Saturday, July 26, 2014

London - 7/26/14

This week has been an amazing one.  There is a strict what-happens-at-RADA-stays-at-RADA policy, but sufficient to say, it's been wonderful.  We're getting out of the get-to-know-you stage and into the suck-the-marrow-from-the-Muse's-bones stage and it is delicious.  I suppose my relationship with theater is a bit like long term relationships.  At first everything is rocketships and rainbows.  And then gradually it slides into openly farting and silent dinner dates.  Not that the love isn't there.  Just that someone feels it is okay to leave a dirty dish covered in tuna and beans in the sink.  But occasionally, you get a holiday.  A second honeymoon.  And you remember what it is that made your heart just sing.  I'm realizing that the people I admire most are the other artists here who give themselves whole-heartedly to this thing.  The people unafraid to dive right in.  The folks who study it and nerd out about it and just... love it.  Love is infectious.  It is so enlivening to be around, it is hard to sleep at night.

The sun rose on the Saturday after this first week and I had the whole day before me to spend however I wanted.  I thought at first that I was going to be responsible.  Pick up some groceries.  Head over to Samuel French to pick up a book called Contacts that I wasn't having luck find anywhere.  And I soon discovered nothing I wanted was anywhere.  I completely struck out.  So, my errands being a flop... I had the whole day ahead of me.

It's been a bit tough... In the past, there have been more incredible plays to see than I have had days in my trip.  This time, though, it's the good ol' summertime and everything seems to be for the tourist crowd.  Lots of musicals.  Lots of "spectaculars".  But there was one show I've dying to see: Streetcar Named Desire.  It is beyond sold out, but everyday there is a lottery for a few seats.  So, I decided to throw my hat into the hands of fate (...I'm mixing some metaphors there...) and see if I could score a spot.

I headed down to the Southbank.  It took a lot less time than I thought, so I had some time to stroll.  I headed towards the Thames.


There was Big Ben (don't call it that!) peeking out to say hello.  The day was sunny and warm, with a light breeze.  The crowds were out in droves.  There was some sort of a love festival that involved a lot of people with pink hair and tutus and a food festival with some delicious samples.  I stumbled across the book market.


I had to keep whispering to myself as I picked up first editions of Five Children and It and Asterix and Cleopatra that everything I bought, I had to carry around all day, and then in a few weeks time, haul in my suitecase up and down the Tube steps.  It was brutal display of self-control.  I kept going, enjoying the scenery...


...when I realized that it was probably time to head back for the first lottery round.  Now, I stood there thinking I should walk back, but I looked at my map and it appeared there was an alternate route that would take the same amount of time.  So, I pressed forward.


The thing I've discovered about traveling is that as long as you are open to the experience, there is no such thing as "being lost".  The spirits in the street will guide you exactly where you are supposed to be at exactly the time you are supposed to be there, and will reveal hidden treasures you'd never find if you stuck to your original plan.

I discovered this random little parking lot full of the most amazing shops.


They were filled with shops with handmade goods and some of the most beautiful clothing I've seen.  Was able to give directions to a lost native, which always fills me with a sense of belonging.  I got to the theatre and for whatever reason was told to come back at 5PM for the lottery instead of hanging around for the matinee lottery.  Soooo... I had a decision to make.  I had heard about a place called Borough Market, and according to my map, it seemed like I could get there  pretty easily.  But, again, there was that little voice in my head that said, "Go back to the river."  So I did and decided to pop into the Tate Modern to see what their Jackson Pollack was like.


Really cool gallery and my brain became overloaded way too fast.  While there, though, I realized I didn't have my glasses, which would make watching a show really not fun.  See?  A reason for everything!  Better to discover this fact in a free museum before spending money for a once-in-a-lifetime show.

So, I needed to get back to my room.  I could go back the way I came, but looking at my map, it appeared if I pressed forward, I would come to the next station.  So that's what I did.

And you know what I stumbled upon?  The Borough Market!  Completely not even close to where it looked like it should be on the map.

I turned the corner and there was The Clink.  Yes.  Of "throw them in the clink"!


A nasty looking place to be stuck in.  I kept walking and there were sweet little shops and touristy tours of fake catacombs.  There was a boat that Sir Francis Drake built and from the loud voices inside, I assume some Elizabethan reenactment going on.  But finally I got to the actual market and immediately saw the stand that I was told by my dear friend April Warren I HAD to go to.


I wish I had gotten a bigger picture, but if you look closely at the stand, you can see some yellow stuff dripping from those metal arms.  That yellow stuff is cheese.  That guy took half a wheel of cheese, toasted it under those arms, and then scraped the toasted cheese onto potatoes.


May I just mention how glad I was I hadn't stopped at any of those other food stands or cafes earlier? I sat there next to Queen Elizabeth's old boat and ate me some cheezy potatoes.  I'm already making plans to go back.

Speaking of back, there was the Tube station, I hopped on it, got back to my room, even had a chance to change and freshen up a bit before heading out.  Got to the theater.  Put my name in the lottery.  Stumbled around for the half-hour before the draw.  There was an older woman standing beside me.  Totally looked like she could be someone's mum.  And out of the blue, she proceeded to tell me how the last time she had been at this theater, she was watching Becket stoned on hash brownies and the hallways kept bending so she couldn't find the bar.  You know.  The sorts of conversations you have with strangers.

I didn't win the seats, but you know what?  The travel spirits will always take care of you if you let them.  I was walking along the sidewalk and suddenly realized I was alongside one of the actors from the show, someone I've really admired.  Life goal of breathing the same air as this actor? Achievement unlocked!

I headed back to Leicester Square to see if there were any 1/2 price tickets available.  The people behind me said that Shakespeare in Love was wonderful, so, I grabbed myself a really great seat.  The tourist crowds were bonkers, but with a little time before curtain, I headed over to Waterstones to see if I could grab a book I'd been looking for.  I loved what they did with their children's section.

(Get it? Piccadilly Circus?)

They were sold out (evidently this is a hot commodity), but directed me a block down to Hatchards, who had one copy left.  Hatchards is absolutely lovely.  It was founded in 1797 and consists of winding wooden staircases and carefully curated titles.  And there was the book!  The last copy in London!  And it was mine!  The travel spirits had my back again.

I had to hoof it back to the theater in time for curtain.  I settled into my seat, and the gal beside me pointed out the cast of Da Vinci's Demons (sitting in the front rows) to me.  She said it was her favorite show, that she had just decided to grab tickets to the show on a whim, and now was swooning.  I was delighted to see an actress I had seen in Fortune's Fool last January stepping into the lead role in Shakespeare in Love.  She was an absolute stand-out in Fortune's Fool and maybe it is just the vicarious thrill of seeing someone good succeed, or maybe it was just the hope it inspired, but after all the nonsense you find in American theater, I can't describe how wonderful it is that there are production teams at the biggest theaters in the world who are willing to cast based on talent rather than celebrity.  I hope that audiences open up their pocketbooks to reward that trust.

And that's it!  Just your average Saturday in London.  I wandered back to my room in the cool of the evening, stopping off for a little midnight pizza and some time to reflect on a great day.

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