Monday, November 3, 2008

Getting Away With It.

Reading Alan Bennett's Writing Home for at least the 5th time. It's the perfect diary: a glimpse inside the life of a wonderful, understated and very funny writer. So modest ("I know so little that writing is like crossing a patch of swampy ground...trying not to get my feet wet or egg on my face"), and yet he never lets himself get away with his seeming modesty either: "...I prefer to be liked and thought a nice man. But I'm not. I'm just as bad as the rest of them, only I don't like to show it." An introvert, liking to lurk on the sidelines, happily morose. Hard on others, hardest on himself. I wonder what he would think of blogging (having published several volumes of his diaries for the world to read, he can hardly be too judgmental, one would think). He talks about a friend calling him to congratulate him on one of his plays, "...but really to congratulate you on getting away with it again." That's how I often feel when I've finished a project- as if I've dodged a bullet and somehow no one's guessed the truth: that I have no idea what I'm about. But I know that somewhere, someone knows, and it helps to keep me humble.

After a run-through at Studio 58, where some of my latest work will be performed in The Merchant of Venice; Kathryn Shaw, the head of the school, gives me notes and I quail as generations of actors have before her gimlet eyes. I feel as if I have squeezed in my work for that show between days at the Pumpkin Patch and various other chores, and it's not my best stuff. Watching Antony Holland direct and act (as Shylock) at the age of 88 is several lessons in itself: I was nearly moved to tears watching him in the run-thru. Approaching his nineties, he is spry, sharp as a tack, and has every line memorized: the stage manager only has to prompt him twice. For the first time yesterday I was truly aware of the honor of working with someone who is literally a living piece of theatre history. His delivery is simple, stripped down; none of the histrionics or mannerisms that sometimes characterize an actor of his generation. The meaning of every line is crystal clear. At 88 my grandmother was already sinking into dementia; this man can still recite Shakespeare, for god's sake. The lottery of aging is so random.

The curse of my kind of life: afraid of turning down work I accept it all... and then end up feeling resentful that my time is not my own, and scared that I'm not good enough at all these jobs I take on. A friend of mine blithely takes all kinds of jobs he knows next to nothing about and executes them competently enough because he has no doubts that he can pull them off. But I am more like Alan Bennett: knowing how little I know I can only wait until I am rumbled by someone who's onto me: congratulations on getting away with it again.

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