Marinating and Pondering Journeys

Note: This is a cross-posting from Paul Holmquist’s “Neverwhat?” blog, chronicling his research for directing our spring MainStage production of Neverwhere.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Marinating and Pondering Journeys

Been a while since I posted – sorry for that. I’ve been enjoying some R&R after the holidays and simply marinating on some things, reading and making notes.

Under the tree for me this year was “Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman” which is a passionate guide to Gaiman’s work published before Fall 2008. A great reference of the behind the scenes development of the man’s career and just a fun read. In it I learned that Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar make an appearance in “Mr. Punch” which means I must stop by my local comic shop and investigate.

On Saturday the 2nd, Maren and I went to the Art Institute of Chicago to visit the collection of Victorian photo-collage art that recently passed through, our interest sparked by the art of the music video costume designer Elizabeth Wislar shared with me a few months back. Ultimately the art is not relevant to our production values but was an illuminating immersion into the bizarre and fantastic minds of the idle Victorian woman, influenced heavily by Darwin and Lewis Carrol.

Last Wednesday I had a fascinating chat with Rob over some beers and BBQ. He’s in the midst of some thinking and pondering on the script before diving into more writing probably in February he shared with me notes and thoughts and ideas from feedback given to him after our reading a few weeks ago. Our discussions continue to delve deeper into Richard’s character arc; where is he at the beginning, where is his shift, and where does he end up. There is something very interesting to me about Richard being a blithe participant in the modern cultural machine, a cog, a brick in the wall, at the beginning of the play. He’s absent minded and doesn’t seem to be able to make any long term goals. He has no vision and little purpose. As he gets wrapped up into the adventures of London Below, he continues to go along with what’s demanded of him, more or less with bravery but without much personal investment. He feels somehow deep inside that he must intervene and protect Door when and where he can. When he loses Anesthesia on Night’s Bridge, he experiences what may be his first profound sense of responsibility. Further trust and emotional investment and even vulnerability with Door deepen his personal connection to the quest before him and in The Ordeal Of The Key there is a deeper, more radical shift.

What The Ordeal is, what it actually symbolizes and provides for Richard, has been a challenge for Rob and I to articulate. There is a tricky combination of Richard struggling with his sense of what is Real vs. what is Imagined and his being urged to off himself. What he ultimately wins, besides the key, is a grounding – he feels more deeply and truly that he has purpose and that he is Doing The Right Thing. And he gains that knowledge by rediscovering Anesthesia’s necklace and confronting that guilt and loss. He then becomes something of a leader, more confident, less whiny.

Fighting the Great Beast of London is the next evolution of Richard’s character, but one I wonder if it may be even more felt later, when Richard returns to London Above. At that point in the story, when Hunter dies and passes a torch of sorts to Richard, he must quickly go forward to complete the quest. Time is of the essence and self-reflection is a luxury he cannot afford. But when he finally gets what he’s been wanting all along, like Dorothy, to just go home again, he’s left feeling deeply dissatisfied. At the moment of killing the Great Beast and painting its blood on his face, he becomes The Warrior. How could he go back to paper pushing then?

Our next production meeting is coming soon. Between now and then I am:

1. rereading the script and pondering the logistics of the transitions and what they may mean tech wise
2. considering the many pros and cons of using liquid blood on stage – a HUGE question
3. investigating the use of puppets (rats, pigeons and the Great Beast) and thinking logistically of which actor will do what and how should they be seen, what are they in the world when they are manipulating a puppet