Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Sewing Haiku


stitch by quiet stitch
the cuffs are made to order
for my princess coat

For pictures of the finished coat and more details, please visit the post at my all-new blog on clothing and costumes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tim Burton + Alice = love

Speaking of coats...check out the blue one Alice is sporting in these new set pics from Tim Burton's upcoming film of Alice in Wonderland (which should be, obviously, spectacular in every sense of the word). And now I wish I had long curly hair...but alas.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Snapshots: a review of Richard III

When I told my family that I was going to see Richard III, my dad remarked that he thought the play would be in French. I was quick to dissuade him of that idea; after all, The Merry Wives of Windsor production that I saw in Belgium four years ago was in English.

Tuesday night, I arrived at the Nouvel Olympia ready to enjoy an evening of beautiful Shakespearian English. An usher handed me a programme and my eyes fell immediately on the words: "traduction Jean-Michel Deprats." In a very un-French moment, I laughed out loud and shook my head. This was the first surprise of the evening, but not the last.

After taking my seat (in almost the last row of the very full audience), I prepared to hear the famous lines "Now is the winter of our discontent..." (but in French, of course). Before the play began, however, I was able to examine the stage layout. It consisted of two elevated floors, one upstage and one downstage, separated by a space of approximately 9 feet. The floors were both higher up in the upper-left-hand corner, and then sloped to a lower elevation at the lower-right-hand corner. A narrow bridge, perhaps five feet wide, connected the two floors near the right-hand wing. In between the floors, in the space underneath, a small area with slats like a cloister could be seen.

At last the lights went down. Soon the sounds of a battle could be heard, and then a grainy video of a battle scene (stylized and animated) flashed onto each of the floors. The introduction before Richard entered served as a good predictor for the rest of the play, as video and music were both frequently used during the production -- often in scene transitions, but sometimes during scenes as well.

After a few minutes of the video, Richard (played by David Ayala) came out on stage, swaggering, flask in hand. He did not have the famous hunchback, but instead various medical accessories like a knee brace, a wrist brace, and ugly scars on his arm. Outfitted in a leather jacket and a sneer, he appeared more motorcycle hoodlum than royal prince. His acting was impeccable thoughout the entire play (three and a half hours, including a brief intermission), matched only by Buckingham (Alex Selmane). Those two schemed, plotted, and slaughterd their way through the play.

While the acting could not have been better, the post-modern use of props, video, and music could be a bit disconcerting at times. Richard used his cell phone to take pictures of his court frequently, and at each execution, his henchmen took photos of the victims. The picture of the victim then flashed across the floors, an image of death. While the idea of Richard and others taking photos provided some much-needed comic relief, it felt over-used by the end, as did the nearly incessant string music. Occasionally it seemed that the use of violin, for example, served a deliberate attempt to increase suspense where suspense and horror already existed.

The sparse set-up of the stage -- which had only one piece of furniture, a reclining chair that served as a throne -- was similar to the costuming, which focused on dark and somber garments. All three female leads wore floor-length dresses, mostly in grey or black (with the exception of Lady Anne and Queen Elizabeth's celebratory dresses). While the female costumes were old-fashioned aesthically, the rest of the cast dressed in fairly modern clothing, including contemporary military uniforms for Richard's armed forces.

The most sensorily overwhelming scene came at the end, right before the final battle (in this production, only two people were on stage during that battle: Richard and the man who killed him). In this second-to-last scene, Richard lay writhing on one of the floors of the stage, clearly thinking of what he had done, while Lady Anne and the two sons of Edward IV came onstage, wearing white garments stained with blood, while a creepy, mournful choir-sung song came over the speakers, as a film montage of Richard's victims drifted over the floors.

As for the translation, it was definitely in modern French, not a French version of Elizabethan English (which was all for the best, I'm sure). I found it fairly easy to understand; it was harder to keep the characters straight as many of them dressed alike and I'd found the synopsis of this play somewhat hard to follow as well.

I'd give this play 4 out of 5 stars, with the star lost for overdone post-modern machinations. Judging from the commentary of the French people sitting around me, they would probably give the play 4.5 out of 5 (no perfect score is possible in France).

Two interesting cultural notes: firstly, no one seemed irritated when I had scooch past them to get to my seat -- no eye-rolling, no sighing, just "Je vous en prie" when I murmured "Pardon, merci." Secondly, while the cast received tumultuous applause (and a "Brava!" from a woman seated behind me) and came forward to bow at least four times, it was not a standing ovation. Standing ovations are de rigeur in the States; if a production, be it a play or symphony, is good, then the patrons generally give the performers a standing ovation. I think here standing ovations are reserved for the truly extraordinary. That is not to say that the play wasn't excellent, or that the audience didn't like it, but rather that a standing ovation is not something that every performance warrants.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Bard and Me

Shakespeare and I have enjoyed a long and happy relationship during my life. Spending much of my primary education at a school that required students to read a play every year guaranteed plenty of exposure to his work, and an obsession with words guaranteed an instant attraction. While reading Julius Casear in seventh grade may have been a bit dull, most of my experiences with Shakespeare have been positive.

I love to read Shakespeare, but I love to see it performed even more. Films can be brilliant and delightful (example: the 1993 version of Much Ado About Nothing with Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh) but there's nothing like seeing it live.

Tonight I am going to a local theater to see Richard III, a play I have never read, seen in film, or seen performed. Naturally, I am very excited. I also thought it would be interesting to recount the times that I have seen Shakespeare performed.

The first Shakespeare play I ever saw performed was Romeo and Juliet. As in many, many other high schools, all the freshman at my high school read this and then went to Atlanta's excellent Shakespeare Tavern to see the play. While I'm not much of a fan of Romeo and Juliet these days (too much melodrama), the performance we saw was brilliant. Even setting aside the authentic decor and Cornish pasties, the production astounded me. A particularly notable feature of the production was the formidable Mercutio, who brought the audience to tears of laughter until his untimely death.

When my dad and I took our amazing trip to Chicago, we saw King Lear at the Chicago Shakespeare Tavern on Navy Pier. We were in the balcony, where we could look down and observe all the action (not only the play itself, but also the beggars in period dress wandering the aisles before the play began) and all the horrible betrayal. For those who haven't read it, King Lear is a pretty grim play. Even so, it mesmerized me so much that I cried at the end (and I'm not usually one to cry at plays or movies). This theater was modern, but more peninsula shaped, so the action was surrounded on three sides by the audience. I remember being amazed at the scene when it rained as well, for there was not only rain, but the stage itself re-assembled to form a cliff.

Four years ago from last summer, I was in Belgium staying with family friends. One of the cultural events I enjoyed during those weeks was a performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor held at the grounds of a 13th century castle. Not only was the performance at a castle, but it was also free and held in the round outside. There were scenes set up all around the audience, who sat on the ground or in lawn chairs. At each scene change, we had to re-orientate our seats to face the action again. Unlike King Lear, the Merry Wives is a rollicking comedy, with no eyes being gouged out or hangings, so it was one cheery laugh all around.

The next Shakespeare play I saw was more obscure one, Love's Labours Lost. This performance was also outside, on the lawn of an old house in Roswell. The cast was composed of both actors from a professional troop and high school students, some of whom I already knew. While this play has fallen into relative obscurity, I cannot guess, because it has some of the best witty banter I've ever heard.

One of the (many) things that drew me to Davidson was the residency with the Royal Shakespeare Company. How can I resist the idea of a British acting troupe (and the most prestigious, at that) spending a month on campus and providing brilliant plays? During my freshman year, they came to campus and performed three plays, two of which were from Shakespeare: The Winter's Tale and Pericles. Because the RSC can't leave well enough alone (only joking, as these performances were incredible), both productions were done in promenade, where the audience is also on stage and interacts with the cast. This is slightly terrifying but thrilling at the same time. I prefered The Winter's Tale (not only because of the bear) but because of Kate Fleetwood's brilliant performance as Hermione (she was most recently seen as Lady Macbeth in Patrick Stewart's Macbeth).

Now, after tonight, I will have another review to write for Richard III. But six plays so far isn't too shabby.

Monday, November 10, 2008


When I was growing up, my mom never served eggplant. I always assumed it fell into the category of "too horrible to inflict upon children" which also includes brussel sprouts and lima beans (which were also never served in our house. Perhaps it's fitting that I discovered around the same time that both eggplant and brussel sprouts are delicious. As for lima beans, I am not yet convinced.

One of the main reasons that eggplant fails to inspire as much enthusiasm as chocolate or bread or something equally delectable is its name. Eggplant? That hardly conjures up images of something tasty...instead, some kind of horrible hybrid between an egg and a plant.

I'm convinced that if eggplant was consistenly referred to by its French name, aubergine, then the world would be a better, happier place, filled with more people eating eggplant. It's impossible to not enjoy saying aubergine. Just try it: ohhh--behhhr--geeeennnnnneeee. Such fun!

One of the apppealing parts of an aubergine (no, not the seeds) is its rich, deep colour. I have never really worn purple. It can be a little too abrupt for my tastes, and it brings back memories of tacky dress-up sets (not at our house, naturally, since nearly all our costumes were cut-down versions of formal gowns and real historical costumes). But I find the luscious dark colour of an aubergine to be perfectly lovely.

Perhaps its not surprising, then, what happened to me in Paris during September. I was walking around with a few other girls from the group before our afternoon tea on the Champs-Elysees and we entered a trendy clothing store, Naf Naf. It did not appeal to me right away, as "naf" is British slang for ugly. Then I strolled toward the back of the store and came across a beautiful coat, waiting on the hanger.

Another point about my long-past childhood: I'd always wanted an elegant coat (sometimes refered to as a Samantha coat, a reference to the American Girl doll) but Boston weather required intense snow gear, and fancy coats were not "practical" for Georgia weather. I did receive a very classy peacoat a few years ago for Christmas, but I'd left it at home to conserve space for packing.

Here it was, a princess coat. It had a mandarin collar, a empire waist, pleats at the back, double-breasted button placement, a long skirt, and pockets, so it fulfilled my requirements and then some (a winter coat without pockets is pointless). But I hadn't planned on buying a coat at that point in the semester, so I left it in Naf Naf and went to tea, where I proceeded to talk up the coat. When the others heard how much it cost, they laughed and told me I had to purchase it. So I did. It's been great already, as we've had some very cold days.

Unfortunately, the colour does not show up very well (and my room isn't arranged like a studio, with great lighting, which does not help). But this should give an idea of its overall look.

However, I can't leave well enough alone. As the coat is from a major store, I have seen other girls around town in it as well (I hold no trademark on this coat, alas). So I decided to embellish it a bit, but in a non-permanent way, so that I can change it next year if I like. That ruled out embroidering Russian nesting dolls on the sleeves. Therefore, I found a most delightful little antique shop that had old lace and ribbons where I found some Valenciennes lace and light green silk velvet ribbon. I'm going to add them as cuffs onto the sleeves, just tacking them on for easy removal. Here, I have set the ribbon and the lace against the shoulder, so you can see how the colours all work together.

The main issue with this project is that I have to complete it almost all at one time, since I'm not keen on leaving the house in a coat with pins still in the sleeve (not that I've never done that by accident). But I'm looking forward to making this garment even more like Sara Crewe's second-best coat.

Monday, November 3, 2008

NaNoWriMo...Second time's the charm

The particularly observant among you may notice the new widget on the right-hand sidebar. Yes, it is a badge for NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as "National Novel Writing Month."

Yes, I attempted this last year with no success (no link to that post since it will just be too disheartening). I haven't even dug up that shell of a manuscript since it will probably depress me with its mediocrity.

Happily, I was struck by the Muses during one of my Loire walks with what I think is a pretty nifty idea for a story. It's somewhat fantasy, somewhat gothic fright, which is a good combination in my mind. I'm still in the new beginning excitement of writing, however, so I may need some encouragement and/or additional neurons to actually finish this book.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Flickr Update

Greetings! Just wanted to point out that I've done a massive re-haul of my Flickr organization to make it easier to look at things. Now I've got organized collections on the right-hand side bar, which takes you to various sets. It's pretty self-explanatory, but for example, you can go to "Travels" on the right and then you have the option to go to "France 08-09" where you can see all the photos from this trip.

Hopefully that will make navigation easier. Recent uploads include pics from Arromanches, the debarquement beaches, Pointe du Hoc, Saint Malo, and Mont St. Michel. I've also added some pics of my current (embroidery) project and some pictures from last summer when I had finished sewing the canvas corset.

You can click on the Flickr badge in the right-hand side bar or you can take this direct link to my photostream.