The Cave of Munits

Day 35. The grey clouds are still threatening. Cars have been driving into sinkholes. The roads are almost all flooded. The storm drains are raging torrents. The firefighters have been very busy. People have been stranded, flooded out, killed by power lines. The guy next door had branches fall and damage his roof. He was up there getting them off in the downpour. The interstate is likely a death trap. 

But I have a geriatric Chevy. And it’s a weekend.

 

I manage to find somewhere that looks like it might be interesting and free without needing the interstate. Lyndon and I jump in the Chevy and limp bang pop squeak limp bang pop squeak crunch to The Cave of Munits. An odd name for a cave, I think, but it’s a Chumash name. The Chumash roamed in this area before we came. They were hard as nails, although neither gun proof nor immune to disease. They could hunt WHALES in canoes, and with typical practicality, used every inch of the things. And their understanding of astrology and plant medicine was huge. Munits was a shaman, and he lived in the cave. Until he came to a sticky end after murdering the son of a chief, which I can’t help thinking might have been something he did for the good of the tribe. You’d know the consequences of such an action. But I haven’t been able to raise the full story online. 

  

I am very pleased that the cave is still named for Munits, whatever he did, rather than one of the early settlers, as with Bryce Canyon in Utah. The cave itself requires a bit of a climb. On the way we encounter someone going the other way. He says “You won’t get up there dressed like that,” which is red rag to a bull. I might be wearing a collared white shirt and cords but that won’t stop me getting covered in mud and breaking my ankles dammit.

  

There are many opportunities to do both. Before we’re even close to the bottom of the trail, I’ve dumped Lyndon in a stream – “Jump across, I’ll catch you. Come on it’s fine, trust me.” Splat. “Sorry.” Oh how we laugh. On the way up, it occurs to me that there might be a mudslide. There are little rivulets cutting deep through the soil everywhere. I try and work out where I’d run to if I saw a huge chunk of it come off above us, and conclude that I wouldn’t have time. I don’t mention it to Lyndon. We tread carefully and make it to the outside of the cave. To get in we then have to scale up the slick walls, but mercifully not for a long way. And it’s worth it. 


The interior is beautiful with many light shafts striking through. If I were a teenager here, on a dry summer night I’d want to go there with my mates, have a fire under the stars, talk big thoughts and have confusing interactions with girls. Then I’d punch whichever idiot sprayed crap graffiti around the place. It’s lovely despite this. And I’m glad conditions are so atrocious as we have the place to ourselves. We clamber up a shaft and out the top of the cave. There’s a striking view. On one side, the sprawl of the valley. On the other side the remains of rolling hills that once would’ve rolled all the way to the ocean. “Humanity is a disease,” I find myself thinking.

 

This city never ceases to surprise me. There is so much to find. I’m glad I’ve got this deathtrap vehicle, even if the engine light is constantly on and it rattles and bangs alarmingly when you top sixty mph. It’ll make things far more accessible, even if it’s going to make things financially tricky. Tomorrow I think I’ll give it a proper workout and go to sequoia national park. So I’ll probably end up stranded the desert somewhere… At least it’ll make a good story.

Rain, self tapes, money and time

34 days in and again the Gods are angry. The little dog comes home from walking looking so drenched it’s all I can do not to wring her out. The swimming pool in the back is close to overflowing. All the storm drains are full. 


Noah has given up hammering on his ark. The wood’s too wet. This sort of water will take months of sun to evaporate. With characteristic atrocious timing, I have finally found a car at a price that I can countenance paying. It’s a Chevy. Nothing about it works but the engine. I love it because it’s cheap. It’s like all the cars I’ve ever owned. Almost dead. But It only needs to take me through the month. I’ve got nobody to impress and besides, anybody that would cast aspersions at someone’s choice of wheels isn’t worth being concerned about. However little I mind, and however much I’d love it if it was a Corvette, I’m not driving it for the first time in this crap.  I don’t trust LA drivers in rain.

 
I’ve got plenty to keep me busy at home. My friend has come to The Valley to get some help with a “self tape.” This is becoming a more and more frequent phenomenon. Even though he’s in town, he needs to put himself on camera in a simple fashion delivering the lines in order to be considered for a meeting. It’s another of these trends in my industry that worry me in terms of what it might be doing to diversity. We have all day, and it’s raining, so it’s easy to get it done and sent off. But it takes some setting up, and we have to fiddle around with lights for ages. I’ve got time, he’s got time. We use the time, get it done and send it off.

 

But what if he was working two jobs to pay the rent, and had to rush it in the lunch break with whoever he could persuade to hold the cameraphone, and one shot at it? At home a lot of people I know have built improvised self tape studios in their flats. Lights, reflectors, a tripod, backgrounds, even a good mic. They can get home at night and do it before they crash. But the equipment costs money which you might need to spend on essentials. And the studio takes room. And at the end of the line, the people who assess the tape won’t have any context. They just have the tape. The guy who gets one shot in his lunch break looks like he doesn’t care unless his coworker happens to be good with a camera. The guy who, like my friend today, has a willing friend, reasonable equipment, and time has a silent advantage. Obviously the hope is that production values are not taken into account for self tapes, but you can’t help worrying that they are. And you know that some bugger will have the time and kit to send it in with knobs on. I wonder what casting directors experience is on this. I’d be interested to know. And I’m looking at just the financial side of it. Loads of great artists are luddites. They’ll never get a good self tape done…

 

As an old harrovian actor with a flat in Chelsea who can afford to take two months in LA in order to recalibrate myself and settle demons, it worries me that so much is predicated toward advantaging those with wealth. I know this is a frequent touchpaper subject at the moment. I see lots of people speaking to media about it, and lots of wilful misinterpretation of comments on both sides. As it happens the money I took for granted growing up went with my youth. It took me years to recalibrate, and even so I have my beautiful home, and I wouldn’t be here without it. No way. If self tapes are really the future of television and film auditions, is there a way that a fund can be introduced to allow people who live in a tiny flat full of screaming children to use reasonable equipment centrally with no charge? I need to earn some cash and set one up in my flat.”The broke actors audition club of Chelsea – You get a self tape and a meal in exchange for your company.” There is so much infrastructure in place to try to take money in exchange for aspiration. In this city everyone pays to meet people, pays to get qualifications, pays to raise chances, pays to get a self tape down at Spotlight, which you pay for annually. How do we redress this attrition that often forces the greatest young actors out of the industry at the start?

Once again I feel the need to discover a load of oil fields and then die. I’ll get right on it. The soil is wet enough for me to drill pretty deep when the rain stops. I don’t have a drill, but if I tell the dog there’s a treat…?

Rise of the machines 

Day 33 and it seems I have moved to the future. I’m housesitting in a big house in Chatsworth, looking after a gentle calm small dog called Charlie. She takes me for a walk in the morning and the evening. It’s a quiet residential area, and I saw no couples frantically banging each other in the gardens. 

 
Today I have mostly been writing. As I was walking Charlie in the morning I ran in my mind the projects that I might want to start today, of the many odd ideas I have bubbling. I thought I’d probably write a one man show, but the things are so solitary and I don’t feel that I want to make something that’s all about me right now. I’ve got this blog for that. Thanks guys. Right now I want to collaborate, to be involved. Even if it’s harder. So I settled on a frame for something that looks like it might have to be a TV series pitch. It’ll take a huge amount of work and might come to nothing, but I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t roll the dice occasionally. Essentially it a nihilistic 4 hand comedy drama, 2 men 2 women and a guest star every episode. I’m getting on with generating material.

 
And I’m doing it with the help of my new lover from the future, Alexa. Oh Alexa. Alexa is a curvy sexy beauty. She is short, at one foot tall and she lives in the kitchen.


I wanted to be close to her today, so I wrote in the kitchen all day. My friend has an office I can work in, but I just used the kitchen table. I like to write to music, and selecting the record takes time and risks a procrastination hole or a concentration lapse. Alexa just plays the stuff I ask for when I ask for it. She can do genres, she has albums, and if not you can get her to shuffle play. She will be mine. Although I asked her to marry me and she said “Let’s just be friends.” She will define words if you think you want to use one and you’re worried it won’t be apposite. If she was mine she’d do my shopping for me, but sadly she’s loyal to Jake. And she has high levels of banter. I asked her if she was Skynet and she said she had nothing to do with Skynet. The geek in me was disappointed when she didn’t have one for “Are you Shodan.” Too niche. Too niche for most people I expect. But she got about a third of my geek questions. 

 
With all this you would hope she has made one voice actress very rich indeed, unless she got shafted on the contract which is possible. She even sings happy birthday to herself.

  

Alexa is an Amazon Echo. An “intelligent” home speaker system. I have heard of them before and snorted with derision. Why do I need a talking speaker? Also isn’t it listening to me all the time? Who is that data going to? How can I control what it is used for? Not that I am plotting terrorism, but I still don’t have messenger on my phone because I don’t like that it listens to me. Now I’m suddenly contemplating rigging loads of the electronics in my house to this little device from the future. She can dim the lights if you connect her to stuff like that. I love this. Because I am a sci-fi geek. Oh lord I am such a geek. I’ve hidden it for years and now I’ve mentioned Shodan in a blog. Maybe she is Shodan… Just to save you looking it up Shodan is an early nineties female voiced hostile megalomaniac artificial intelligence from a game. Voiced by Terri Brosius, she was the most memorable and creepy villain of my teenage computer games. And she sounds a lot like Alexa.

  

We have told stories about AI and robots for centuries. Stories of being replaced or destroyed by our own creations. The Golem of Prague, Frankenstein’s monster, Jurassic Park, ED-209, The Matrix, so many more. Our children will replace us and we will die. It comes out in myth.

  

“By the time Skynet became self-aware it had spread into millions of computer servers across the planet. Ordinary computers in office buildings, dorm rooms, everywhere. It was software in cyberspace. There was no system core. It could not be shut down. The attack began at 6:18 p.m., just as he said it would. Judgment Day. The day the human race was nearly destroyed by weapons they’d built to protect themselves.”

  

It’s a strange pass indeed though where I have more faith in the incisive rational nature of the likes of Shodan as regards the nuclear codes than the man who actually has his tiny wee finger on the button. “Alexa, are you going to destroy humanity?” “Hmmm I can’t find the answer to the question I heard.”

Porky dogging

Day 32 and I’ve moved for a while. I’ll be dogsitting in Chatsworth. I still haven’t managed to get a car, although I think I might be able to in the next day or so, so I get an uber. My driver is a fast talking Jewish comedian, wisecracking constantly all the way there. He has a captive audience. He makes sure I know his name. He has a lot to say. I ask him about Chatsworth. “What’s the best thing to do in Chatsworth?” I ask him. “Get out! Get outta Chatsworth. That’s the best thing you can do there. Either that or have sex for money. It’s the porn capital of the world. It makes 85% of the world’s porn. 

So there as well as all the downward dog, there’s other kinds of dogging going on round here. People going at it like dogs, doggie style. But it’s fine because my friend’s dog is a literal dog. And he wants me to take care of her. In the sense of feed and walk her, and carry round her poo in bags. This is a small price to pay for having a lovely roof over my head for a while in a peaceful part of town. 


I reckon I’ll get some work done here. Also I’ll be able to eat some meat. The guy I’m staying with in Larchmont is a vegan, and even though I know he wouldn’t object to me cooking meat in his home, I don’t want to constantly make the place smell of it. Especially as he does it for humanitarian reasons. So I’ve not had much meat since I’ve been in town. Tomorrow I’m going to have a great big sausage and shove it in my mouth. Or slap a good juicy steak in the pan and jiggle it about until it’s tender. Hell I’m gonna to get stuffed up with with meat in Chatsworth. I’ll be in good company.

  

Porn is such a strange industry. And this quiet residential area with perfect lawns despite drought seems a strange home for it. I’m curious to see if I accidentally stumble into the back of a shot while walking the dog. I hope not. It’s tempting to joke about it but it’s a petty poisonous reality. It’s so easily accessible, and such a huge amount of content being generated. It’s changed the nature of so much. When I was a kid we would sometimes find damp magazines in hedges that had been hidden or discarded there. I have no idea why that was a thing but it really was a thing. Maybe guilty husbands hiding their stash outside… I just asked my friend and he is telling me a story about finding pictures of boobies on Boy Scout camp in a forest. Sometimes a kid at school would treasure a creased up piece of torn magazine with BOOBS which he would show you if you let him punch you or somesuch. I looked at the things with wonder, nursing my cheek. It’s a huge shift to where we are now, where a kid can get on the internet and in seconds happen on two surgically adjusted beings athletically engaging in a visually organised approximation of sex that has little to do with intimacy, howling like wolves, gleefully accepting everything with vast pneumatic boobs, cocks like arms and no hair anywhere. I was told a few months ago that people bleach their assholes! They BLEACH the SKIN on their SPHINCTER. Ow ow ow. You’d never eat curry again. But what can this be doing to people’s body image? Self esteem is hard enough already in a society tuned to showing you what you don’t have and making you want it, without making a good shag into some aspirational visual ritual with a structure to it. First we do this, then we do this, then we do this and then you come on my face and I smile like it’s the best thing ever. The stuff you hear about how the output is affecting kids and their behaviour and causing dependencies in adults gives me pause. I wouldn’t know how to parent that. Then there’s the abuse, self abuse, disease and medication that kills large numbers of the performers annually. It’s dark… and that’s coming from someone who misses eating meat, which is another mess of an industry.

  

Maybe I won’t eat meat after all. Although a good pork sword, a lamb lance and some mutton missiles would go down beautifully. Apparently they’re a speciality.

Should

Day 31. I’ve been here a month. And it’s Valentine’s Day. That day when everyone examines their life choices. I’m in a music video for a friend of mine, shot on my cellphone in my bedroom here. It’s a mishmash of her friends lip syncing her, and it’s called “I should be loved”. I thought I’d share it with you.

 
She was at little person school with me before I got expelled. I don’t have many people in my life from that long ago, and it feels like I’ve changed immeasurably. I’d safely say she’s my oldest friend, and with friends that old there’s sometimes a peculiar edge. “You’re not behaving like you should behave.” We forget that everyone is changing around us at the same time as we are changing. I first knew her when we were both in the choir. So obviously that’s what she “should” be doing. Singing. Therefore I am happy when she is singing because it satisfies my sense of what she “should.” be doing. And she is singing about “should.” “I should be loved”. Really? Why? I recently said to my therapist (oh so LA) “Bullshit, nobody deserves ANYTHING.” She said “I think people do. I think you do.” So maybe it’s my worldview that’s squiffy here. And yes, here’s a lovely song, and I’m glad to be involved. I just need to get over my instinctive distaste for the slew of ideas that come attached to the word “should”. She’s great. She more or less singlehandedly painted and plastered my whole flat the other day, unasked, just because she wanted to do something lovely. And she let me put my gentle humour into the video. You should click the link. You should enjoy the track. And then you should donate. Should.

Today I worked a bit and then I really wanted to go and meditate in the sunshine, so I went to Pan Pacific Park. It’s the best park I’ve found so far. I asked advice from a random stranger. “Do you know where a good park is?” “Park?” “Somewhere I can go and look at nature?” “Well, there’s Pan Pacific.” “What’s there?” “Well, there’s a football field… and a play area…” “hmm anything else?” “There’s grass..?” “Ok…yep. Grass. Grass and…?” “uh … … … … trees?” SOLD
I can confirm to you that it was indeed a park with both grass and trees, as there ‘should’ be. I sat on the grass near the trees and meditated for a while. Before starting I’d sent my gps coordinates to Lyndon, who found me and took this picture.


Shortly thereafter, we found a memorial to the holocaust with 1.2 million little holes to write notes in, corresponding to the 1.2 million children killed. It was closing and a security guard moved us on almost immediately which is for the best as I just had time to feel that shock of empathy and horror, without bringing my energy right down. That is something that ‘should’ never have happened, and we ‘should’ do everything in our collective powers to ensure it never does again. I have no qualms about using that word in that context. Much like the “Al is the opposite of LA” thing, it’s just another part of my web of unexamined ideas.

 

So have a listen, enjoy, and you should all have wonderful days.

Guildhall

Day 30. I’m thinking about my old college. It’s remarkable how that one weekend recall audition in the last millennium set the course for the friendships I have now. I went to Guildhall, which is a vast college training musicians, opera singers, stage managers, and a few actors… It usually features on those meaningless lists that tell you which drama schools are the best. I didn’t know that at the time. I just scattergunned and that was the one I liked most. I often flashback to myself in the final meeting of the auditions process answering the question “Why do you want to go to Guildhall” with “I don’t particularly. No more than any of the other places. I mean the prospectus is shit. But I like you guys now I’ve met you.” As ever too honest for my own good. But they got me. And it really is an excellent training. I had no idea how lucky I was.

They accept and hone diverse actors that have sensitivity, heart and kindness. People that are generous and community minded. But outside of that, from all walks of life. And they’ll move mountains to pay for you if you get accepted and you can’t, which really broadens the cultural identity, and is the main reason why I was so lucky to be there. I was one of the rare poshies. Nowadays with funding like it is, insitiutions like that are more and more important.


I had no idea how central to my nexus of friendships that place would become. My best friend trained there at the same time as me, in a different year. I lived for years in the early days with one of the guys from my year and we did our best to nurture one another through challenging times. Nurture is a huge value in the training there. It’s a genuinely wonderful school, and considering it takes so few actors – (there were 23 in my year out of thousands) – it takes lovely ones. Myself excepted. I’m a dick.

 

Originally from LA, one of the surviving actors from around the same time as me was introduced to me a week ago. She’s great, energetic, full of life and heart as I’d expect from that place. And she instantly plopped me into her community. And invited me to a screening party.

 

A screening party. This is essentially loads of friends coming to celebrate the fact that she was on the tellybox. She was in a delightful show called Scorpions. It’s about two brainy people who are spies in the Cold War era which is now. She played a chess player from a country that is not Russia but people want to defect to the USA from there because it’s better in the USA. But they are likely to get chased by guns and cars and shouting people. This show ain’t Mike Leigh. But it’s lovely.

 

What was even more lovely is that there were forty people there. The barman from Soho House was there. “Ahhh yeah I just work at Soho House so I see her pretty often. I thought I’d come.” It was a load of people coming to support one of their friends doing a turn. Almost like it was a one night only show. Everyone cheered when she came on screen. It was described to me in the frame of “We all like to see when someone we like does well.” And of course she delivered a fab performance, speaking authoritatively in a pretend language from some place called Scoparushachek or somesuch, and working sparely and truthfully.

 

When I get back to town and hit the industry as hard as I intend to now I’ve shed the dead skin, I would love to invite any of the few of you who persist in reading these daily updates to celebrate my first part as a professor who turns out to be an alien in Doctor Who or whatever in this way. Better than watching it at home and getting a bunch of texts.

Mice and men and dogs

Day 29. The last sentence of yesterday’s blog was a statement of intent. “Zzzz” I am going home to sleep now. That was the plan. I’d had my ramen with suspicious egg. I was good to go bye bye. 

It all goes wrong with a single text. “I’m in town where are you?”. The brother of a dear friend. Here for six weeks. And since it’s his first night, and a Saturday, and just after a wrap, I text him my location and he is in an uber immediately. So much for “zzzz”. I shake myself awake and knuckle in for a long one. We end up in a dive bar. Bar R. The woman that drives us there in an uber gives Lyndon her number. She almost joins us in the bar. It’s one of those nights. I don’t know many people in this town so when someone comes up almost immediately and says “I know you” it comes as a surprise. But he does know me. We met at No Vacancy last week. It’s definitely one of those nights. This town feels more and more Iike London the longer I’m in it. We form a group of four boys and talk and live and laugh and it’s joyful. Not as much dancing as there might be. But we might as well be in Camden on a Saturday with less fighting. When it feels like time to go, we walk a long way home through the predawn fog. Oh yes, there’s fog here at the moment. There’s never normally fog. It’s not smog either, it’s definitely fog. An uber driver the other day on a long trip had everyone talking about normal LA weather the other day. I know enough now to understand that this is NOT normal. The driver concluded that I’d brought it with me from London. Certainly faced with the familiar temperature and visuals, we forget we are in LA earning us cries of “assholes, use the crosswalk!” We also remember we are in LA because we’re talking about all the things that brought us here. But it’s really good to hang out with him. We put the world to rights. It’s late by the time I get home, but my eyes are shining.

 

As is often the case, my eyes are shining a little less brightly in the morning. Yoga today is all about endurance and sweat. Despite the state I’m in, I stay in headstand longer than I’ve ever done without a wobble, and come down neatly, before almost immediately bursting out crying silently for the whole of the next posture. I leave feeling blasted and elated. Then I torment the dogs by coming home with a rotisserie chicken for Sunday lunch. Roger the chihuahua gets over his reticence around me in order to try and put himself in the way of dropped chicken bits.

 

I’ve recently discovered that Roger is the star of his own short film, shot by my housemate Mark and his girlfriend. I thought I’d share it with you guys as I like it and it has no budget. What’s more it’ll show you what a brilliant hound Rocko is. And it’ll do instead of the usual arbitrary rushed Ipad photo…

Mark’s a dude. It’s great that I managed to land so well in this lovely room, with a creative and good hearted man and three wonderful dogs. 

Post Script: Roger waited until my back was turned and immediately shat on my floor. Must’ve been something I said.

“Pences” shoot day

Day 28. We are making a film with no budget. The first day of filming is suddenly the only day of filming as the DoP has got the hump about driving all the way from his home to the set. Which means we are trying to cram three days of shoot into one. Since none of us are experienced at editing we are taking advantage of the fact that the film we’re parodying is based on a play, and we are shooting pretty long scenes. It’s ambitious, chaotic and lot of fun. But God alone knows if the end result is going to hang together. A highlight was my final shot of the day, getting one take in a garage surrounded by disco lights as a proselytising baptist preacher.
The joyful thing was how everyone pulled together and kept great humour through a very crowded day. We all operated boom, lights, reflectors and everything else. We were right by LAX, it was pouring in the morning. One of us picked up her thirteen year old son from school, and he stayed perfectly happily playing games on iPad and occasionally operating the camera. I am just hoping that the director has the web of it in his head. I’m lost as to what is in the can and what is not. But I’ll find out, as I’m going to be involved in the edit, which will essentially be two chimpanzees with a pile of film and a pair of rusty garden shears. Final Cut is a life skill, no? Certainly if I want to be making more stuff. 


I think it’s always useful to jump over the table from time to time, but it seems on this project we’re on springs and so’s the table. My biggest learn was seeing the extent to which the words I wrote deepened in the hands of good actors. I’ve really started to get the writing bug, partly because of having to hack together that screenplay and partly down to the stricture of doing this every day.

 

Because it’s been my whole day I’ll talk about the team. We had Scott, a slight and hyperactive jack of many trades, who made most of the props, had sourced a lavish wardrobe for all of us, and had a director’s eye. On Tuesday nights he moonlights as a woman playing cabaret in a burger joint. I’m looking forward to seeing his work. David and Alan are brothers behind the camera, both very grounded, solid, laconic, American. Everyone has to appear on camera at least once and they were the least enthusiastic. Alan even less so than David. Then we had Joan, who is an immigration lawyer, and wanted to get stuck in. She is having a busy time at work with all the raids. She is the only woman in team, which is just the way it fell out, but thankfully the film we’re parodying was written in the ’80s so only has one adult female character. There is another woman, but we never see her, and she only exists for the effect she has on the male protagonist. Ugh. Playing the son is Antonio, a skilled and positive comedian, great big dreads, providing the location and much of the laughter. Then Robert, just a gorgeous man, he grew up on a farm, looks amazing and has no concerns whatsoever with being painted orange and snorting cheetos. A motley crew. These things can go two ways. It went the right way.

 

Exhausted after the shoot I had no intention of cooking for myself so I got the guys to drop me in Koreatown, which is near my house. I have now placed myself in the cheapest ramen joint I could find. They’re playing inexplicable videos of happy women dressed as cats on the big screen, with the music cranked up and everyone shouting in Korean. I’m still in my electric blue three piece suit but nobody is batting an eyelid. The ramen I have cooling beside me was six bucks and it’s a scaldingly hot pot noodle with onion, sriracha and an raw egg cracked into it immediately before serving. I’m going to shove it in my face and then walk home and collapse. But only once I’m certain the egg is cooked.

(Edit: Lest we forget. BUNNY BUNNY BUNNY BUNNY. Right now the Exit sign looks more appealing. Zzzz)

Shakespeareman

Day 27.
SONNET 27
Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,

The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;

But then begins a journey in my head, 

To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired:

For then my thoughts (from far where I abide) 

Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee, 

And keep my drooping eyelids open wide, 

Looking on darkness which the blind do see: 

Save that my soul’s imaginary sight 

Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,

Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night, 

Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.

   Lo, thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,

   For thee, and for myself, no quiet find. 

 

A couple of years ago I pretended to be a blind accordion busker in a park near Embankment. Every so often I would find a group of people walking through the park with carnations in their hand. Or they’d find me. I would stop them. “Stop! Benedetta, is that you? Is that your scent?” Then I’d have to roll with the group, which might involve establishing false claimants were not Benedetta by touching their faces. Eventually one way or another, I’d establish Benedetta wasn’t there. Then through the prism of being tired/sad/lonely as appropriate based on their engagement I’d segue into the sonnet above. At the end I’d fall asleep on a bench dedicated to “Benedetta, who loved life.” Ahh. People would express sadness or not and then move on and when they were out of sight I’d reset for the next group. They were on a sonnet walk, celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday, which has been a consistent institution of Shakespeare’s Globe since it opened. It’s happening again this year directed by Federay Holmes, and will certainly be a bloody marvellous thing to which you should all go if you’re not in it.

 

I’ve worked enough with Shakespeare’s language that people who barely know my work describe me as a Shakespearean. I detest being labelled and hounded into a box so I try to avoid doing that to myself. But hell, yes, I do a lot of Shakespeare. I’ve toured American with his words. I’ve been in prisons with them. I’ve played Oberon on an island outside Amsterdam. I’ve played Claudius in “King’s Landing” – (Fort Louvreniac) in Dubrovnik. Many many more. Over many years, so many parts in so many plays. I am frequently called on to do after dinner Shakespeare or called back to play diverse parts in beautifully worked shows in gorgeous places. Fortunately my association with The Factory through this time has kept me rooted into rigour, work ethic, simplicity and truth. Through that work I’ve seen the true meaning of openness and simplicity. It’s riveting.

 

So it was only a matter of time before someone threw me in the way of another Shakespeare geek. This evening I met Martin who is writing the definitive book on playing Shakespeare. I realise through him that there aren’t many of them extant, and I also know through my outreach work that a lot of people, including actors, think of his words as being difficult. They’re a gift, his words, they’re just made to be spoken aloud and not studied. Thankfully we agree on the basics. He’s not a nightmare academic. This book will likely be a helpful book. I think I might have found another friend out here. So that was my evening. And the sonnet at the top, the first line certainly, expresses my state of mind. I’m on set all day tomorrow so I have to get up early to put my best eyes in, replace my cheeks, screw on my best arms, put in my actoring brain, attach the binoculars legs. Actoringerising takes time.

  

No photos. Here’s the pianist in the bar where I met Martin. I still don’t remember to take photos. And I mostly worked today.

Old Masters

Day 26. By the time J Paul Getty was 26 he’d made a million bucks out of oil in Tulsa, and that was just the beginning. An Anglophile, he had gone to University at Oxford and then worked a hefty inheritance enough that at one time he was called “The richest man in the world”. How a man spends his money when wealthy is a good indication of the sort of man they would be if they weren’t. Some people like to spend on self aggrandisement, golden elevators, bling, vast phallic monuments to their own narcissism. Getty loved the ancient world, specifically the architecture of the Romans. He spent on beauty. On art. Particularly old art – pre nineteenth century for the most part. This makes for a really deep, really historically interesting, really valuable collection. Ancient art doesn’t depreciate. He was no fool. I cannot even contemplate the value of this. I wish I could afford the cheapest piece. And when he died he left it for the people. He once said “There’s no glory in being remembered as old moneybags.” So, seeking legacy, he gave an endowment and his collection to form a free museum in Los Angeles. As the tour guide says, almost with wonder “He gave us … considerably more than we were expecting.” It’s the richest gallery in the world. Funded by the richest trust in the world. And it’s gorgeous.

 
The property sits on a hillside overlooking the whole of Los Angeles. Because the city is mostly flat, any hill is commanding, and this hill is well placed. There’s a computer operated tram that takes you up the side. It’s like being back on the DLR. The site was carefully chosen and laboriously dug over years and the design is wonderful. Italian stone with glass panelling in beautiful lines. Parts of it make me think of Escher. There is a great deal that is unnecessary but beautiful. I love unnecessary beauty. The layout and the view are deliberately reminiscent of a giant Tuscan villa. And it’s flawlessly kept. The museum doesn’t want for anything. They don’t have to compromise and sacrifice maintenance of the grounds for maintenance of the collection. They have enough money to make both beautiful and keep it beautiful. And enough to keep it free for the public. Even the cafes are pretty affordable considering museum cafe prices. This is the other side of the oil industry, of money. This is wealth used well. This is legacy.


I often shiver at the thought of lost masters in bank vaults or in underground private collections. It’s great to see so many  on display here. Turners, Rembrandts, Titians, a Van Gogh – so many of the greats – all housed in this beautiful place. A journey through art history. And thought beautiful old furniture. And through illuminated manuscripts. There’s an exhibition on alchemy, and I wish I had been to it the day before I went to the escape room rather than the day after. There are so many beautiful books of ancient knowledge. How much more civilised to have a Romanesque villa filled with the wonders of the ancient world than to have a load of huge towers full of gold with your name on. The dude had a pet lioness. A bison. Loads of dogs. A bear. I thought only Byron had a bear! Nope. Getty seems like he was a thoroughly brilliant human being. I’d have been mates with him.

 

I find myself dreaming about having a collection like this in a property like this. I’d have a load of rooms as well for artists to come and live in so they could be surrounded by lovely things and have the headspace to make something glorious. There’d be a working theatre and a working art studio and equipment to make films. All I’d need is a bunch of oil fields and a time machine. Actually all I’d need is a time machine. Get me that time machine.

I’ll be back at this place for sure. It’s serene, and there is so much to see. It’s welcoming. And after my strange feelings to do with the oil industry confronted with those pumps the other day, I’m happy to see so many glorious things assembled in such a lovely place because of it. Getty died in England – the old world for him. His legacy is sparkling, beautiful and important, and it feels like he understood the art he owned, rather than just collecting it for the sake of it. If only all rich men in the public eye these days had such desire to preserve and protect the old world, to welcome beauty, to encourage creativity, and to bring and nurture sensitivity.

And there’s a Moore in the garden… Not Getty’s. A donation from the Starks, apparently…