Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Seasoned Seasonal Tale

In my stage struck youth I once appeared as -- literally -- a spear carrier in a semi professional summer repertory company. Amid much hard work there were occasional parties. Usually they followed the strike of one set and preceded the assembly of the next. At times this was from 2 am Sunday morning until the realization that the work call was for ten on Sunday morning drove us to our weary beds.
One of the directors was David Hooks. He told the seasoned seasonable tale more or less as follows:

When I was just starting as an actor I was engaged to play the Doctor in Dracula for a touring company. Dracula was, of course, Bela Lugosi.
In his native Hungary Lugosi had been the leading theatrical light of his generation. A fabulous actor capable of a much broader range than the Count. But he came to Hollywood to do Dracula and never had another role. He ended his career in his eighties taking a vaudeville send up of Dracula to London.
In the tour Lugossi, who had perhaps six sides (pages) of dialog, was the star. And was paid as such.
As the Doctor, I was on stage for all but about three short scenes. I was the 'also appearing'. And I was paid commensurately.
Now Lugosi appeared early in the first act and promptly slurped some young lovely's blood. Then he exited. He was dressed in full evening attire, of course.
He did not enter again until the middle of the second act, some forty minutes later.
Every night he moved from the stage to the stage door at a steady -- even a stately -- pace looking neither right nor left but only straight ahead. Meanwhile his wife danced about him like a butterfly. She removed his opera hat. She received his gloves. She untied his cloak and folded it over her arm. She pulled the end of his tie and undid his collar stud. All the time Lugosi ignored the entire process -- eyes straight ahead. By now he was just about to collide with the door. But just in time the wife placed a cigar in his mouth. opened the door, and brought a lighted match to the cigar. A generous draw and Lugosi took a turn in the alley under a blue gray cloud.
When it was near time for his entrance the wife would beckon him back. As he approached the door she removed the butt and discarded it. She did up the stud and tied his tie. All the while he was oblivious, strolling with intent toward the stage. She settled his cloak about his shoulders and tied it. She handed him his gloves and settled his top hat on his steely locks. He passed from her fluffing just as his cue was uttered and stept on stage to speak his line.
But a page or two later he exited again. This time the interval between appearances was too short for the full treatment. Instead his ministering angel loosed his tie and stud while he removed himself to a comfortable roll of old curtains behind the cyclorama approximately center stage.
On stage during this lull the sweet young thing and the Doctor discover Dracula's coffin. The sweet young thing pipes: "But Doctor, What is in that coffin?"
Every night -- in a beautiful basso profundo loud enough for the actors to hear, but not the audience, Lugosi would deliver on a descending scale: "Bu-u-u-ul-l-l-lshit."

Happy Beltane, all.

UPDATE Woops! That's a treat-a-licious Samhain, all, of course. So much for my Druid status.
-- ml
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Friday, October 21, 2005

The Aesthetics Question

Scene: The foyer of a small community theatre less than a light-year distant. (In all cases the guilty are protected -- not the innocent.)
It is Magic Time -- not that described by Moss Hart in Light Up the Sky-- but the brief inter-regnum between the end of one production and the start of rehearsals for the next, that all too brief period when the theatre belongs solely to the techies.
As the curtain rises the foyer is empty. Double doors right lead to the auditorium. A single door center leads to the dressing rooms and back stage areas. At the left a staircase -- grand only in a kind of Baptist/Woolworth's Five and Dime way -- leads down to the street entrance. The hall began life as a church and slid lower in the heavenly pecking order after the founders so succeeded that they could build a large suburban edifice more suited to comfort their afflicted parrisioners.
But enough cheap sarcasm.
A noise of raucous theatre types issues up the stairs just as ML, a burly, bearded techie type emerges from the auditorium. He is the current techie gofer for a modest community of artistes who are -- as usual -- reluctant to sully their hands.
BW arises from below not unlike a blowsy Irish Venus -- though fully clad. She is the former techie gofer who has been absent for some time findng the working conditions less wearing at other local theatres. Temporarily. Now she returns to direct the next production.
This Community Theatre is little different from any other theatre. They adore drama. Off-stage drama is always preferable. They are not above planting their thumbs on the butcher's scale to heighten the muuuhd, either. These on-lookers have been preparing their fighters for some time. Little hints about how unreasonble the other is and so on. Good clean fun.
Now, at last, the meeting occurs.

ML (who was expecting her and has a hopeful twinkle in one eye): The odious Ms BW, I presume?

BW (who was expecting him and has a vagrant dimple flitting on and off her cheek): Then, sure, you will be the dictatorial Mr ML. (Says she in a terrible broad stage brogue.)

ML: I am reliably informed (Several onlookers titter) that you have very decided ideas about the job of a lighting designer?

BW: 'Deed I do.

ML: Enlighten me, pray.

BW (absent the brogue in a clarion -- even stentorian-- voice): The first function of a lighting designer is to make it possible for the audience to see all of the set and players.

ML: Too true.

BW: The second function is to provide any special effects required, viz.: moonlight through a window, a lightning flash, a welcoming fire in the grate.

ML: quite.

BW (Riding over the interuption): The third function of the lighting designer is to suggest mood, or time of day, season and so forth.

ML: Uhm-hmm

BW: Finally, if the designer has any instruments left and any time available, she is at liberty to be artistic.

ML: Happens maybe once a decade.

BW: Optimist.

ML: Well, that covers it. Right on all counts. (He opens his arms)

They embrace. The onlookers turn ashen.
Tableaux and curtain.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A Virtual Age Passes

Though named for a poetic rhythm, my Dactyl is usually a prosaic beast who, like the Phoenix, reincarnates once an age. Once a virtual age that is. Her last incarnation as a 32 bit linux box with a K6II processor began in 1998. She was a svelte revelation compared to her former i386 16 bit age. Of late her decline has become more and more apparent. So I hoarded the quarters from not mowing the neighbor's lawn (he is of the opinion I do a lousy job -- he is correct, but I am also an inveterate do-gooder -- and so he pays me to stay away) until, bit by precious bit I won the new Dactyl's myencephalic parts by canny trades at eBay in which I invariably played the dupe. That is a part I have studied for many a year and grown into, even old in.
Then came the excitement of assembly. TA Ra-a-a Ta RA! Thanks to the wisdom of kind strangers at Linux Questions my ignorance at length was vanquished and I limped from the field bloody and bowed.
As you live in your virtual world, not mine, this has no effect on you. Still I take great pride in presenting the newest, Sempron 64 bit 2800 CPU incarnation of my faithful amanuensis: Dactyl.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Prime Sources 3

Sam Clark designs efficient, ergonomic and ecological kitchens that happen to be a joy to cook in and are beautiful.
Back in 1985, he wrote a book called the Motion Minded Kitchen (Alas no longer in print) as a result of the time he spent researching the history of kitchen design and in particular the work of the Gilbreaths. Frank explored ways to make men's work better -- e.g. his bricklayer's scaffold which kept the supply of bricks, mortar and tools all on the same level as the current work, thus eliminating bending and stooping. Together they studied many industrial situations to improve the work by reducing the worker's effort and strain. After Frank's death, Lilian turned to the home and 'women's work'. She induced GE to put shelves in refrigerator doors. Her time and motion studies of various projects led to the discovery of the kitchen triangle, or the best layout of refrigerator to stove to sink, which is now a cliche. She developed ideas about storage at point of first use which make mixing and chopping so much easier. She defined the essential work centers for an efficient kitchen as:
  1. Cleanup or sink center
  2. Cooking or stove center
  3. Mix center
And she pointed out the obvious that, people coming in all sizes and different chores demanding different efforts, therefore counters should be at differing heights to suit the cook who uses them and the task performed. To get a quick idea of what this means stand up straight and crook your elbow. Have somebody measure the distance from your elbow to the floor. Compare that height to your counters: how much lower are they?
A counter where you serve food, stack dishes or make sandwiches, is best if it is 3" less than that measurement. But the surface where you mix batter, knead bread, or chop nuts, needs to be 6 to 7 inches lower to allow the proper use of force required and room for the long handles of the tools. A sink rim where dishes are done or fresh vegetables are prepared is only 2 to 3 inches lower because the actual working level is inside the sink, nearer the bottom of the sink than the rim. The cooking surface of a range for most activities is fine at 3" less. But if you use big stock pots, or stir fry, using long handled tools, the height is better between 6" and 7" below your elbow. The oven's fully opened door is best between 1" and 7" sub elbow. Think of moving a twenty pound turkey from oven to counter: how nice not to bend!
"Work surface TOO HIGH ... causes arm and shoulder ache"
"Work surface TOO LOW ... causes back and neck ache"
(Motion Minded Kitchen, Clark, pg 42)
Just this short recital of the cook's requirements shows how distant most kitchen's are from good design. Even the ones that win design awards.
Besides the information about the Gilbreaths, Mr. Clark also provides a very clear and concise account of the design process. Given some facility with tools -- or a willingness to learn i.e.: make mistakes and try again -- most people are able to use his methods to achieve a better kitchen than the builders provided. I have done so and I miss it in evey kitchen since.
Courtesy of Library Thing:
The Motion-Minded Kitchen: Step-By-Step Procedures for Designing and Building the Kitchen You Want With the Space and Money You Have by Sam Clark (Houghton Mifflin (T), 1983), paperback