Musical Multitasking!

Even though I’m still in the final weeks of directing and preparing ‘Joseph and the Amazing TechnicolorTM Dreamcoat’ to go on stage at my school in September, I’m already thinking a couple of shows ahead. 

Not only do the musical director and I have some definite ideas about what show we’d like our school to do next year, I’ve also been in discussion and negotiations with a small group of likeminded individuals to put a show on stage for the local theatre company of which we are all active members. 

The idea was hatched when we were all still riding high on the endorphins of a wonderful production of Monty Python’s Spamalot! in May. The fact that things are still in the budding stage is evidence that bringing it to fruition is a lot more complicated than simply deciding on a show and just doing it. 

All sorts of things have to be considered: Can we cast it? Can we stage it? How will we achieve this effect or that outcome? How much is it going to cost? Who is going to fill the various roles on the production team? These are the sorts of details a theatre company will want before deciding to proceed. 

I’ve just finished preparing the pitch for a show, which I hope to present to the theatre company on Wednesday night. I won’t reveal what show it is yet, because we have to get approval from the committee, apply for and secure the licensing rights, and make sure everything is in order before we announce what we’re planning to do. 

The team and I are super excited about the possibilities and we hope that the committee embraces our ideas. 

In the meantime, I’ll continue unintentionally mashing the two very different shows together in my mind, with a bit of Spamalot thrown in for good measure. I’m frequently amused by the “variant lyrics” that happen in my mind, which is at the very least an unexpected bonus.

Hey nonny nonny. We’ll see what happens next!

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‘Les Mis’ and the Night Tigers

‘Les Miserables’ is among my favourite books of all time, and it is also one of my favourite musicals. 

I saw a fabulous production of ‘Les Mis’ last night at the theatre in Warrnambool. 

My major achievement for the evening was not singing along out loud— which took more self-discipline than you might ever realise. 

I was moved to tears by the emotion and beauty of the performances, but also— as always— by the power of the lyrics. 

There are many moments and several songs in the show that I love, but my absolute favourite lines are sung by Fantine: 

“But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder…”

‘I Dreamed a Dream’


Those words are so profound.I find them powerful because I know that whatever it is that a person struggles with – pain, grief, depression, anxiety, worry… those tigers visit more often at night, and stay for longer, than they ever do during daylight hours. 

One of the reasons I began taking my writing more seriously a number of years ago was because I found it an excellent way of dealing with my night tigers and answering their voices with my own.  

That’s why many of my poems deal with themes of  mental health, pain, depression, grief, and resilience. Its also why I insist that writing is the most effective therapy I have ever had. It hasn’t cured me or solved my problems, but it has certainly helped to heal me and enable me to deal with the challenges I face in life in a much healthier way. 

Those tigers still come at night, but they have discovered that I, too, can roar. 

‘The Lion King’ and ‘Hamlet’: A Question of Life or Death

‘The Lion King’ is on TV tonight and, of course, I’m watching it. I’m singing the songs. I’m totally loving it. If anything is able to make me turn the TV on, it’s going to be a musical. 

And Facebook is alive with people proclaiming that it’s basically ‘Hamlet’. 

Well, no. It’s basically not. 
And I’m not even sorry for any disappointment that may cause. 

Anyone who believes the two stories are the same either pays too much attention to social media and the popular clickbait theories that abound there, or they have not paid sufficient attention to ‘Hamlet’ at all. 

Scar is certainly as evil as Claudius. He’s certainly interested in getting rid of his brother and his nephew and taking over the kingdom, and takes full advantage when Mufasa dies in a situation that he has engineered. 

That’s really where the similarities end. 

In fact, it’s really only a very tenuous connection. Scar is by no means the only brother of a king ever to aspire to the throne through nefarious means, so that’s hardly a convincing argument for a direct correlation between the two texts.  You could use the same argument to suggest that ‘The Lion King’ is based on ‘Richard III’, which it clearly is not.

Furthermore, Sarabi – Simba’s mother – does not enter into a relationship with Scar. The fact that his mother married Claudius, his father’s brother and murderer, is the root cause of much of Hamlet’s angst and misery.  Given that this is one of the crucial elements of  the play, and there is zero correlation in ‘The Lion King’, that’s fairly conclusive evidence that the two are not the same story. 

Sure, the ghosts of the dead fathers both appear and speak to their sons. However, they hardly communicate the same thing, and it’s at a very different stage of the plot. Mufasa tells Simba to grow up and retake his kingdom while Hamlet’s father urges him to get revenge on his brother for murdering him and taking not only his kingdom, but also his wife. “Remember who you are” is a very different message from “Revenge!”

Simba is nothing like Hamlet in character, other than being the son of the dead king. Simba is naturally optimistic, fun-loving and adventurous. Simba runs away thinking he’s responsible for his father’s death. Morose and pessimistic, Hamlet hangs around the castle, feigning madness and overthinking everything to the point where his agonising over what to do actually prevents him from doing anything much at all. 

The correlations among the minor characters are, similarly, only superficial. 

While both Simba and Hamlet have two friends, Timon and Pumbaa are not anything like Guildenstern and Rosencrantz.  Timon and Pumbaa rescue Simba and remain his friends throughout the story. Hamlet’s friends are quite willing to sell him out at Claudius’ bidding, and there is nothing loyal or supportive about them. 

Both Simba and Hamlet have girlfriends, but Nala doesn’t go mad and drown herself in a river. 

Zasu and Polonius both talk way too much, but that’s about the only similarity between them. 

In fact, that’s the difference between the two in a nutshell: ’The Lion King’ is life-affirming and positive.    In direct contrast to ‘hakuna matata’, there is no ‘problem free philosophy” in Hamlet, a play that philosophises about death and suicide and which finishes with the main characters and many of the minor ones dead. 

So, there you have it. The difference between ’The Lion King’ and ‘Hamlet’ is a matter of life or death.  The basic premises are polar opposites, so the two cannot possibly be the same story.

Time Flies Whether You’re Having Fun Or Not.

They say time seems to go by faster as you get older. 
Today, I have two questions in response to that premise: 

  1. Exactly how ancient am I?
  2. How is it already June?

I don’t actually think it’s age that does it. I blame deadlines and responsibilities. They’re the things that put us under pressure, that make us work more than we play, and that stop us being all lackadaisy and carefree about how we spend our time like we were when we were kids.

Pressure put on us by employers. Pressure put on us by kids and families. Pressure put on us by ourselves. Pressure put on us by society to be perfect, to be leaders, to be models, to be lots and lots of things we feel we can’t be. We struggle to do it all, and the vortex of expectations and time pressure that is created by those pressures drags us into a cycle of racing against time and waking up every morning surprised that it’s already Wednesday, already June, already 2019. 

Sure, I want to be a responsible adult. But I also want to be able to relax without feeling guilt. I want to be able to slow down sometimes, and drink my coffee without actually thinking about all the things the caffeine is going to help me to achieve within a given time frame. I want to be able to fill my day doing things I enjoy doing without having to rationalise or justify how I spend my time. 

Those dratted deadlines and responsibilities keep me from doing those things. These days, you can’t even be deathly ill and stay in bed for two days without doing paperwork and announcing your impending demise on social media to account for your whereabouts. 

That was one of the many things I loved about being in Spamalot! last month. It was a responsibility and a demand on my time, for sure, but it was loads of fun, and being in rehearsal or on stage meant that I could say, “Sorry, not available” to everyone and everything else that wanted a slice of my time. Even better, I took on a role and left myself and those darned responsibilities behind for a few hours at a time.
It was wonderful. 

Another thing I loved doing in May was blogging about my favourite classic books. Yes, it was another commitment to doing something every day, but it gave me a daily opportunity for a few minutes where I could justify picking up a favourite book, leafing through it to  reacquaint myself with it, spend some time reading, taking a photo of said book, and enjoying my not-so-secret life as an unapologetic book nerd.
That, too, was wonderful. 

June promises to be a busy month with auditions and casting for the school musical, grading exams and assessments, writing reports, and meeting a bunch of work deadlines that are looming. I shall put my plans together today for possible blog topics so that I can keep up my momentum here, and for images and ideas for Instagram posts, because I really enjoy those aspects of my author/blogger life. 

June will also see the release of a new fantasy novella, which I am very excited about. Titled ‘A Rose By Any Other Name’, it was one of my stories included in the fairytale retelling anthology titled ‘Once Upon A Fabulous Time’, and which is now back in my hands for individual release, as that collection is now only available in paperback. I’m in the process of having a new cover designed for the story, and when that’s ready, it will be good to go! That’s the advantage of having a manuscript that is already thoroughly edited!

So, a busy but hopefully enjoyable month looms ahead, and no doubt it will fly past as fast as the months before it have done. All I can do is hang on and do my best… and maybe hope for a little downtime, too.

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Les Miserables’ by Victor Hugo

Set in France during the first decades of the 19th century, this is a story of the struggles of the lower classes — the miserable, the dispossessed, and the dissatisfied. 

While many people in the 21st century know the story because of the highly popular and quite magnificent musical theatre show, most have never read the book. It is a large novel: epic in its scope, powerful in its storytelling and heartbreaking in its story and drama. 

Many of the key events of the novel were based on events and circumstances that Hugo witnessed personally, adding a depth of detail and authenticity that immerses the reader in the settings and makes them feel as they are right there, watching the events and listening to the characters’ conversations. 

Admittedly, there are some passages that are moral reflections rather than narrative, but they do add depth of understanding to the social issues and conflicts experienced by the French people of the time, and cause the reader to reflect on the responsibility of those with wealth and power to ensure that those under their rule are able to live without despair. Given that it is not possible to separate a work of literature from the society and environment in which it was written, Hugo’s thought-provoking digressions remain relevant to the story overall.   

One can simply watch the musical or a film adaptation, but they will not deliver the full impact of the story as it is told in the book. It’s a magnificent, wide-reaching story with themes of social justice, equality and personal redemption that are still really powerful and resonate with readers today. 

Spamalot! aka The Show That Ends Like This.

This weekend and last I achieved one of my ultimate theatre goals as an actor, singer, and not-quite-a-dancer in Monty Python’s Spamalot! The Musical. 

A lot of people have done an incredible amount of work, both on stage and off, to bring the show to life and make it run smoothly and professionally. 

It’s a really, really funny show. By the time our cast was done with it, it was non-stop hilarity and good times for the duration of each performance. To be honest, that was pretty much the order of every rehearsal, too,

Sure, there have been moments of frustration and, occasionally, despair for some of us. More than anything, though, it has been fun. It’s fair to say that however many tears may have been shed in tiredness or anxiety, a hundred times more have been borne of laughter. 

From our first read-through of the script to taking our bows of the final night, we have laughed together, learned from one another, inspired and encouraged each other. 

From the final week of January to the second week of May, the cast members have grown from acquaintances into friends. Those with whom I have worked most closely have begun to feel like family. It’s fair to say that they understand my love for theatre and performance more than most members of my family, and it seems they have fully accepted my own individual brand of weirdness and subversive humour. I have found my theatre tribe. 

Today, dismantling the absolutely amazing sets and cleaning the theatre felt kind of surreal. Yesterday I had tears because I didn’t want it to be over. Today, tears threatened again as reality set in: the show really is done. 

My heart is heavy, and even though my Fibromyalgia-plagued body and permanently rather dodgy spine are expressing a strong and well-earned sense of relief, I regret nothing. 

At the end of it all, I am blessed to count these amazing people as my friends, and to be able to say “see you next time!” with every confidence that there will be another show and we will be keen to do it all again.

All photos in this post are by Joel Barker aka Sir Bedevere, and have been used with permission.

Poem: ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’ by T.S. Eliot

While it is common knowledge that the enormously popular musical CATS was based on the poetry of T.S. Eliot, it’s less common for people to actually go and read the poetry.

Should they do so, however, they’ll find some lovely poems that reflect the poet’s observations of life as well as the delightful poems about cats that Eliot wrote for children.

This poem was the inspiration for the song ‘Memory‘, the most popular song from the musical, which has been a commercial hit for a number of singers.

The poem has a musical quality of its own, evoking images of city streets in the dead of night and the things that occur while the world is asleep. The imagery is somewhat disjointed, with childhood images interspersed in the street scenery- much like a dream sequence that doesn’t always make sense, or perhaps that phase of tiredness when one drifts off into thoughts and memories and then recovers with a start to observe what is around them with keen perception that belies their prior haze. At the end of the poem, the observer returns home and is urged to sleep: the reminder of the need to prepare for the day ahead is ‘the last twist of the knife’, a concept to which any insomniac will readily relate.

Unlike Andrew Lloyd Webber’s song, this poem is more about realism than romance, demonstrating Eliot’s trademark style of poetry in which he tended to dismiss emotion and focus on impersonal observations and descriptions. 

Rhapsody on a Windy Night

Twelve o’clock.Along the reaches of the street
Held in a lunar synthesis,Whispering lunar incantations
Dissolve the floors of memory
And all its clear relations,Its divisions and precisions,
Every street lamp that I pass
Beats like a fatalistic drum,
And through the spaces of the dark
Midnight shakes the memory
As a madman shakes a dead geranium.

Half-past one,
The street lamp sputtered,
The street lamp muttered,
The street lamp said, “Regard that woman
Who hesitates towards you in the light of the door
Which opens on her like a grin.You see the border of her dress
Is torn and stained with sand,
And you see the corner of her eye
Twists like a crooked pin.”

The memory throws up high and dry
A crowd of twisted things;
A twisted branch upon the beach
Eaten smooth, and polished
As if the world gave up
The secret of its skeleton,
Stiff and white.
A broken spring in a factory yard,
Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left
Hard and curled and ready to snap.

Half-past two,
The street lamp said,
“Remark the cat which flattens itself in the gutter,
Slips out its tongue
And devours a morsel of rancid butter.
“So the hand of a child, automatic,
Slipped out and pocketed a toy that was running along the quay.
I could see nothing behind that child’s eye.
I have seen eyes in the street
Trying to peer through lighted shutters,
And a crab one afternoon in a pool,
An old crab with barnacles on his back,
Gripped the end of a stick which I held him.

Half-past three,
The lamp sputtered,
The lamp muttered in the dark.

The lamp hummed:
“Regard the moon,
La lune ne garde aucune rancune,
She winks a feeble eye,
She smiles into corners.
She smoothes the hair of the grass.
The moon has lost her memory.
A washed-out smallpox cracks her face,
Her hand twists a paper rose,
That smells of dust and old Cologne,
She is alone
With all the old nocturnal smells
That cross and cross across her brain.
“The reminiscence comes
Of sunless dry geraniums
And dust in crevices,
Smells of chestnuts in the streets,
And female smells in shuttered rooms,
And cigarettes in corridors
And cocktail smells in bars.

The lamp said,
“Four o’clock,
Here is the number on the door.
Memory!
You have the key,
The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair,
Mount.
The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall,
Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life.”

The last twist of the knife.

Transition.

It’s the last day of March, which brings us to the end of Women’s History Month. In all honesty, I’m feeling a little sad about that.

Blogging about some of the less well known  heroines of ancient and medieval history has been a most enjoyable occupation. I had fun creating some historical memes to accompany the posts and promote them on my social media, too.

I also loved writing about some of the courageous women who willingly took on situations of conflict, oppression and segregation in the 19th and 20th centuries.


If you missed any of those posts, they are easily found by clicking on Women, Women’s History Month or Women’s History categories and tags in the sidebar. 

With those great stories told, I am feeling a little like I do when I have just finished a great book and I don’t really know what to do with myself.

Yet I know that tomorrow  I will feel differently because there are some great things happening in April: not only is it (Inter)National Poetry Month, but it’s also a month-long celebration of Indie books in the Read Self Published group on Facebook. 

The first half of the Pead Self Published month will feature a specific genre or set of genres each day, which readers are free to peruse. The second half of the month will be focused on helping each individual visual reader find what they want to read. There will also be some giveaways, which are always fun — especially for the winners! 

Everyone is welcome to join in those events, which is aimed at showing readers what they want to read without the “hard sell” that many find offputting. 

I know with all of that going on, I will have some great things to share.  I will be posting some of my favourite poems on this blog, and Book Squirrel will be sharing some great reads and book suggestions in various genres.

On a personal level, there will be continued rehearsals for the show I’m in, a very well-earned and much needed two week long term break, and a camping trip over Easter that I am really looking forward to.

So, away with my sadness. I shall welcome April with open arms and a great deal of anticipation.

Cover Reveal: Smoke and Shadows

Smoke and Shadows releases on January 6 in paperback and ebook.

One of the most relatable scenes in Gilbert & Sullivan’s musical H.M.S Pinafore, which I had the pleasure of directing in September, is where Buttercup sings these lines to Captain Corcoran:

“Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream;
Highlows pass as patent leathers;
Jackdaws strut in peacock’s feathers.” 

The Captain appears puzzled, as though thinking about this for the first time, before replying, 

“Very true, So they do!” 

It’s a common thing.  As we go through life, we discover that people and things are frequently not what they seem to be, and what we understand to be the truth of our own experience often turns out to be something quite different instead. Life is as full of illusions as it is of genuine experiences.

False friends abound while finding a true and loyal one is like discovering gold. Trials hurt, but then deliver unexpected strength and blessings. People put up smokescreens to hide their true intentions or feelings; and only sometimes do we ever discover why. The world seems hateful until someone delivers light and love in a surprising way.

The poems in this new collection explore some of the illusions and deceptions people experience in their lives, the clarity and wisdom gained from hindsight, and the lessons we can learn from them.

Both the title of the book and its blurb come from the poem titled ‘The Simulacrum’. I considered using the title of the poem as the book title because it’s such a fascinating word which does, in fact, mean ‘a representation or image of something’. I wanted to go beyond that, though, because the book is really about the multitude of ways that something or someone might not be exactly what we think, or what we are led to believe, rather than focusing on a physical representation. 

“Smoke and shadows yield to glimpses of light—
Only then we begin to see:
When we learn to perceive things as they are,
We can have peace with whatever will be.”

So, without further ado, here is the cover of this new book, which will release on January 6th.  It is available for preorder in all major outlets  via this link

The cover of Smoke and Shadows has an image of smoke in shades of blue, gold, red and white on a black background. The title is printed in gold.

On With The Show!

A very exciting announcement!

In yesterday’s post I wrote about my most recent post-surgery progress, and mentioned that I went to Camperdown in the afternoon. I was, however, rather secretive about my reason for being there. 

I do hope you found that to be cleverly tantalising, but just in case you found it highly annoying, let me explain. I had to keep a lid on the details until certain showbiz announcements had been made public by Camperdown Theatre Company. 

I auditioned for a part in next year’s musical: Monty Python’s Spamalot! 

This is one show I have always wanted to do, yet I thought I might never get to because it’s too risqué to ever be considered for performance at my school. 

Last night I received a call thanking me for my audition, and advising me that I have been given both an acting cameo as the Lady with the Shrubbery and a the role of the minstrel who sings the bawdy song about Sir Robin. I also get to sing the Monks Chant in a small ensemble.  If there is anything I love more than Pythonesque shrubbery, it’s Pythonesque bawdy songs. I cannot put into words how excited I am about these roles, and about the show in general. 

The other excellent fact is that these roles require only minimal choreography, which suits my newly disc-depleted spine perfectly. The directors have been marvellous in giving me roles that I can do without asking me to do things I can’t. 

The cast list is now on the CTC Facebook Page, and while it may not mean much to most people who see it, I can tell you these people are stellar performers and I am so proud to be rehearsing and performing alongside them. As with any show, being part of this cast will be lots of work but tons of fun. 

If you’re anywhere near Camperdown, Victoria, keep the first two weekends in May 2019 free so that you can come and see the show.

And as the show dates draw nearer, you can rest assured… I’ll spam you!