florence Foster Jenkins in Souvenir, the real life story of a New York socialite who followed her dream to be a classical singer, despite her lack of any sense of pitch or rhythm. As a classically trained singer, Harlie found performing iconic arias badly to be a new but exciting challenge. She has appeared in three Shakespeare productions this year: as Duncan and the Medicine Woman in Impossible Theatre’s Macbeth; as Nym in Vpstart Crow’s Merry Wives of Windsor; and as Camillo, Antigonus, and Emilia in the Shakespeare Factory’s The Winter's Tale. While enjoying a satisfying career as a classical singer, Harlie got hooked on acting while playing the role of Bertha, Rochester’s mad wife in the attic in Jane Eyre: The Musical, a role in which she had no lines, sang only vowel sounds, but got to bite and scratch and burn down the house, literally. Other favorite roles include Jenny in Company, Mrs. Verrinder-Gedge and the Singer in Glorious!, another tale of Mrs. Jenkins, and Emilia in Un Ballo in Maschera. Harlie was an ensemble member of the Kennedy Center’s production of Regina with Patti LuPone. She is a 2010 graduate of the Honors Conservatory of The Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts, and earned her Master of Musical Arts in Vocal Performance from George Mason University. See http://harliesponaugle.com/ for more info.