varsity, again

varsity theatre, davis
At the end of last month was the 10th annual Davis Feminist Film Festival. Unfortunately I was away in Los Angeles so I missed it, but I donated a sketch for their silent auction, and this is it. This is the Varsity Theatre, as you probably know, I have sketched it before once or twice. I sketched it one lunchtime and was so pleased that red Mini was parked in front. I have no idea if it sold (the auction was silent!) but it was fun to sketch. Of course, the festival didn’t take place here at the Varsity, but at the Veteran’s Memorial Theatre, so the sketch was thematically apt but geographically wide of the mark…

Davis Feminist Film Festival:

the royal court

the royal court theatre
Sloane Square. As a native Burnt Oaker, I feel out of place down here. Oh it’s just a place, like any other, and I’ve been around the world, but part of me thinks ‘Sloane Square’ and thinks ‘the 80s’, fil-o-faxes, champagne, upper classes, butlers, top hats, I don’t know, the rich. My part of North London was the opposite, so this was ‘how the other side lives’. Which is all a bit nonsense in the scheme of things, but it does explain why I don’t go down there very often. Also I live in California and have no reason to make special trips to go to Sloane Square in West London and look at exclusive boutiques or whatever they have down there. However, what they do have is the Royal Court Theatre, and I’ve been there a good few times, and I love it. This is one of the most important theatres in London, it is not one of your big commercial Andrew Lloyd Webber nonsense theatres that you get all over the West End; no, this venue fosters proper writing and has birthed many importnat modern playwrights such as Mark Ravenhill and the late Sarah Kane. They also house the Young Writers Program to develop young theatrical talent. This is a place for new and exciting work. I once saw a play there – I cannot recall the name now – with three actors on a bare sloping stage which utilized rudimentary puppetry and long, long mid-sentence pauses, and I absolutely loved it. It’s a great building also, modern and renovated inside but with a classic Sloane Square exterior. My friend Tamara spent a good few years working there too, so I’ll always think of her when I think of the Royal Court. I stood here for the best part of an hour sketching away, having to stop each time a huge bus hulked into view (I stood by a bus stop so this was often), drawing in the newly opened watercolour Moleskine. I had thought about sketching around Kings Road and all the little Chelsea boutiques, with all the butlers and yuppies and stockbrokers and Dukes with their massive mobile phones and their fil-o-faxes and barbour jackets, but I didn’t want to stand out too much as an oik from the estate, and headed off to Westminster to draw a panorama of Parliament Square.

portland rain again

Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
This past weekend I went on a brief jaunt to Portland, Oregon, on a mission for food, beer, comics, bookshops (well, one big bookshop), rain, great people, sketching and pirates (mostly for the pirates). I like Portland. I wanted to go somewhere to just take it easy, and Portland is that place. I didn’t even mind not doing too much sketching – if I did it, good, but if not, well that’s ok too, I just enjoy being somewhere like Portland. Of course I always do more sketching than I realise, but I’m glad I finally got to sketch the building above, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, that is, the big theatre downtown with that classic Portland sign. Built in 1928 It was raining, and so I stood across the street under some convenient cover and sketched away. Rain is nice. We have some here in Davis now but we’re just trying it out for a while; in Portland the rain is a character in its own right. I loved the Portland rain last time and walked about in it whenever I could. This time the rain was light and sprinkly, so I didn’t really get wet at all. Shortly before then, I was passing through Pioneer Square when who should be there but Santa Claus! He was there to welcome the brand new Christmas Tree, which arrived at the square on a big truck right after I got there; I had to do a very quick sketch, of course. You’ll notice there are two trucks – one carried the tree, and the other carried the additional branches. I watched them lift the tree, and then they spent a good deal of time attaching the other branches, I guess they drill holes into the main trunk and insert the branches to make it bushier. Well whaddayaknow!
Pioneer Sq, Portland

I have plenty more PDX sketches, including ones of the pirates from the Swashbuckler’s Ball, so stayed tuned Portland fans. The finishing off and scanning is still happening…

never hung poison on a fouler toad!

richard III, wyatt auditorium
Last Saturday, I went to see a free production of Shakespeare’s classic play Richard III at the Wyatt Auditorium on the UC Davis campus. I’d never been to this venue before, but since I do enjoy this play and have a particular interest in the historical character of King Richard III, this gave me a great chance to sketch this old building from the inside, and watch some great drama too. This was produced by undergraduates in the UC Davis Theater & Dance department, a company called ‘Shakespeare on a Shoestring’ (‘SOS’), directed by acting professor Bella Merlin, formerly with the National Theatre in London, and Kevin Adamski. When I was a student of drama back in my own university days, I participated in a large production of Richard III, not as an actor but as the props and art assistant. I helped design this vast stage floor composed of newspaper cuttings, I drew maps of battlefields, and I remember having to go to my local Territorial Army center to borrow some militaristic gear from the quartermaster, which included a massive and very heavy wooden table, which – me being without a car or van – I carried by myself for nearly a mile. I had actually intended on bringing it across London on the tube; that never happened. I’m not so daft these days, I hope. This production, however, was a little more spartan – and that is how I like it. The direction was excellent, so even in the rare moments when the acting was less consistent a beat was never lost, and the scenes were almost always compelling. Richard (aka the Duke of Gloucester) himself was excellently played by Ryan Geraghty, every bit the villain Shakespeare’s text intended him to be. The most striking element was the music, inventive percussion provided at dramatic moments by the beating of simple objects, wooden blocks, plastic drums, metal pipes. The play was performed in its entirety, from what I could tell, clocking in at two and a half hours (with a brief interval). Naturally, I sketched.

I hadn’t intended on sketching on the program itself, but it just seemed like the appropriate thing to do, though it wasn’t suited for watercolour, obviously. One problem with sketching a performance, even of a play you know, is that you are never quite sure how long the scene will remain in the position you decide to sketch. Therefore I concentrated most of my time on the theatre itself, with its half-round seating broken by large wooden posts that often obstructed what I could see (there is no getting around that, for almost any spectator). So the scene I chose was the corpse scene between Richard and the widow of the late King, though Richard was actually hidden behind one of those posts for much of it. Therefore when I sketched him, I waited until a later scene when he was giving a more prominent speech to the audience. I drew him again, later in the play, on grey paper – though halfway through this sketch the lights went dark (having been unchanged the entire play) for the ‘ghosts’ scene, so I finished it in the battle scene (adding in his metal fighting stick, and those famous lines). It was a fun finale, with high-tempo percussion over a slow-motion duel between King Richard and Richmond, the future King Henry IV, founder of the Tudor dynasty (I must admit I was rooting for Richard). I can’t wait for the next one, Richard IV!
richard III

Of course, King Rick has been in the news of late, as you may have heard, in quite amazing circumstances. His body was lost for centuries, his true character – of which we mostly know Tudor accounts – lost to myth and dramaturgy, his demise known to us only that he was the last English king to die on the battlefield. That battlefield – Bosworth – was also lost to history, until just a couple of years ago, and last year a skeleton was dug up in an archaeological dig beneath a car park in Leicester, part of a medieval church long since buried. Once it was realised this was the church where the defeated king had been buried, it was an exciting coincidence when a skeleton was found which had the fabled curvature of the spine which Richard was alleged to have (but many believed this to be simply an imagination of the Tudors). This ‘deformity’, as Shakespeare would have us believe, destined him to be the pantomime villain, who would go on the murder his nephews in the Tower. When it was announced recently that, after extensive DNA study, these remains were of the lost King, it proved he did have scoliosis of the spine, making one shoulder appear higher than the other. We were also able to learn more about the manner in which he was killed, where each blow hit his body, and how his face was spared so that they could identify the body to prove that Richard III was dead. They didn’t have DNA mapping or CSI teams back in 1485. After all these centuries however, this enigmatic and controversial figure of English history is really and truly back, and still being talked about. Though Shakespeare’s play is undoubtedly a Tudor fantasy, its contribution to Richard’s legend and legacy is unavoidable,

“And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days…” (Richard III, Act 1, Scene 1)

le monde entier est un théâtre

mondavi center
This is the Mondavi Center at UC Davis. It is a large performance space and venue, an impressive building on campus that often hosts superb world-class artists and musicians. While I have never been to a performance there, I have been to sketch a rehearsal there, for last year’s Dance Dance Davis event.I’ve sketched the outside before, from a similar angle to this, but this one was drawn last week after a meeting at the Buehler Alumni Center next door. I had my large Canson pad with me, so this was going to be a larger one, at about 7″x9″. I drew most of it on site and finished the colour at home. I was for the most part surrounded by a huge crowd of schoolkids who were on some sort of trip to the Mondavi and were waiting around for their school bus to bring them lunch. I like the Mondavi.

les petites marionettes

Marionettes Luxembourg
We went to see the puppet show at the Luxembourg Gardens. I think I was expecting a kind of seaside type Punch and Judy thing in one of those little striped tents, but they had an acual theatre, the Theatre du Luxembourg, complete with cast photos of the famous marionettes lining the walls. I was pretty excited; I love puppets. It’s my secret ambition to be a puppeteer. As we entered, the lady at the ticket office informed us that the first four rows are reserved for the children; grown-ups must sit further back. We were not sure if our son, shy as he is, would want to sit among all the other kids all speaking French, but he loved the idea, bounding away without a thought, chatting in English with the odd French word to any kid sat around him (“I went to the Eiffel Tower! It was grande!”). All the kids were excited about the show, which was to be the Three Little Pigs, “Les Trois Petits Cochons”.

The host puppet, guignol, introduced the show, and all the kids joined in the singing. It was very entertaining – while it’s not exactly Cirque du Soleil, it is loveable puppetry of the sort I can’t get enough of. More entertaining was my son, who was very animated in his reactions to the story (which depsite being in French he could understand well enough). When the Big Bad Wolf (“le Vilain Loup”) failed to blow down the brick house he leapt to his feet shouting and pointing, “ha-ha!” At one point he recognized a French phrase and jumped up calling out to me, “Daddy! Daddy! They said ‘ça va bien’!” During the break, all the kids had their snack with parents and juice-boxes at the ready, before resuming the second half. It was all great entertainment, and afterwards we went and got an ice cream.

and don’t dilly-dally on the way

st james church, piccadillypiccadilly postbox

Londonistas, fear not. I still haven’t finished posting all of my London sketches from December. There are still more to come. I’ve been spreading them out over a period of a couple of months to keep you coming back. Or rather, because I’ve just not gotten around to scanning and cropping and blah blah. Still, it mixes it up a bit – San Francisco here, Islington there, Sacramento here, little bit of Davis. This is Piccadilly, in central London. It’s a thoroughfare named after those ruff collars that people used to wear years ago (think Shakespeare, Raleigh, Blackadder…) and full of fine shops and elegances. St. James’s church (above left) is a great old Wren church, free of stained glass (as was the fashion in Protestant England) and a building I’ve wanted to sketch for quite a while. Light was fading though (the sun goes down at about midday in England in December) so I had to be quick. A few people asked if I sold my sketches while I was sat there. One even asked me in Italian. Another said he’d give me a fiver for it. Sorry, I said, this is part of my sketchbook and I don’t cut out pages. A tenner then, he said. Hmmm, five hundred quid, I said. Bargaining ended there, and I got back to sketching.

I sketched a post box on St. James Street. It has two slots for letters, which is handy if you’re in a hurry. It reminded me of that line in Little Britain, “if you put a second class stamp on a letter in Britain, it’s guaranteed to arrive somewhere at some point in the future, maybe.” Ah, Britain. When I used to be a tourguide I would tell my American tourists that the “ER” meant ‘Emergency Room’. I also used to tell people that, where an ‘L’ plate on a car means ‘Learner’, the ‘GB’ sticker means ‘Getting Better’.   

the angel commonly called erosgielgud theatre, shaftesbury avenue

I also used to tell them that Piccadilly Circus was the Times Square of London (which is what we’re supposed to say), and that the statue of ‘Eros’ isn’t Eros at all. It’s called the Angel of Christian Charity, and was erected for the Earl of Shaftesbury. It is supposed to point up Shaftesbury Avenue, but now i fact points the other way, due to a mistake when re-erecting it. Now it’s used as the emblem of that paragon of virtue and unbiased truth, the Evening “we can’t even justify being paid for so now we’re free” Standard. It was, as always, very busy. McDonalds was jam packed; it was like Piccadilly Circus.

And there on the right, the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, in the Theatreland of Soho. I remember when this used to be the Globe Theatre, but it got changed and now we have a different theatre called the Globe (something to do with that Shakespeare guy again, they’re still going on about him). As I sketched, a group of small oiks gathered around me to watch. I sped up and moved to a different spot. I don’t trust small oiks, out in feral packs on the streets of London. I do like it round here though; a mate of mine lived about a block north of this spot years ago, up in Berwick Street, and those were great times. I can even remember some of them.