Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Edinburgh Fringe Festival

In the mid-nineties my uncle went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and brought back amazing stories and an album by a feminist Australian performance art band that I proceeded to basically memorize. I was entranced. Six years ago my friend Kevin and I finally went to the festival and saw 21 shows in 5 day; an impressive feat. This time I had 56 hours and, like, a LOT of determination. My stretch goal was 15 shows, but I landed on 12 and that was amazing, exhilarating, expensive, and exhausting- so we're going to call it a win. 

Here's what I saw in chronological order, because that's how I roll (and also how it is written down in my notebook) 

Harriet Braine, "Total Eclipse Of The Art" 
My train was delayed so I had to book it from the station to this show. It was an excellent way to start off my fringe experience, a free show by a charming and adequate comic. Her schtick was art "lectures" done through parody song. My favorite was "Monet is not Manet" done to the tune of ABBA's "money money money" 

Liz Richardon, "Gutted"
A one woman show about having ulcerative colitis. She played a multitude of characters- nurses, friends, people in the hospital with her- but when it came to the characters closest to her (her mother, her husband) she invited people from the audience up, bribing them with beer and cakes, and had them read from greeting cards that had dialog written in to them. 

The stage had several toilets and the floor was linoleum, easy to clean up. She kept pulling yogurts from the toilets and casually eating them or splurting them on the floor. At one point, during a voice over about uncontrollable bloody stool, she pulled out a full bottle of ketchup and a full bottle of brown sauce and proceeded to squeeze them out in a puddle on the floor and then wipe it all over herself. The stench and visceral grossness of that is nothing compared to what she actually experienced, and it was extraordinarily evocative. 

At the end, speaking for herself for the first time instead of through a voice over, she said "I won't have anyone say anything bad about the NHS. Imagine putting a price on my quality of life." And I know I was the only American in the room because it was a small audience and we'd all gone up to read the greeting cards at one point or another. Also, I was the only person who started crying at that line. Because, yeah: imagine. 

Aaron Twitchen, "Keep On Twitchen" 
My friend Jonah and I didn't communicate clearly enough about what we were doing the first night I was in Edinburgh, so by the time we sorted it out the two shows he recommended had already been sold out. Jonah said I could choose whatever I wanted, which is how we ended up at a gay circus stand-up act! 

There were moments of utter brilliance in the show, mostly when Aaron was upside down in aerial silks and casually still doing standard stand up fare. However he also tried to pull the whole show together with an emotional story that didn't quite land and sometimes would be on the ground doing mediocre stand up. Take your gimmick and run with it, please! 

Aaron was a charming performer, and I think this show could have benefited from a director and a shorter running time. 

Gein's Family Giftshop: Volume 3
I had a ticket to a different show during this time, but I had just met Jonah's girlfriend Amy (so lovely!) and she wanted to go to this show, so we did! And I'm glad we did because it was great. Excellently acted sketch comedy, seamless transitions, deeply engaging stage presence, and an unexpected amount of nudity... 

There were two actors who were crouched on the side of the stage for the entire show, only to be used briefly for one gag near the end when a shirt had gotten covered in goo- one of them leapt up, grabbed and replaced the shirt as though they were ball boys during Wimbledon. That was it. For an entire hour long show, crouching....I told them good job as we left the theater. 

My friends Chris and Molly have a new baby named Joseph, so we all got together and went to a children's musical. We made bets before the show started about how many children would wander onto the stage over the course of the show, and I thought I was in with a chance with 4. Molly's friend won though with a dead-on accurate prediction of 6. So impressive! My favourite was the little red-headed toddler who made a break for it right before the final number- he ran ALL OVER the stage and was clearly thrilled with all of the attention. Cutie pie. 

I think the fact that this entire section is about the children and not the show tells you everything you need to know about that. 

Theatre Re, "The Nature Of Forgetting
Physical theater/devised theater/dance piece about a 55 year old man with early on set dementia. Heartbreaking, beautiful, expertly done. The whole show was devised over two years and the music was done at the same time as the choreography, very clearly making a whole piece instead of components. Interesting stage work and costuming choices and so highly physical I genuinely don't know how the main character is surviving doing this show every day for a month. 

I'd write more, but I found the whole thing very artistically inspiring and I haven't totally processed it yet. If you'd like to hear the soundtrack though, I have a copy! 

Max Dickins, "The Man On The Moor" 
I was taking so many recommendations from people about shows to see that I'm really not sure how I got turned onto this show, but suffice to say I knew nothing about it going in. This was maybe a problem. 

Solo show about a man whose father has been missing for twenty years. It took me until somewhere between half-way and two-thirds of the way through the show to realize that this was fictional and not the actor/writer's own experience. More power to him, it was very convincing, but then I felt betrayed. It turns out that I believe solo shows should be about the actor's personal experience, that somehow if you are the only person on the stage, you had better be telling your story. 

Here's what I wrote in my notebook after the show about realizing this was fictionalized: "I got..angry? Disappointed? I was so invested in this man's actual journey from heart broken inability to grieve because his father disappeared to someone who could make and perform this show - and then it turned out that that wasn't true. I'm sure it was high researched and "true" but it wasn't Max Dickin's story." 

Also, I had gone immediately from a show about early on-set dementia to a show that reminded me viscerally of Austin, so afterwards I discovered just how challenging it is to find a concealed nook to cry in in Edinburgh during the fringe. 

Bec Hill: Out Of Order
Bec Hill is the kind of stand up that I would be honored to be considered with. She's delightful, clever, positive, silly, and makes flip chart pop up books that would have made me laugh and laugh if I wasn't already kind of broken by the previous shows I'd seen that day. That being said, I enjoyed the heck out of her and it was so pleasing to be at a show that was intentionally and explicitly designed to not only be positive during the show, but to carry that positivity out into the festival/world. 

I followed this show by sitting in some grass and having some quiet time (I still had two more shows that day!) but accidentally went online and saw Trump threatening nuclear war. There may have been more crying. (I had a really wonderful time in Edinburgh, but also a really overwhelming time.) 

How To Win Against History
A musical about Henry Cyril Paget, played with wide eyed, enthusiastic, oblivious glee. I made friends with Barbara, the woman stood next to me in line, and we conspired to sit in the front row center and then talk about our experiences with the festival. She's been going for years and agrees that 4 is really the maximum number of shows you can see in one day and still function (this was my fifth of the day) The whole show was a sequined, glittery joy and I barked with laughter through the whole thing. (Such a relief!) My other seat neighbor whose name I've forgotten complimented me on my laugh after the show and I told her how six years ago I'd accidentally stopped show by laughing too loud and startling the comedians. 

Rose Matafeo: Sassy Best Friend
I met up with my first ever improv teacher (Alex), my best buddy from that class (Jonah),  and my best buddy from the next series of improv classes (Chris) in the courtyard before this show. What a wonderful joy that was! 
Then I scampered off to go see Rose Matafeo, who is brilliant and a little baby in her early 20s. She'd make an excellent double header with Bec Hill; both charming, thoughtful, funny, fun, enthusiastic, insightful, explicitly intersectional comics. Her hour long set was tight and engaging and when she burst into song or dance the tech was dead on. I had a wonderful time. There was no crying. She had a label maker so I have a hot pink sticker now that says "CASEY COOL" in a crocodile. Because, sure. 

Juliana Capes, "Earthly Bodies" 
Jules is friends with my friend Emma and she hooked me up with the AirBnB that I stayed in. I hadn't met her, so I made a point to go to Lady Stairs Close where she was making an installation of constellations found in littered chewing gum on the pavement. She's lovely and we talked a lot about created ritual and the belief implicit within that. 

"Bumper Blyton"
Jonah and Amy have a show creating improvised Enid Blyton books. It was very british and charming. I had a black currant lollipop handed to me at the beginning of the show, and enjoyed myself thoroughly. I was particularly taken with their show naming and suggestion taking conventions: for suggestions, the most annoying part of any improv show, they asked people in the queue to draw on note cards either something that didn't exist during the 1940s or a childhood nightmare. Then those cards were put into two dice that had clear pockets and rolled to choose. (We ended up with the Concorde jet, but all of the other faces of the "things that didn't exist in the 1940s" die were cell phones. Literally ALL OF THE OTHER PICTURES, which is amazing.) The title of the show started with one cast member saying a word in the title, then each additional cast member could move the existing words and add one of their own. It was a great little game and in this case caused "Cliff" to alternate in meaning between a rock face and a character's name. 

Okay! That's it! Then I got on a train and went back to Penrith! Thanks for joining this rendition of "stuff Casey saw in Edinburgh!" 

Monday, July 31, 2017

A Pictorial Piece About Visiting Old Friends

Kelli, whom I have not seen in 15 years (since graduating from Interlochen), happened to have a 14 hour layover in London! We met up and had tea at Foyles bookshop. What a pleasure! 
Jon, who lives in Switzerland and whom I have not seen in...4 years? Was also in London! We *also* met at Foyles bookshop and then we walked to a park and chatted. Lovely!
Here we are 10 years ago! Accidental photo recreation...
Visiting Uncle Peter always means something interesting, in this case it was a bag full of old currency and trying to decipher the pre-decimal system. (Spoiler, IT MAKES NO SENSE! It *almost* makes sense right up until half a crown or florins (I don't remember which) and then it stops utterly. Hmph.)

This set of coins is equal to a pound. It is very heavy. This is ludicrous. So jangly.
 "Lunch" with Peter lasted about 5 hours, which is exactly how it should be.
Hanna and I met up to talk about how she's *almost* a detective and how exciting that is! We encountered some performance art near London Bridge, and since I was there we obviously interacted with them. The woman in the middle is a clown playing a "blood bat" and collecting stories about blood. Once you contributed a story you were given a story back from someone who could donate blood to you- it was surprisingly affecting. 
Josh and I got ice cream. My ice cream was covered in AN ENTIRE GIANT CANDY FLOSS (COTTON CANDY) and then topped with popping candy. It was genuinely impossible to eat, so I made friends with the family of the little girl you can see just behind me and shared. They're on a one week holiday from Baltimore where the father is a surgeon. Josh and I suggested museums for them to visit (gunning hard for the Geffrye!) and it was lovely. Also, then I didn't have to eat that giant cloud.
In Bristol, Emma and I decided to make a happy little face on the massive bruise on my arm that I *think* I acquired from carrying my VERY HEAVY SUITCASE FULL OF BELLS around in. We have titled this piece "Casey admiring her happy pain cloud on her art bruise" (you don't have to think that's funny, I think it's funny enough for the both of us!)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Winchester Day, I totally stopped counting- this was a big weekend

Someone started describing Death & The Maiden as "summer camp for brainy goth girls" and that is Really Accurate.

Though levels of goth aesthetic varied widely, all of us had stories to tell about being weird in middle school (mine was about making felt hats and convincing stores to sell them when I was 11. It wasn't all death related weirdness.) We went down to Winchester Cathedral at one point to tour some of the monuments. The university and the cathedral are close enough to take a nice walk between, so we streamed down the hill and into town like a chatty, black clad river. Some folks with limited mobility took taxis, and when we arrived we found them by looking for "the other crowd of witchy women." I've never seen quite so much skeleton fashion as I have this weekend. I wore a lot of green.

Several presenters were freshly minted PhDs, and others have been professors for years already.  Every single paper that was presented was fascinating and displayed a deep, deep knowledge of their topic, most were also explicitly intersectionally feminist. I'll write soon about my two favorite presentations, but I need to process them a bit more before I post about them. In the mean time, know that there are multiple women in the world who are using bio archaeology to fight the patriarchy and that's pretty darn cool.

Everyone was kind and friendly. I had incredible conversations at every meal- though sometimes my words got away from me and I suddenly discovered I had explained my entire Master's degree piece of a table full of people asking me insightful questions about my art. I didn't mean to dominate the conversation, I just Really Care About The Topic!

There were so many conversations that began with, "how did you get interested in death?" and that can't help but end up as a vulnerable, caring conversation. There are several people I intend to keep in touch with, and at least one that I've already invited to stay with me in Seattle. (ps. Death Salon is in September, just about a month away- there is overlap in the organizers of Death & The Maiden and Death Salon - they've organized TWO conferences within a month and a half of each other! I really hope they get to have some sleep in October...)

Eough procrastinating- let's talk about Bells.

For Whom The Bell Toils is a collection of  (currently) 84 bells, all labeled with some type of work that occurs around the end of life. Participants are invited to ring the bells that resonate with their experience, and create new labels for types of work not yet honored by the piece. That's it. It's really simple.

I was nervous about For Whom The Bell Toils. I've been nervous about it. It's done and I'm still a little nervous about it. Here's the thing though, it is conceptually REALLY sound. (heh. puns.) I have reasons for things. A couple attending the conference helped me put the bells away and excitedly told me what they thought, interrupting each other to agree with more detail. They pointed out the piece's subtle feminism- none of the bells are gendered, and none of the work is *technically* gendered, though most of the work on the labels falls to women. So if you're a woman and you're ringing bell after bell after bell, it becomes clear how much you have done. And if you're a man who has not rung very many bells...well. That's something to think about, isn't it? Because as you read the labels you think about who, in your experience, did do the work- even if it wasn't something that you personally took care of.

Was that intentional? Yeah. Yeah it was. It's also why the labels are all hand written, because then they are a visual reminder of an individual's work.

Some people cried. Some people took the band of 16 water buffalo bridle bells labeled "mediated family conflict" and shook and shook and shook the whole thing. Some people read the labels with their hands behind their backs, lightly touching bells here and there. There are some videos on twitter if you search the hashtag #deathmaidenconf and I'll post some here soon.

The sound was beautiful, the concept is solid, the aesthetics...yeah, those could totally use some work. But this piece is ready to travel, and I'm going to be working on that next. So there we go. I'm really glad I came. 36.5lbs of bells and all.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Winchester Day 2, Part 2 or "What an incredible batch of people"

Look, it's a conference with Death and Feminism as its organizing principles, so I'm going to start with conference adjacent stuff first, because it's been a big day.

1. Dinner was delightful, I managed to sit at a table of mostly Americans who had done/are doing their advanced degrees in the UK. We all boisterously moaned about how utterly, impenetrably baffling the British higher education system is and how, when you get things wrong because no one ever told you what to do, they in turn are baffled because it's, "so obvious."

(I have quite a bit of residual anger about this...probably good to know about what for sorting through purposes.)

2. Did you know I'm Chatty? I'm So Chatty. Being So Chatty means that I had a lot of conversations that started with, "are you presenting?" (most people are) which then led to being asked the same in turn. Lots of people have no idea who I am, which is peachy, but what is astonishing is the people who DO know who I am. "Oh! You're For Whom The Bell Toils! I'm really looking forward to that! You have such a lovely website." (Golly!)

(It's just bells with labels on them! What if it's not very good or interesting and I've lugged 16.6kg/36.5lbs of metal halfway across the world for nothing????) (Breathing.)

3. There are some people who are obviously at a death conference- they're wearing beautifully knitted cardigans with skulls grinning from their backs, dresses covered in skeletons, top hats, petticoats, coffin earrings, etc. Then there's the rest of us, who run the gamut of aesthetics. I wore a black tank top and purple lipstick so I fit in just fine.

4. Very few things are as delightful as listening to people nerding out about very specific, technical topics and then discovering that they personally know each other's heroes and then watching stars burst out of their eyes.

5. I'm currently sitting in the lounge of the dormitory flat I'm staying in and the professor who co-organized this whole event is lovingly gossiping with pair of old, excellent friends. I'm *ABSOLUTELY* listening in and they're hilarious. Also, she just told me a harrowing story of being in Nepal with a bunch of students during the earthquake.

Winchester Day 2, Part 1 or "Casey gets slap happy"

I should apologise to the Winchester City of Commerce-- I think I somewhat misrepresented their offerings yesterday. I should have included mentions of their numerous wine shops, pottery shops, and the store that seemingly only sells very large wicker baskets. My bad.

You: Hi Casey! Have you been taking pictures in 'Jolly Ole England'? Haha.

Me: YES.

You: Oh! That certainly was emphatic! I bet there's a lot to take pictures of, huh? Lots of neat old buildings and picturesque scenery I imagine!


You: ...Um. Okay. Have you taken many pictures?

Me: ONE.



You: Casey, this is getting weird. You're being really weird. Can we please see the picture you took. Stop it.


You: Really just thrilled we had this conversation. Thank you.

A fun thing to do in Winchester is play that age old game, Medieval or Victorian Fan Art? 

REAL TALK: I love the Itchen.  I'm assuming the river is named because in the 1100s there was some virulent algae that prevented clothes from being comfortably washed in it. Currently it is clear, fast moving, and GLORIOUS. It's in a canal because apparently in 70AD they were like, "yo. This floods a lot. Let's make it a moat."

I have never so desperately wanted to dip my toes into a body of water before. But there are signs posted emphatically asking one not to do so in order to avoid a £50 fine. (Is it worth it to me to spend £50 to dip my toes in the Itchen? Stay tuned to find out!)

Here, I made you a video:

The Death & The Maiden Conference starts in 20 minutes. I'll probably have actual content soon.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Winchester Day 1, or "I think this town in inhabited entirely by teenagers"

The coach ride from London was very juddery, but fortunately only an hour and a half. I was dropped off in front of a festive building advertising a bake sale for charity, so *of course* I went in, since that is what one does. It was tricky to get into the sale due to the  three teenagers blocking the doorway. Once I  made it in, it was clear that the sale was being run very incompetently by those same teenagers. I bought a terrible piece of cake for 50p and allowed them to get back to what was clearly the main purpose of the day; flirting.

I walked through the town, dragging my bells behind me and admiring the sheer number of awkward teenage buskers, all singing earnestly with their eyes closed. The 20 minute or so walk to the university was charming- lots of stone and brick buildings housing bridal shops and charity shops that also have wedding dresses. Also chemists. Not much else other than those three types of shops. I ended up at one point behind a mother pushing a stroller and trying to guide her daughter who was practicing being blind and giggling maniacally. (Everyone needs a hobby.) See? Charming.

One of the things I had forgotten about the UK is that while there are abundant public maps informing you of where you are and where you might be headed- the street signs are next to impossible to find. So I got a little bit turned around, but eventually found a pathway next to a bunch of blackberry bushes. A teenager informed me that I was, indeed, headed in the correct direction.

After being pushed to the side of the path by a herd of probably around 50 teenagers (most of whom looking at their phones and not at all where they were going-- it felt like being in the wildebeest stampede in The Lion King), I found the local graveyard and happened again upon the mother and her daughter.

Alice is three, has several fidget spinners, likes Miraculous Ladybug (a joint Korean/French anime), calls her little brother "Ed", and is my new best friend. Her mother, Leanne, is a librarian at the University and made sure that I was in the correct place. So now I'm here! Fully 24 hours early to the conference and stashed neatly away in a tiny, claustrophobic dorm room that makes me feel grateful for the fact that I do not regularly reside in one of these any more.

I'm off now to go look at the actual location of the conference, try to sort out what time it actually is, and find some delicious food. Go team!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Back in London (briefly)

It's strange being back- everything is at once familiar and far more alien than I had anticipated.

I have not been run over by a taxi! Yesterday I almost was, but today I've been chanting, "look right, look right, look right" and that has been helping.

This afternoon as I sleepily headed back to Holly's flat for supper I crossed the courtyard to St. Paul's and the bells began ringing. It was perfect.

My internal monologue has shifted to a British accent again which is making writing this post somewhat irritating.