Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Londoner

  I'm feeling pretty local these days. I know where everything is. I don't have to look closely at the currency anymore to know what I'm carrying. The accents no longer stick out.
  Shopping has become much, much easier. Groceries, clothing, school supplies, housewares. I've gotten lucky with a lot of good deals. I've also been tasked for "tall guy" jobs many times at the supermarket by kindly old British ladies who can't reach those top shelves. They always call me "dearie" or "love." Cute.
  School's going very well, and getting busier every day. This coming week is really going to light a fire, I think. Dance classes have been added to the wide array of acting classes, and a ton of different voice classes are in the mix. We've got "Pure Voice," "Applied Voice," "Singing," and "Choir" going on this first term. There will be performances later in the year.
  We've also just been assigned our first roles. I'll be playing Benedick from "Much Ado About Nothing," and also pulling double duty as Orsino from "Twelfth Night." The guy playing that part is going to be gone the day of the actual performance, so I have to understudy and play his part on the day. That means twice as many rehearsals. My teacher asked me if it was too much, and I said no. I'll just have to get my ass firmly in gear.
  And speaking of that very teacher, she's amazing. She is exactly like Judy Dench. She looks like her, sounds like her. Actually, she's like a fiestier version of Judy Dench. I love her, and I love that she doesn't let you get away with giving less than you can in a performance. I've only been here for three weeks now, and already I can feel myself growing tremendously as an actor.
  About those dance classes... yeah. I'm not known for my dancing skills. I've never had any training whatsoever, and I tend to be a little wreckless with my feet. It's been challenging so far. On Friday, at the end of three hours of Elizabethan dancing, we were trying to learn one final dance before we left. On our last go, I completely failed at almost every step. When the song ended, our teacher said, "Right. Brian, that was dreadful. One more time, everybody, I can't leave things on that note." It was pretty funny. We all take a few jabs from the instructors, but nothing is ever mean-spirited. I have nothing but good things to say about LAMDA. Next term, we learn Flamenco dancing. I love that all my weak areas are being filled in here. I'll come out of here ready for anything.

  I'm cooking bangers and mash for dinner. Not very creative, but it's tasty.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Amazing weekend!

  My brain is reeling from all the incredible sights I've taken in since Saturday morning!

  I first walked up the road to see if that amazing candy/bread/wine/cheese/deliciousness market was set up again (see last blog). This time, I was armed with cash and a healthy appetite. Unfortunately, the market was nowhere to be found. In its place was a group of Native American dancers, randomly enough, who were not nearly as mouth-watering.
  Disappointed, I set out on the rest of my planned day, which started with the Natural History Museum. My experience at the British Museum a few months ago had been jaw-dropping, so I had high expectations.

(click pictures to biggify)

  I was not at ALL disappointed. When I stepped out of the Underground and saw the museum's impressive exterior, I knew I was in for a good time, and it just got better from there.
  The main hall is a huge, open structure that looks like some kind of Italian Renaissance art. It's all columns and arches and grand staircases. Sunlight streams in through vast skylights and stained-glass windows. Honestly, as amazing as the exhibits were, I think I was more impressed with the building itself.
  I breezed through it at a fairly good pace, and it still took three hours to take it all in. I saw massive rooms packed with geological wonders, whale skeletons, fossils, animals, art, history, and of course, dinosaur skeletons. It seemed like every few feet, my jaw was dropping open and I was whispering "wow" to myself. If I went into even a minimal amount of detail about what I saw, you'd get tired of reading. Watch for many more pictures of this amazing place soon.

  Next, I walked north to Hyde Park. I basically just wanted to see what this 625 acre green looked like.
  I walked right through the middle of the park, crossing the Serpentine lake, and soon found myself in the middle of a large crowd. Last time that happened, I had stumbled upon the gates of Buckingham Palace and caught a glimpse of the Queen. This time, I had unwittingly trod into the Pope's prayer vigil. I didn't get to see the Pontiff himself- he arrived a short while after I left. He's not my favorite, and so I didn't feel bad about not waiting around to see him.
  On the walk back, I visited Princess Diana's memorial. I didn't really know it was in Hyde Park until I saw a small sign pointing the way, so it was a pleasant surprise.
  The memorial itself was very fitting, I thought. It consists of a large granite oval-shaped streambed where water flows down both sides. Etched in the granite at various points are shapes that cause the water to ripple or surge. Visitors are allowed to wade in it, and I saw a lot of children taking advantage of that.

  So, that brings me to today. I only had one stop on my travels, but it took a lot longer to get there. Two fairly lenghty train rides and a long walk brought me to the entrance of High Gate Cemetery, one of London's most famous memorial gardens.

  Of course, anybody who knows me at all knows that I love to visit cemeteries. The older and more weathered, the better. I love to see interesting markers, ornaments, statues, crypts. From what I read about the history of this place, I was about to be treated to more jaw-dropping.
  And indeed I was. I have never seen a more beautiful and fascinating cemetery anywhere in the world. Not even close. I won't go into a history lesson about the place- you can look that up if you're interested to know more- but it far exceeded my expectations.
  The entire grounds were very heavily wooded and grown over with ivy. An absolutely endless array of monuments and stones went off in every direction of the dark, lush greenery. You could really see the age in the stone. The colors, the textures. Absolutely incredible. I wanted to get off the path and explore, but there are very strict rules there. In fact, there's even a dress code. The guided tour, which is the only way you're allowed in, lasted about an hour and was very interesting. Photography is allowed, but not with professional gear. I used a small, fixed-length lens on my camera, which is the only way I was able to get around this. Many of my pictures are too close because of that, but I got quite a few good ones. Even then, I had to be a little sneaky.
  Again, watch for more pictures of this place soon. I wish I could have shot more. At the top of the hill where High Gate is located, there is an area recessed into the ground where a circular array of crypts surround a massive tree in the center. It was unbelievable. We were even allowed inside one of the massive vaults, where some of the crypt doors had crumbled away, revealing the coffins inside. We weren't permitted to take ANY pictures of that, understandably, out of respect.

  The pictures I took of the things I saw both days this weekend will NEVER do any of it justice. Much of it was so fantastic, that it seems like something you could only imagine in a dream. I have a feeling I've barely scratched the surface for seeing these sorts of things here in the UK. That thought is very, very exciting.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The first week

  So, I've been here a week now (a week and a day to be exact) and it's everything I'd hoped. London, of course, is wonderful, and I settled in remarkably quickly. Granted, I had my flat by the end of the first day, so that made the transition that much easier. Some of my new friends have just found places.
  Here's a few pics of my new digs. It's tiny, as all studios are, but it's clean and pretty well appointed.

  Classes have been great so far. The instructors are amazing, and I love the general vibe at school. I haven't run into anybody yet with a pretentious attitude, and that's rare in this business. They did warn us, though, that this initial euphoria would soon wear off as our schedules increased. We're looking at weeks of mostly 12 hour days, and some six day weeks. They said there will be meltdowns and stress flip-outs, but that's to be expected. Bring it on. I eat pressure for breakfast. With toast, usually.
  The other 11 students in the postgrad program with me are a great bunch, and we've become fast friends. There have been pub outings, and today, we all went to see a show at the Riverside Studio Theatre called "Shakespeare: The Man From Stratford." It was a one-man show starring Simon Callow. Google him and you might recognize his picture. You would likely know him from the movie "Shakespeare in Love."
  Earlier today, I went with a friend to the Shephard's Bush Market. It's an open air market about two tube stops from here, and had every manner of vegetable, fruit and meat cut you could want. A lot of the meat was really disgusting (see today's 365) but only because it's things Americans aren't used to eating- organs and tongues and such. I don't think I saw any beef. It was all lamb, chicken, ox, duck. Interesting differences. On the way back to my flat, we found another, smaller open market. I didn't have any cash on me, luckily, because I think I would have blown it all.
  It was an absolutely sinful array of pastries, candies and deliciousness. I stopped dead in my tracks and just stared. There were so many choices that I just couldn't take it all in. There were all sorts of things I was familar with, but so many more that I wasn't. Yogurt covered honeycomb? I think I'll have to go back there next weekend with a little money. A little.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

'ome sweet 'ome

  Cheers, everyone! I made it to London, and I'm all settled in after only a day and a half. Got my flat, got a phone, got a bank account. School starts Monday.
  I met a few of my fellow students last night at the "Curtains Up" pub a couple of blocks from here. I can see that place becoming a future hangout- a place where actors, all pouty and pretentious, go to drink their troubles away. If not, there are plenty of other pubs. I think just about every third building in London is some sort of boozery.
  My neighborhood is awesome, and only about a ten minute walk to school or the tube. The whole of the city is at my fingertips! The flat I'm in is naturally tiny. I honestly think it's about the size of the kitchen of my house in Springfield. Quite an adjustment.
  Shopping for groceries here is an adventure in itself, as I found out earlier this evening. You know that things are going to be different, but you're just somehow still unprepared. No recognizable brands, strange combinations of foods, local favorites (kidney pie, bangers & mash). Everyone in the store thought I was an idiot, because I was walking around looking at literally EVERYTHING and smiling from ear to ear. They also didn't appreciate me backing up the checkout line because I wasn't hip to the system.
  But where are the pictures? I haven't taken any yet. But soon. When my Frame 365 blog finally hits 365, I'll be starting a new site that will be a major pictoral chronicle of my time here in the United Kingdom. Tally ho!

PS- Nobody really says that.