July 2005  | This Issue

Claudine Jones


he summer I was 7, I wanted (or more accurately, my mother wanted me to want) to go to summer school for six weeks and also to a one week Brownie Day Camp. Unfortunately, the dates overlapped by a week: the day camp went ka-thump right in the middle of the term. There were temptations in the school curriculum—so come July, I was definitely going to be launched into Art and Drama—but I really liked the Brownies. Ever conciliatory, my mom made the mistake of thinking she could game the system by enrolling me in both. 

I have to say that Art class was somewhat of a bust: we did some color wheels and talked about primary vs. secondary colors, cool vs. warm, but then we started doing still-lifes.  I had no idea how to draw and there I was trying to sketch a chair.  It didn't occur to me to do a representation of the chair—being too literal I suppose—and I became completely mired in detail: the bolts on the sides, the angle of the legs, the exact curve of the back.  My perspective was hopelessly screwy and the whole thing started to seem pointless.    

Drama, on the other hand, was an instant success.  It was wild!  He had us doing exercises and games, and began getting us to do pantomimes of our own invention. Don't ask me why, but I chose to act out 'Rumpelstiltskin'.  I did all the roles, jumping in and out of the different characters, while the class in a circle around me attempted to guess what the heck I was doing.  It seemed clear to me: I had all the elements in there—beautiful girl, grotesque villain, straw into gold, helpless baby, three chances to guess his name—actually, even in a truncated version, I admit my pantomime was a bit over-produced.  They never figured it out & I had to tell them, but I didn't care.  I just loved creating it, boom! right on the spot.   

So aside from the dryness of the Art Experience, summer school actually was going quite well, when along came the Brownies.  It seemed quite sensible to my mom for me just to take a little one week breather and then return to class after day camp, but the powers-that-be were having none of it.  For some reason which remains a mystery, they wouldn't turn a blind eye (I suppose we could have lied and said I was out sick, but we didn't think of that & I would have had to have a doctor's note anyway).  The drama teacher was loathe to see me go: his disappointed face when I left class the last time is actually a nice memory—felt like I had been a valuable asset and would be missed. 

For Brownie Day Camp, in the morning you hopped on a big yellow school bus that wound its way up the twisty road to a shady area toward the top of our local landmark in Contra Costa County, Mt.Diablo—a stumpy old hill to the rest of the world, but for us the highest point visible in our county.  I was introduced to snowball fights up there, on the rare occasion there was a brief slushy snow storm, but this was camp in the middle of July and it was blazing hot. The formal 'activities' were a match for the weather: loose and lazy.  Mostly we were left to our own devices, playing in the slow shallow creek, collecting polliwogs to take home in empty milk cartons.  We made a hamburger frish-frash for lunch and we cranked homemade ice cream that tasted curiously like grapefruit.    

At some point during the week it was suggested (I don't know by whom, the adults in this part are invisible) or perhaps we were inspired to devise a short play.  I pounced on the task with no more authority than my own will; I chose the vehicle—'Robin Hood'—and conscripted as many as would agree to take part in order both to form Sherwood Forest, holding up bits of wood in their hands, and to populate it with various characters.  There were no auditions: I cast my best friend Colleen as Maid Marian and I managed (I can't think how) to double in the roles of Robin himself and the Sheriff of Nottingham. We rehearsed madly with rousing shouts of a vigorous sort (none of which I can recall, this being in 1956 after all), and I placed my 'forest' very carefully about the stage area which was just a dusty bit of a clearing in the trees, exhorting them to form the shapes of branches themselves, arms held high. Funny that it didn't occur to me in the shade of  towering oaks that we might in fact not need supernumeraries playing the forest since we had a ready-made setting, however it felt very clever dashing about between the silent girls holding up their twigs.    

My sloshing polliwogs made it down the hill to find home again in the open culvert at the end of our block—same place my big brother found tiny craw-dads to scare me with—and I went on to direct backyard productions of Pinocchio, Peter Pan, and Snow White, starring myself and Colleen, with her 4 year old twin sisters as the indispensable extras. I had developed a lifelong hatred of eraser crumbs and never took an art class again. 


We were going out of town on a short getaway, quick, cheap & dirty, but decided to make it a priority to see some shows.  The first one was my pick because I'm a Deadwood fan & Robin Weigert who plays Calamity Jane was in SF at the American Conservatory Theater doing A Moon for the Misbegotten with Marco Barricelli. My partner said nah, wasn't one of his favorite O'Neill plays (having taught some of the man's work) and I said but I want to see a 'big ticket' item for at least once.  So there we were in the balcony with some pretty fine seats & out comes Josie (Robin) and I think: too skinny.  Not that Colleen Dewhurst is the absolute template for the role—given enough skill and the right charisma between Josie and James, somebody else could make it work, but I just see Josie with more meat on her bones.  Otherwise, I was caught up in the heartiness of James' (Marco) voice—a theatrical, actor-ey presence—from which Josie's heartbreak could surely ensue, although I was not entirely convinced that the same richness did not undercut the climactic confession as well as give the lie to his precarious health. 


On our way back into the City, our next theatrical adventuring took us to a fledgling company called simply The Playhouse to see a new play by David Lindsay-Abaire, Kimberly Akimbo , starring the redoubtable Joy Carlin as Kimberly, a 16 year old afflicted with progeria, a disease that has aged her to look like…Joy Carlin! No fair! An older actor gets not only to relax and not worry, just look her fairly advanced age as part of the character, but she gets to have a very charming little romance onstage with a 17 year old guy, painfully articulated by Jeremy Kahn.  After I get over my envy (and we remind ourselves that we have some time yet before I am ready to play Kimberly), we are free to safely observe this totally whacked family at its possibly worst and best moments.  As Aunt Debra Deb Fink joins Julia Brothers as one of the actresses I would most enthusiastically walk across the street to see in anything, anytime.   


Finally, on our last afternoon before my returning to work, we cross the border into true suburbia where at Theater Q, housing itself downstairs in the Dean Lesher Center for the Performing Arts, we came upon our Winner—not that this was a contest, but we thought it interesting that we saw our three plays so clearly in order of overall production quality—Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight, first play produced and written by Peter Ackerman.  I thought we were in trouble when I saw the three bed/separate space setup, but I was sooo wrong.  The concept works beautifully; the cast is honed to brilliance by director Bobby Weinapple (I could feel those Triggers working).  The thing that set it apart was not just the solid script, but the real listening taking place. Can't beat that. 


©2005 Claudine Jones
©2005 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Like an orthopedic soprano, Actor/Singer/Dancer Claudine Jones has worked steadily in Bay Area joints for a number of decades. With her co-conspirator Jaz Bonhooley, she also has developed unique sound designs for local venues. As a filmmaker, she is doing the final cut of YOUR EAR IS IN YOUR NOSE, destined for release next year or whenever her long time technical task wizard Animator Sam Worf gets his head out of his latest render.

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