Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Kirk Jackson - SHIPWRECKED Blog 2 - "Swashbucklers and Handlebars"

Any seasoned actor knows that to find the character you need to find the shoes. Shoes affect balance, posture and how we move. Most of the time they literally are what connects us to the world. Think of all the different shoes you own and their specific functions. Now, imagine you live concurrently in every historic period and society on every continent for the past 2000 plus years. That’s a lot of different shoes and functions. If you are on a stage but want the audience to imagine you’re on a glacier, or boat or beach or battlefield or golf course, how you physically relate to the space helps tell that story. Shoes also act as signifiers of status, profession, health, and of course style.

Last winter I visited Ollie in Toronto when he was touring as The Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Talk about crazy shoes for a wild character! Toronto has many tourist attractions but the most quirky and fascinating by far is the Bata Shoe Museum: a highly entertaining, informative, provocative and even slightly disturbing look at our feet and what we do with them. I highly recommend it!

Now, I imagined Louis de Rougemont barefoot for the entire show, maybe because he’s in a bathing suit at the end or maybe because I thought about a lone castaway on a one-palm-tree island in a New Yorker cartoon. But Costume Designer Connie Furr and Matthew are very excited by the idea of swashbuckler boots. I’ve worn swashbucklers before: once as Captain Hook and once to portray a Dutch ancestor making nice with the Natives on a hometown parade float. I believe my very Irish friend Tom played the Mohawk. Anyway, my swashbucklers for Shipwrecked! have been ordered and I eagerly await their arrival. It will fundamentally affect everything I’m doing so they can’t arrive too soon.

Meanwhile, extreme hair, like a shaved head (The King and I) or a powdered wig (Amadeus) can also affect how you balance or move. However, most men’s hairstyles are fundamentally ignorable from the inside. We look in the mirror and project ourselves as our own observers and make judgments about what our appearance says about us to the world. Obviously, it’s another choice indicative of character that we make every day and, of course, for the stage. Plus on stage there is an added injunction to keep your hair out of your eyes. Here’s a typical backstage scene: it’s dress rehearsal in the men’s dressing room and a bunch of guys are discussing, sharing, comparing and rating various hair products: gels, waxes, sprays and pomades. No one is functioning from his comfort zone here. It’s a level of social interaction that’s pretty unfamiliar to men, regardless of sexual orientation. The kind of conversation that we imagine women have in Ladies Rooms but men just don’t do well.

Louis de Rougement however is a special case, being an actual historic figure (see photo). Once I got a hold of his picture, I hung it up where I could look at it as if in a mirror at my own reflection. I think I look a bit like him naturally and by internalizing whatever I can from that picture, I truly believe a little alchemical magic happens. To help, I took the picture to Sasa, the real magician who cuts my hair in New York. She enjoys a challenge and experimented with several different gels and techniques, diligently washing my hair between attempts. We did an initial trial in October, then another in December. So, thanks to Sasa, I can avoid the last minute hair product debate.

Finally there’s the beard. I’ve never grown a moustache so long that I carry my morning coffee with me until lunchtime. In the 19thC they had moustache mugs that included a bridge to keep liquid off the lip. In the 21stC we are less advanced and I have stained almost every article of clothing I own with my own drips and spatters. Finally, you couldn’t see my mouth anymore and I had to trim it. See correlating injunction above about keeping one’s hair out of one’s eyes when on stage.

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