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I’m visiting Japan for 9 days to visit a friend of mine who is studying Noh Theatre there for a month. We’ll be staying in Tokyo and also visiting an island in Okinawa. Here are some of my stories…

 I boarded the first plane and walked straight to the back toward my selected window seat. There was a middle-aged Chinese man sitting in the spot next to mine, and when he saw me he smiled and said “I’ve been waiting for you!”

Once I settled myself in, we talked about our respective flights, and he told me he was traveling from New York, where he has lived for the past 30 years, to China for business. Why was he traveling through London, rather than crossing over the Pacific?

He had originally booked a flight to London for a holiday with his wife and two boys, but then he suddenly had to go to China for a business trip, which cut into the holiday. When he tried to alter the flight, the airline told him it would cost over $2000 US, so he found it cheaper to simply book a round-trip flight from London to China and back again. But this meant, for him, being in air transit for over 24 hours. What fun!

Despite his intense schedule, he seemed well-rested and cheery and we embarked, as strangers sometimes do, into polite topics of conversation such as the history slavery, the legal limits of abortion, same-sex marriage, matriarchal societies, the decline of the family unit, and human rights versus cultural traditions. It was comforting to realise that we shared a number of fundamental values, though we had come to them from very different perspectives and experiences.

I also asked him if he was a spy – since he seemed to do an awful lot of traveling for work – and he told me, no, he was an IT consultant. Growing up in communist China, a liberal arts degree wasn’t exactly encouraged, so he pursued the sciences instead. Though, he said, he’d be interested in seeing my show about Sappho when it plays in New York in a couple of months (…shameless plug).

I made the mistake of going out drinking the night before this flight, so I’ll admit I’m not exactly in the best shape to be enjoying a cramped 9 hour journey with a stopover in Beijing, and then another flight to my final destination. But I’m keeping my mind focused on my arrival in Tokyo, on devouring epic quantities of sushi, on exploring markets and temples and fashion districts, on cherry blossom season, on lush islands surrounded by ocean waves and whales, on on on, and and and…

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I shall be tossing in my sleep dreaming over it! It really was the most powerful female performance I have seen in a very long time. Her voice still rattles in my bones.

– review from an audience member who will be attending ‘SAPPHO …in 9 fragments’ for a second time next week

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SAPPHO …in 9 fragments by Jane Montgomery Griffiths transfers to The Rose, Bankside from 21st May to 2nd June, 2013. This politically-charged and visually-compelling solo performance, featuring the “magnetic” (RemoteGoat) Victoria Grove, achieved critical and popular acclaim with a sold-out extended run at the White Rabbit Theatre.

Rose“The Rose – part fringe theatre, part excavation site – is the perfect venue for a play about Sappho, whose extensive collection of poetry has been all but lost, save for a few fragments that suggest what might have existed; just like the foundations that permit us to imagine the theatre once used by Marlowe and Shakespeare” 

– Jessica Ruano, Director of SAPPHO …in 9 fragments

Following its two-week run in London’s historic venue, this “uncommonly exhilarating” (Exeunt Magazine) production begins a tri-city Canadian tour in June 2013, then plays at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2013 at theSpace Venue 45. 

Within a secluded cavern, Ancient Greece’s first love poet laments her erasure from history, while a chorus girl named Atthis is seduced into a modern-day Sapphic romance.

Featuring Victoria Grove as Sappho/Atthis and directed by Jessica Ruano, this production is designed by Ana Ines Jabares, with lighting by Sarah Crocker, sound by Luca Romagnoli, and aerial work by Jani Nightchild.

SAPPHO …in 9 fragments plays at The Rose, Bankside, 56 Park Street, London, SE1 9AS (near London Bridge Station) from 21st May to 2nd June, 2013, Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are £12 (£10 concessions) at wegottickets.com

For more information: 0207 261 9565, info@rosetheatre.org.uk, and rosetheatre.org.uk.

For a one-minute trailer of the show, please visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UN2E8j5UfiE 

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Sappho Poster low res

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My background was, I suppose, theatrical…

Simon Callow, My Life in Pieces: An Alternative Autobiography

After about half an hour of waiting for Simon Callow at the stage door of Trafalgar Studios following a performance of his one-man show Being Shakespeare, Ottawa playwright Lawrence Aronovitch asked me: How determined are you?

Considering his book Being An Actor was practically my bible throughout high school and ‘Meet Simon Callow’ is number 91 on my list of 101/1001, yes, I was pretty keen to exchange a few words with the guy, perhaps snag an autograph.

Just as we were contemplating heading back to our respective homes, Lawrence looked over my shoulder, smiled, and said simply, There he is.

And out walked The Actor into the dimly lit street, followed closely by a young man with a fold-up bicycle. He greeted us warmly and happily agreed to sign our newly purchased books.

 

Did you find the script or did the script find you, I asked with uncharacteristic succinctness.

He laughed and replied: Well, I wrote it.

Didn’t the playwright write it…?

It was a collaborative process. We worked together quite closely. There were some changes made.

Lawrence is a playwright! I couldn’t resist playing the role of agent/producer…

Ah, really! T.E. or Olivier?

Confirming the correct spelling of his name, my companion mentioned that he, too, was working on a one-man show.

You inspire, Lawrence said graciously. I saw you in Wilde. And I’ve read Tuesdays at Tescos.

An extraordinary play, noted Simon Callow. A difficult play, difficult to memorize.

Probably keen to continue with their evening, The Actor and the man with the fold-up bicycle politely made their excuses and headed up the street and into the crowds of Trafalgar Square.

Funny he would say that, said Lawrence.

Say what?

That he wrote the play. Really, Shakespeare wrote most of it. And the playwright, presumably. There was a lot of subtext in that statement.

Yeah, true. Interesting. [pause] Hey – we met Simon Callow! Nice!!

And that’s how I celebrated my sixth month anniversary of living in London.

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Several weeks ago I attended a play at the National Theatre called Travelling Light, and it was a wonderful production. But the interesting thing about my experience with this play was not the any one aspect of the production, but how it – as a whole – affected me afterwards. Which is not to undervalue the qualities of this play: despite an unnecessarily sentimental ending, this is a strong and witty script about the creation of film, stemming from small-town ambition, complete with endearing Jewish personalities, a neurotic young film director, and his beautiful assistant turned silent film actress. And it had Anthony Sher, who is a fantastic stage actor.

My experience is not something I can explain in objective terms. I suppose the best way I can describe it is that it had this intoxicating, contagious energy that stayed with me the entire walk and tube ride home. I found myself walking so quickly I was practically skipping down the street with nervous excitement. I just wanted to keep moving. Even waiting at a crosswalk, I could barely keep still. I took out my iPod touch and started filming my route, paying close attention to the quick turns in the road, observing small details as I passed. Similar to when I became acquainted with Harriet the Spy and immediately bought myself a spy notebook just like hers; but, in this case, I thought I could be a film maker. Granted, the little video I created was far from imaginative, and it is, in fact, so boring to watch, that I won’t even bother sharing it. But the point is, at the time, something electric happened, and it felt fantastic.

I mention this only because sometimes going to the theatre can be an exhausting experience, which is why, I think, it isn’t as popular as it once was. Watching videos at home requires far less emotional sacrifice. But if a play is poor quality or simply ‘not for you’, the effort it takes to watch and stay engaged with a live performance can feel wasted when the experience is not gratifying. Still, once in a while, during or following a performance, you find yourself in a similar state to riding down a steep hill at full speed on your beloved bicycle (sometimes more therapeutic than therapy, I recently discovered…) or flying down a particularly lush snow hill with a sharp wind hitting the parts of your face not covered by ski goggles. And those moments are somehow magnified, multiplied by the closeness of theatre, by the intimacy of sharing the same space. And that’s why I keep going back – hoping to renew my acquaintance with that feeling.

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This is a day to celebrate being alive. Kick your legs up and grass stain your knees. Roll down a hill into your lover’s arms and eat crab apples from trees made for picking.

Somewhere between the mall and the bus station, there is a patch of green, and this is where I sit. Flower baskets wrapped like birds’ nests around street lamps. People scattered like toadstools amidst planted trees. Phone conversations as common as shrill bird calls. Couples strolling along the pathway, hands held sealed with sunshine. Clear blue endless. You appear on your orange bicycle. Perfect.

Time measured / Distance weathered / Feelings tethered / Passions pleasured

Late night verses feel like early morning kisses. Sun shattered and vibrant. New places retain familiarity with photographs and messages a mere click away. As long as this feeling holds, I’ll imagine you in my arms every restless night.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but I kinda love you. And thanks to you, I’ve started thinking in poetry again.

This is where Virginia Woolf used to live, she said

Really?? I replied

And that’s where she used to write poetry, she said, pointing to the nearby park

I’m in heaven, I sighed

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