Thursday, April 20, 2006
Drawing naked peopleWhen I told Cynthia what I was doing tonight, she said "Two words. I have two words."
"What?" I said finally.
"Web cam," she said.
I am currently sitting in a loft in downtown LA. Across the street from a long series of chinese warehouses.
I am about seven feet away from a woman whose bunny tail and garter neatly bisect her butt cheeks. She has on a red wig, black bunny ears, black stockings and shiny red patent leather shoes that the artist next to me just called "Melrose."
They look extremely painful.
From my angle, in the back of the room, I can't really see much besides her butt and her bare back. She is in a careful pose, her left hand outstretched and her middle finger and thumb touching in a mudra that is far more bedroom than Buddhist.
I am a part of a circle of artists. I am the only person with a laptop who is actually typing on the keypads. People are sitting on the floor, in chairs, standing at easels. From my vantage point, I can observe the observers.
It looks hard to be the model. She shakes but obviously has done this before. Her left foot is stepped in front of her right and her hips are cocked back. Her legs are thin and she looks wobbly, like a newborn colt. But she manages to hold her pose.
Ah. She moves. She has moved ninety degrees to her left. She now is facing me, her right arm outstretched. Someone puts on some music, scans for a channel, and turns it off.
I watch the artists' eyes and heads. They are entrained, looking up and down in close synchronization as they go from hand to model, hand to model.
The song the DJ finally puts on has lyrics: "I can keep it up all night... I can keep it up all day... let's pretend we're bunny rabbits... until we pass away...;' Some of the artists smile.
This loft belonged to a friend of Cindy's... an artist roommate of theirs who died of AIDS awhile ago. The transformation of these old industrial spaces into corners of art and creative passion is fascinating. As LA moves from a place of intense commerce to whatever it is going to reinvent itself into next, these niches appear, filling with people who are driven to create by night.
Another bunny has come out. They are rearranging their space. She is wearing a black bra and thong, with the poofy little white tail. She sits on the edge of a table and another woman comes and hugs the first bunny. "Adrian took my ears," I hear her say.
People with clothes on are so different from people without clothing on. As the bunnies move the table, I marvel -- here are naked and nearly naked people and they are actually ALSO doing something ELSE besides being naked. They... talk! They... move furniture! Now as they talk to their clothed friend it is so obvious that she HAS a dress on and they do NOT.
The second bunny yells out "Do you guys want poses? Or do you want gestures?" Everyone yells out "Gestures!" Then they say "we'll do sets of 25. After every break we'll do 25."
I have no idea what this means.
One is reclining on a table while the other one squats on a platform, her back to the majority of the artists. The eyes of the artists look up, down, up, down, while their hands work. Most of them look like everyday normal, interesting people. But there is an attitude in their faces -- and it's probably because they, like me, are here doing what they love to do best. Bonded together in this sense of being out in the night, in the city, expressing their art in whatever way they feel like it.
Sugar Sugar is on the radio. Takes me back to 6th grade. Bubble gum pop of the late 60's. I'm the only one bopping my head. It's so sickly sweet, like gagging on cotton candy.
What must the models be thinking? Probably just about the pain of staying in the pose. Like yoga, they probably go in and out of the physical, moving through it in waves of consciousness.
Not often one sees a naked body this close up. It's not that erotic, actually. It looks more like work. What is intoxicating and sexy is the look on the people's faces in the room, the quiet concentration of the room itself, this bizarre and too-loud soundtrack. A weird dragnet song is on... a mix between cool jazz and bad TV credit music.
There are more men than women here, that I can observe. I guess that would make sense. Wonder if that's a function of the nakedness of the models or the proportion of men to women artists. Probably the former.
I am sitting next to a huge tub of rusty red water. I suspect it's been set on the side of the room like this to capture leaks from the wooden roof above.
These people are unconscious about their hands. And their hands are all so skilled. They move their paper around and hold their charcoal pencils with complete familiarity. I guess it'd be the same way as I manipulate the keyboard. How many years have we all been exercising our craft? Seems like forever. A lifetime, probably, for most of us.
I cannot do, in any way, what they are doing. And perhaps they can't do what I do. What connects us is this compulsion to be drawn out of our comfortable lives to do this thing, to make art that is uncomfortable in the making, to risk fatigue, risk looking stupid, risk wasting our time, to do this... thing.
This is not something any of my coworkers would be doing on a Tuesday night. They prefer American Idol. Which is not a condemnation. It's a good thing that more people like American Idol than sketching and writing.
We are the creators of the content; we survive on the need of those who don't create to consume. If they didn't come out in droves to read, to watch, to look, to enjoy.. we would be out of a job. Even if we don't make money, there is a symbiosis going on between the consumers and the purveyors.
We, the lucky chosen few, are the purveyors. And that calling pulls us out of the norm, pulls us out of our homes, pulls us out of the comfort zone and into strange and unknown places. Places that inspire fear, and cause excitement, and challenge our way of looking at things.
We then take all that and alchemize it in some way that makes sense to our deepest DNA. I doubt we understand it much.
They take a break and have added a couple more models. One is very exotic looking with dreadlocks pinned up in high ponytails, a circular tattoo high between her shoulder blades, and something that looks like a stylized spider on her left hip. She has good body definition, has pierced nipples, and wears nothing but white fishnets and black shoes.
Another woman has also joined... heavier, with more curves and bigger breasts. Long hair, somewhat disheveled. She seems to like the other women, touching them in a friendly manner a bit more than they touch anyone else.
Human body. What must men think about as they move through so many women? So many different parts of bodies to explore. So many different terrains.
Drawing... music... writing. We are all captured by the same demons, but there are differences.
I don't need to look at anything to write. I just need to find the time and move through experiences. My art requires interaction, dialogue. I am always listening to what people say, how they say it, what they say and what they don't say. I am an archeologist of subtext. I can mine subtext out of anything, which is more often a curse than anything else. Someone says hi to me and I immediately understand it four levels deep, and the curse is that I rarely know if my reading of the meaning is anything approaching accurate or not.
An artist needs images. An artist uses his/her eyes the way I use my ears. It's the visual that compels, rather than the word. So they need to see these bodies lit up with stage lights in strange corners of downtown. They feed on the visual.
What do musicians live off of? I don't know. Robert delves into story and somehow translates it into song. He listens and hears, but for him it's not about the words but about the song. I don't know if I really understand about songs. About how songs appear and how they are structured and how they work. I can tell you all about how a story works, at least as far as my words can describe structure, theme, the mathmatical equation of a story. But I can't tell you anything about how songs work. Or what feeds a musician's soul. What they live for and what hits them right in the solar plexus with joy.
These artists... they all have that light in their face. It's subtle, but it's there. The deep concentration of people who are tapped in, doing what they just DO. To be in a room filled with people right in the zone, it's pretty incredible. Vitamin energy.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 10:30 PM 1 comments
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Nit PickingI returned from the opera trip to find my youngest son had head lice. This was not the re-entry celebration I had been anticipating.
I worked one day and then went to pick him up. He told me the news. We spent all night washing and combing and picking nits. I took him to school on Tuesday: nits were found.
And even though this is the place where I go off in excruciating detail about all the whacked out stupidity of my life, even this one defies full description.
Overview: All day Tuesday we spent combing, cutting, standing in natural light, going through each strand of hair, being inspected by the school and failing... three times.
Let me tell you some facts about hair. There are about 100,000 to 140,000 hairs on a human head. Some day sit down with a loved one and try to look at each one separately and critically. You will soon be overwhelmed by the magnitude of 100,000.
Then think about what a typical house is worth in LA.
A typical house is worth upwards of five heads of hair, if each hair was worth a dollar.
Then think about what a dollar meant to you as a kid.
Think about whether you'd stoop to pick up a dollar bill on the street if you saw one.
Then think about a dollar bill for every hair on your head. And then multiply by five, six, seven, ten.
There is a lot of complexity going on here. I went through Taylor's head maybe a dozen times. Strand by strand, making guessing games out of how many nits I'd find. Pulling the fuckers out. Having images of the "Cat in the Hat Comes Back" where every time I'd pull it out of his hair and wipe it on my jeans the bugger would start multiplying and then cover my legs, crawl up my body, infest me and everyone I'd ever talk to ever again. The pink goo moving away from the confines of the bathtub to encompass everything known to mankind.
By Tuesday night I was confident I'd gotten the last of the buggers.
By Wednedsay morning at 8:30, we were back on the street. Rejected again.
I called Hair Fairies.
My best friend at work had told me about them on Tuesday. They are a place that specializes in getting rid of these things. Expensive, she said, but guaranteeed.
I heard of them about a day too late to help me on Tuesday but by Wednesday I was broken. I didn't care how much they cost. I didn't care where I had to drive. I went on their web site and saw an array of products that made me salivate with desire: metal combs with sharp pointed ends and about an atom's worth of space between each tine, creme rinses that dissolve the glue that the pernicious little motherfuckers use to attach to each hair shaft, sprays that will kill on contact, oils that will deter. Man, it was a commando's wet dream, that site.
I called them up and begged them to tell me their products were available in their store. They were, they said. I will be there the second you open, I said. I need you, I said. I am a desperate woman.
We blew out of town, my son and I, and headed for the Fairfax district. It was a nice day. I had learned that I wasn't squandering my entire vacation time doing this so I was no longer crying as I drove and traumatizing my child more than he already was. It was a better day. We were going to visit the professionals.
Once there I decide to go the whole nine yards. Let them take care of everything. Do the screening and the treatment on Taylor. Check me out. Do it all.
They have an opening in a couple of hours. Liberated and with a plan, Taylor and I enjoy a feast of Chinese and Japanese food at a corner place downstairs. Delicious. We converse and connect and I'm grateful for this time to hang out solo with my son.
We wander up and down 3rd and look at the chi chi people. It's a lovely day. A weekday. I think to myself, not for the first time, that I really need to adjust my lifestyle. It's GOOD to be out in the world a bit. It's good to have a conversation with my son. Despite the circumstances, it's good to be here at the moment.
We go back to Hair Fairies at the appointed time. Myra, the woman working on Taylor, combs through his hair with steady, firm strokes. I was so sure I'd gotten all of the little buggers, but she finds more.
Like, way more.
I'm a failure, I think, standing there. How could I be so lame? As all my ex's know, in a malicious and snotty way, if there's ANYTHING I should be good at, it should be nit picking. Ha ha ha ha ha. But it's true. I should've been good at this meticulous, ridiculous activity. But no. I suck.
I have now missed two days of work and have opened myself up to a huge financial hit with this treatment and I suck. I truly and deeply suck.
Then he's done and it's my turn to get checked. Just in case.
I've got them too.
Oh god nooooo I cry inside. Noooooooooo. Nooo noo noo noo no. Time, money, control, integrity... everything just flies out of my life, out the open door, down 3rd Avenue and out to sea. I have none of that left. No..... no... this can't be happening.
I have them.
So Nancy takes over and works on me. She pulls quite a few of them off my head. I'm wailing inside. How long have I had them, I ask her? Oh, 2 - 3 weeks she says, knowing the mystical algorithms of the nit-to-bug ratios with unnerving precision.
Nooooo. No no no no no.
After nine months of having only my head touch my own pillow and no one else's... after nine months of sweet solitude.... no.... now that I have JUST gotten out of my shell... I have this conversation ahead of me.
Hi there, I'll start. How do you like hanging out with a woman with more jobs than time, and kids, and a house she can barely keep up, and oh yeah HEAD LICE??? Isn't this this simple, clean, lovely, unentangled partner YOU have always envisioned???
Oh, it's going to be a bad conversation.
But. I learn some things about head lice that give me hope.
1) They cannot live away from the human head for more than 24 hours. This means I don't have to completely incinerate everything in my house.
2) They don't jump or fly.
3) I won't have to shave my head.
That's about it. The only true thing that gives me hope is the fact that I won't have to nuke my house from space.
The rest, truly and completely, sucks.
Nancy, the Hair Fairy lady, and I have a great time, though. If I close my eyes, I can ALMOST imagine that the razor-toothed comb is an intricate device geared for pleasure rather than pest control, and I ALMOST can feel it as a massage. The lotions smell good. It is ALMOST a spa-like experience.
I have an idea at one point. Head condoms. To avoid these embarrassing conversations, if all parties just wore head condoms we'd be fine. Really wide short ones. With the little pointy tip. I could sell them at Hair Fairies. I'd make a million.
I fly the idea by Spencer when he calls in after school. (Yes, we were there all day.) He doesn't find it nearly as amusing as we ladies do. He suggests that maybe a real condom would stretch wide enough. I say, actually, no it wouldn't but I am intensely relieved to know that he doesn't know that.
They fix us. We need to go back in on Saturday. But we're in good hands. I told them if I ever want to get rich, I'll franchise a Hair Fairies store myself. What a godsend.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 6:26 AM 4 comments
Saturday, April 08, 2006
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 3:43 PM 0 comments
Stagehand HaikuHalf hour, people
The cues today are in haiku
Get your costumes on
Stand by on cue five
Warning on six and seven
We are in the soup
Seven shows four days
Stomach flu hits everyone
Stage manager drinks
Checking sound again
Pulling head set off of ear
Brains squished to a pulp
Hold those hoop skirts way up high
The slaves of duty
Every shade of black on
Tuxedo to kilt
It's so addictive
Five, seven, five fingers fly
Stagehands on haiku
We are survivors
Bound together by vomit
Vodka sounds good though
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 7:51 AM 0 comments
Friday, April 07, 2006
The Jedi Knights of the stageWe all have our moments of glory.
We all have our place in the giant clockwork.
This week I found out exactly what that meant.
In a live theatre performance, with orchestra in a pit and performers on the stage, the conductor is the person who holds it all together.
The conductor lives within the middle of two worlds. On the stage, the performers' interactions are a complex web of changing relationships. In the pit, the music is a varied interaction of notes, instruments and tempos. The conductor sits in the vortex of both these worlds, using his baton to keep the performers and the musicians in sync.
This week we found out what it was to do a show without a conductor. This week we learned how important each of us is to the whole and how delicate the balance between our worlds onstage, in the orchestra pit, and backstage.
In short, our conductor, Alex, was felled by a violent bout of food poisoning or stomach flu just a few hours before our Wednesday matinee performance. A trouper and consummate professional, he tried to do the show. We provided him with gatorade, ice, propped-up chairs, and bags (in which to vomit should the need arise).
By the middle of the overture, he was conducting while reclining on the top of his platform, unable to even sit up. By the end of the first song, he couldn't even do that.
Then he had to leave.
The second song was performed without anyone at the helm. The musicians cued each other by eye contact and they somehow felt their way through, silently and intuitively matching the singer above them, who was also flying completely blind.
Sitting in the house by the sound board, I didn't notice a thing.
I had my crew members posted down by the pit door to keep me informed. And we were all on headset, constantly monitoring the situation. By the third song I got the word on what was happening: Alex had bolted into the men's dressing room and gotten violently ill. Jim, the singer performing the sergeant lead in the second act, was making up, half in costume, and saw this. Jim happened to have had conducting experience in the past -- but of course was completely unprepared to take on a show, mid-performance.
He ran up into the pit, still in costume, and took over.
We made it through Act I. The audience couldn't tell the difference. I could, but only because adrenaline was sharpening my senses to an absurd degree.
At intermission we had to regroup. Was Alex feeling better? He thought so. Jim -- now frantically putting on his costume and making up -- had to go onstage almost immediately. So we send Alex out.
(Oh, and in the meantime the toilets overflow and both dressing rooms are flooding. I really need to mention that.)
I listen accutely from the house. The first song sounds like it's on track despite the fact that everyone is stressed (and most everyone still has to pee like a racehorse). I start to relax a hair. But then my lighting board operator asks a disconcerting question: Does your regular conductor have hair?
Uh, well, no, I reply. Not one.
Well, she says, the guy who is conducting... does.
WHAT??? I get my crew to run downstairs to see what's happening NOW.
Apparently Alex still couldn't make it. He collapsed again, and now Harry, the cellist, was conducting. Luckily, we have two cellos so the music was still present. But Harry's partner -- a woman who had never done the show before in her life -- was suddenly stuck with all the solos and the full cello part.
Except for some occasional veerings off the track... I don't think the audience could tell the difference.
We did it.
The musicians forged ahead without anyone at the helm who had ever done this show before, playing off the actors and making best guesses as to when to start, stop, ritard, pick up tempo. The actors, having no one to focus on to keep them going, had to intuitively work with the musicians to cue them when to start up and stop.
Everyone knew the material... but without a key player to keep them together, it was like flying by instrument only. No visuals. Only intuition, faith, and a collective ignorance of how to actually stop this thing if it truly derailed.
Which it never, miraculously, did.
At one point in the second act I felt a wave of goosebumps go through my body. I felt strings between me and every one of the performers, and every one of the musicians, and between me and the wardrobe mistress and my two beloved assistants. We were all tightly bound to each other, the complex vibrations between us were taut and intricate.
It was more than between us and Alex. It was between all of us. Without someone obvious at the helm, we had to operate at a sub-conscious level, using the force like true Jedi knights. Like the scene in Star Wars where Luke is training with a shield over his head, tuning his senses to hit the bobbing sensor with his light saber, the musicians and singers were all suddenly robbed of their ability to visually understand reality through the conductor's baton. So they had to go deep, go into their feelings, grope their way through the dark.
I felt an overwhelming sense of pride at being part of this strange family, with these people I've known and worked with for over twenty years. I was awed at how humans -- flawed humans who will disintegrate at a misplaced prop or not enough water bottles in the dressing room -- can rise to an occasion of extreme stress and come through with flying colors.
We did it again in these second show. But this time we knew the shape of the train wreck and were a bit more adjusted psychologically. Everyone was amped. The energy was through the roof. The show was GREAT (and the toilets got fixed!)
The audience left, smiling and talking. Men put their arms around their wives' shoulders. Heads were tipped towards each other intimately, relaxed. They enjoyed it, but they really didn't know what they'd seen.
When the final notes were played, the orchestra hit them with consummate authority, perfectly, exuberantly. They had made it through the labyrinth and the light was in sight. The finale was an act of supreme conquest.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 10:35 PM 0 comments
Monday, April 03, 2006
3:24 a.m.: Fort Collins, ColoradoI awaken at 3:24, my throat parched from the dry air. I'm here with Opera A La Carte, the touring Gilbert & Sullivan opera company I've worked with for 22 years. Waking up in a strange hotel room, configured exactly like every other hotel room we've ever been in, is something I've been doing for a long time.
I go into the bathroom and turn on the shower, raising up some steam. I sit on the floor with the rooming list, the only piece of written material in the bathroom. I look at the names on the list. I have been traveling and working with these people for so many years. And yet how well do I really know any of them? Have I not been paying enough attention?
I signed up for this job in 1984, right after grad school. I was working at LACMA, as their projectionist and stage manager. I loved running the Bing Theatre, but we had overstayed our welcome in each other's lives. When a touring company came in and the technical director asked if I wanted to join him in one of his other gigs, I took it on. I figured I could make enough money touring on the road with these people that I could write in between tours. I also figured that if it didn't work, I could quit in a year or two and figure something else out.
I was wrong on both counts. Even though we went on at least one tour a year and several local dates, it was not enough to live on. And I still have never been able to quit. The technical director who hired me quit after we'd worked together about a year. I became the T.D. and hired his brother.
Affilliations were made and broken. Back in those days, believe it or not, I was actually quite a free spirit. My overhead was low, I was trying to break into screenwriting. Going in and out of town fairly frequently was relatively easy. So was going in and out of relationships.
On one six-week tour I brought along a guy whom I was sort of playing with the idea of marrying. Not wanting to be away from him for a second, I hired him as our truck driver. During the course of the tour I became enamored with someone else in the company, with a lust so intense it felt like a constant crippling pain. The object of my desire had a girlfriend at home; I was rooming with my boyfriend; and yet, for both of us, the intensity was nearly unendurable. Every moment of that tour remains accutely etched in my mind, seared into place with the acid solution of unquenchable desire.
By the end of the tour, after taking our forbidden feelings through Colorado, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming, I was nearly incapable of walking. By the time we were in Nevada, it was obvious that something had to give. My boyfriend -- after driving me to distraction with his living habits (one learns a LOT about someone else while touring, almost never in a positive way) -- and I were more than happy to be envisioning the other's taillights in a matter of days. I don't believe I've seen him since. And with the other one, well, we had one night. In room 69 in a Best Western in Carson City.
I still have the room key.
My next liaison was with someone who was interested both in me and a soprano in the company. I believe he was interested in her first (as was every other straight guy in the company) and yet he and I did our thing for at least a year. He ended up waffling back and forth, eventually choosing to be with her.
She was, and is still, beautiful and fun, with a lovely voice and a sweetness I will never acquire. Since she is still with the company, we have had a couple of decades to resolve our differences. But at the time the fact that he chose her over me rankled and stung me to my core. He quit the company but their relationship hung on, for an inconceivable twenty plus years, spanning both coasts, living together at times, always contemplating marriage but never making the final commitment. I think the sting for me was greatly offset by seeing over time how clearly better suited they were for each other -- both in terms of companionability and the ability to make each other completely insane.
When it became clear that Opera A La Carte was not going to be able to support my living needs, I took up my assistant's offer to teach me word processing. Second to the typing class I took in high school, learning how to do word processing -- and by extension how to understand, teach, and work fluently with computers -- was the single biggest income-producing skill I've ever acquired. That one connection sent me off into the world of legal word processing, which I did as a contractor for nearly ten years. It was lucrative and enabled me to keep my schedule flexible enough to continue doing gigs. Many years were spent working in law offices, going on the road, and writing.
Over the years, of course, I got married, had children, got divorced, changed (the money making) careers, wrote a book. Technology now permits me to take sleepless nights in strange towns and put my thoughts into words while I wait for sleep to come again. Many people that I started working with are still in the company. My boss is still the person who books the tours, arranges for the hotels, negotiates with the orchestra, and -- at the end of the day, literally -- goes on stage to completely charm the audience with his unflagging energy and talent. To him, this is the least of his job. To the rest of us it is clear that he is, when on stage, the sum total of the company. Our efforts pale. He is an old-school performer, one who seemingly effortlessly channels the true spirit of Gilbert and Sullivan and fills up the house with their unique brilliance and wit. Incomparable.
And we all are getting older. I see this now in the graying hair and the lines in my friends' faces. My dearest friend in the company is not with us this week as he is at home fighting cancer. A different kind of reality has infiltrated our timeless bubble and I am worried and scared. He is the one I always look forward to seeing appear on stage when I'm sitting in the house and the company arrives for sound check. His eyes have always held for me a special bright affecton and humor. He is the person I hug and my rock in the company. He thinks I'm beautiful. Once on a long tour, taking a break from the noisy shaking truck, I sat with him on the bus and he introduced me La Traviata, our headphones enterwined as we watched the snowy fields roll by.
Where am I going with this? I think it has to do with the tangled skeins of our lives. My assistant taught me word processing which has enabled me to survive in the world of computers since the PC started owning the world. Another one of my assistants is now my web and book designer. I had another assistant for 13 years. We were neighbors, then partners, and close as brother and sister could be. He started growing resentful and angry with the work as he continued losing a long battle against alcholism and gambling; we lost touch a few years ago when I had to hire someone else. His presence and the warmth of his smile will always be an aching void.
Some of these people sang at my wedding. I have seen relationships start, flourish, grow moribund and end. What happens on the road stays on the road, for the most part. But sometimes it overlaps and becomes a life-changing event. Associations that are fostered and heated while traveling the interstates may cool off when the final bags are unpacked, but they alter the nature of the "real" reality back home. We are all changed from this experience.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 3:04 AM 0 comments