In Which I Return to the Stage

As a Victorian, I worked two rather dissimilar jobs: as a subscription solicitor and contributing editor for Fraser’s Magazine, a general and literary journal; as a bloody opera singer.

You might say I preferred one over the other.

Now, to be fair, there were things I didn’t like about my job at Fraser’s.  Soliciting the upper-crust was always tinged in aggravation and condescension. Chasing down contributors hours before deadline wasn’t much more fun.  (I had to shoulder a door at one point, only to find our prestigious essayist half-naked and blissed on opium.  Another time I watched a perfectionist set fire to his pages in a fit of manic tears.)

And there were things I loved about the opera, too.  Her Majesty’s may only put up one show these days, but in my time, we were known as the “Italian Opera House” and did valiant battle with Covent Garden.  We had ballet at intermission, strong ensembles (which reflected well on me as the choir-master), and star-power, all of which could be quite creatively intoxicating.

But on the whole, the journal felt like home.  It reminded me that I had worked my way up from nothing, from press boy to apprenticed mechanic to clerk to co-owner.  My employer, ‘Oliver Yorke’ aka ‘Father Prout’ was more like my Da.  He brought me in from the cold, co-sponsored my uni scholarships, bequeathed me his liquor cabinet, and loved me dearly.

Mr. Yorke

A saint among men.

Meanwhile, the opera house continually grated.

I had to perform under a false Italianate name to further disguise my heritage, despite the fact that our opera manager was as much Benjamin “Lumley” as I was Elliot “Smith” and understood exactly why it irritated me so.

BenjaminLumley

Ben in profile, because of course he was sketched in profile, because Victorians.

My voice ‘teacher’, the Michael Costa, was an exacting, conservative arsehole, with zero patience.  I was functionally illiterate when I signed on at sixteen, and had I not met Geoffrey, and had he not spent ever so many patient hours teaching me musical symbols and carefully modelling phrases of foreign language (no recording devices, you know), I would have been canned, because god-forbid Costa should make a single explanation.  Costa was also a failed tenor and despised me for my voice, and for the fact that he had to mould it and feature it and watch me receive his applause.

Michael Costa

A failed tenor.

Add to that a baritone lead who was a serial sexual abuser and constantly at my knickers, ghastly hours, a slowly disintegrating relationship between Ben and Costa, and the constant disapproval of my in-laws, who insisted on calling the opera house a music hall, and…well the day I quit the opera, I walked out the front door and suffered a sort of reverse-panic-attack.  I felt so relieved I couldn’t breathe, as though all the exhaustion I’d been putting off tried to exit my body at once.  I vividly remember a near-faint and some passing Samaritan offering me a dram of whiskey.

So…all this to say…

I was not immediately chuffed about the musical opportunity that presented itself to me this last September.

It was a bit odd, actually.  My assistant, Danny, came to my office to inform me that he had just fielded a cold call from The Toronto–our local ghost theatre–soliciting me as an understudy for their upcoming musical production.  It’d been an intern calling–some bloke who found a Bootube video of my performance at a friend’s wedding and my old listing at Afterlife Magazine and Modelling Agency and put two and two together and come up with seven.  He thought I was fresh-faced, starting out, dying to make it big.

Danny and I chuckled.

And then Marc found out.  ‘You are need call back,’ he says to me.  He says this to me about eighty times between that first call and the next.

The next call came from the Artistic Director of The Toronto.  Danny transferred him directly, and he spent a solid five minutes apologising profusely for the assumptions on the part of his intern, obviously edging closer and closer to…but while I have you on the phone anyway…

He eventually got there, which is how I ended up, at Marc’s absolute insistence, in one of those dingy offices above a theatre.  The Toronto is extraordinarily well-funded, and still.  Dingy.  I’m nervous as hell, wrestling with all these competing feelings about the possibility of signing on for a set of rehearsals, a holiday preview, and a star-run in January.

I honestly felt ill.  But that sort of illness that might be part excited butterflies.  You know?

So, I said I would think about it, and then director of the musical–this very firmly Russian bloke named Serge–calls me and tells me he wants me to meet the soprano lead and see about chemistry.  And can I show up to the meeting at about twenty-one-years-old, because that’s the age of the character I’d play–potentially, just potentially–and it’s quite clear I’m being vetted.

Chartruese–Char for short–is just stunningly effervescent and quintessentially ‘actress’ but also totally real, unlike any soprano I’ve ever worked with.  I’m a blushing mess, but also completely fascinated, and we end up friends in a matter of minutes.  She thinks I’m charming, and just a hint sly.  I find myself wondering, in this meeting, if those aren’t more excited butterflies than nerves, after all.

In fact, I’m wondering if this might be exactly what I need–the opportunity to untie all the different cords that I’ve bound around my voice.  Here’s a rock-solid, healthy theatre, wonderful co-stars, a brilliant director, a role I was essentially made for.

Also, I have Marcus, who is just pure and utter joy about the whole thing.  Not that he disregards my concerns, or devalues them.  He hears me, he knows my fears.  I know he does, because when I falter, he’s there with the exact reassurance I require.  But in lieu of advising or hashing things out or making promises on the front end, he just goes absolutely wild for my possibilities, pushes me out onto the tracks, and trusts I’ll evade my incoming insecurities.  If I’m going to do this thing–go back to the stage–I will never have a better partner at my side while I take that leap.  I will never feel more capable than I do with him.

So…I leap.

At the end of September I signed a contract with The Toronto, and found myself cast as Christian in Moulin Rouge.

And it has, for the most part, been just ragingly brilliant.  Marc is beside himself, like it’s Christmas every day.  The rehearsal schedule works around my time with the children, who are also rather excited for me.  The cast is supportive and warm, especially after I proved myself more than a celebrity hire.  The other Christian–Harry Jensen–put on a tough act but melted like sugar in snow as soon as he found out I’d argued for all the promotional materials to feature him instead of me.  The show is beautiful–gothic and magical, with plenty of stage-craft that can only happen when you are a ghost with the possibility of bending dimension.

I’m also singing, you know, and quite well.  I have a new voice coach, who is both adept and responsive.  I’m recovering that particular energy that fuels a confident prance across the stage.  I’m remembering the familial delight that comes with sharing the quirkiness of theatre with those in the know.  I’m making friends, dancing, groaning over production notes, playing tricks, bringing yet another portion of myself back to life.

I’m having fun.

Eat your heart out, Costa.

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Salut! is Husband Guest Post Time

So, Elias is be like super cray busy after Halloween. Ghost fashion week is be November 11-15 this year, and he is have five show for walk in because he is be super model.

(How is like, Marcus, be marry to super model? Oh you know, is pretty fucking great, other Marcus.)

Two of show he is be lead model for, which is take lot of time and prepare for interview and thing. One of show is be like super high fashion 18th century with looooot of fit time. One of show is be first walk with—Richard pirate fashion—so he is still work on brand and do meet with. And other is be basic walk, but is still take time.

So anyway, he is be like, Mahhhhhhhhhhhcus, you are so best and always be done with work for line like month before fashion week so how about you are write guest post for November when I am be cray busy.

And I am be like, fine, but is be November 12 post and is Marion birthday so you are sure you are non want do?

And he is be like, non is fine, you are do. Is make sense for love of afterlife to write about love of life. I am like.

And I am be like, best, I am like too.

Problem: Every time I am sit down and start write, Elias is be like, oooooOOOOooooo what you are write about, I am see? And I am be like, I know you are excite about, but actual fuck off. And he is do for like six second or so and then be like, now I am see? So I am just stop write until he is be in middle of fashion week and non see, because I am want be surprise.

Right now Elias is be do pre-interview for Herschel line and then he is do eat and last minute fit and thing, so I am have time before show for write post.

Here I am go!

* * *

Happy Birthday for Marion! and Surprise Story for Elias

Once upon time there is be tiny pony name Marion Rose.

Unless you are live under rock you are know what tiny pony is look like.

In case you are live under rock, here is be tiny pony. OMG THEY ARE BEST.

In case you are live under rock, here is be tiny pony. OMG THEY ARE BEST.

Marion Rose is be tiny pony in Victoria time when all of England is live on eat smoke and cheese and sugar. And she is be like super mega tiny. Like, there are be lot of tiny pony in Victoria time, but she is be most tiny of all of. And she is have super shine chestnut coat and best tiny pony fashion, and she is TOTAL head kick you if she is non like what you are say.

Example: She is want head kick like all of parliament, all of time.

There is also be other tiny pony in Victoria time who is be more like mini-horse, because he is be so tall. He is be name Elliot and he is be so dark black like night and have curl mane and non fit in any of stable. Part because people are be like, gross…dark, curl pony, do non come in, and also because all of world is make for aaaaaaactual tut tut crumpet tiny pony, non for mini-horse.

Anyway, Elliot is be like super determine mini-horse, and he is end up go to school. And one day he is be eat grass by step of university stable with all of pony friend and he is look up and be like, holy shit…that is be most beauty tiny pony I am ever see.

And other tiny pony with speckle coat is be like, ummmmm you are know is lady tiny pony right?

And he is be like, sic, I know is weirdo, but I am total into.

So speckle pony—Geoff pony—is help make introduce, and Marion Rose is be like, OMG you are best mini-horse in all of world.

Problem is be, Elliot is hear like whole life that mini-horse are be worst, and he is have like no idea how talk to lady.

Now, most of tiny pony are probable non be up for deal with sad, mumble mini-horse. They are be like, wellllll, actual, I guess what I am really want is tiny pony with big stable and sword collect and dumb, boring life where we are just do season and then sit around hate each other all of winter time…tiny pony Victoria, living dream.

But Marion Rose pony is be like, Jesus Christus that is sound like worst thing I am ever think of, and so she is do lot of thing for show love for mini-horse.

She is do thing like, encourage when mini-horse is neigh with music. And she is non make fun of when he is non know spell pattern for word. And she is read with and non care if he is read slow. And she is take hoof on street and glare head kick thought at all of tiny pony who are look at and be like, gross. And she is say mini-horse is be handsome and love and smart.

Occasional, she is like…gentle head kick mini-horse and be like, for real, stop mumble and smile is non kill.

Then one day there is be tiny pony ball.

Marion Rose is definite go to, because she is be part of tiny pony society. And she is want dance with mini-horse like so bad, but he is non get invite.

So, for prove love, Elliot is ask one of tiny pony friend sign over invite for and then he is borrow tiny pony suit that is show too much hoof and try comb all of dark, black curl, and show up for ball.

He is be so nerve he is basic like almost throw up all of oat.

But then he is see Marion Rose at ball be so super mega tiny and feisty and he is be like, I am basic die if I am non dance with.

And she is see mini-horse and be like, everyone is shut up right now and hold champagne, I am go dance with mini-horse.

They are dance like whole night.

Then before ball is end, they are be so sneak and leave and Elliot is escort Marion Rose to house, and they are be like, welp, guess we are never ever want be apart now.

Is take like two more year and lot of work and head-kick, but eventual they are be marry. They are have pretty goddamn best colt name Jon who is have kind of dark, curl hair and kind of chestnut coat…and who is be kind of mini-horse tall, but definite tiny pony style…who is basic be best of both of.

And Elliot is be like, I am so happy I am probable just die of.

And Marion Rose is be like, I am know sic? I am best.

***
Now, in afterlife, mini-horse is be super model. He is be write, he is be parent, he is be act and sing and dance, and he is read all of time and be so smart.

Part of is be because tiny pony husband is be like preeeeetty fucking best and encourage.

But lot of is be because tiny pony name Marion Rose is work so hard for love mini-horse.

Amo, Marion. Gratias tibi ago.

THE END

A Lighthearted Ode to *My* Queen

Dear Queen Victoria,

I regret to inform you that as of the 9th of September, 2015, you were surpassed by your great-great granddaughter as the longest reigning monarch.

I know…I know how much you loved titles. And in comparison to your ill-advised tenure as the Empress of India, this was a rather innocuous one for you to hold. So, in light of the distress which you would likely feel upon this loss, I would like to offer up the following ten reasons–in no particular order–that you shall always be my Queen.

  ***

1. When Marion and I married in 1837, she wore a white and cream gown with a red sash. When you wore a white gown at your own wedding a few years on, it made Marion look like a serious trendsetter and she garnered a full season of attention as a fashionista. We both pretended not to care. We cared. It was smashing. Thanks for the white dress.

2. Furthermore, your wedding brought Prince Albert to England. I’m sure you’d roll over in your grave to know what a service that was to gay blokes all across the isle, but thanks for that, too.

3. You cared, in your own royal way, about the poor. Much obliged.

4. You helped pave the way for companionate marriage. No one ever doubted you loved Albert or that he loved you, and the affection you showed each other served as an example to multiple couples I knew. And it made Marion and I (#lovebirdsforlife) look a little less odd.

5. You put the country back in the hands of an intelligent woman, which has always worked well for England. That in and of itself…brilliant. (In fact, I recall quite clearly the early morning cannons announcing the death of the King. Marion sat up in bed, perfectly still, and whispered, “Elliot, the King has died.” Then she sighed and turned her face to the ceiling. “Thank god there’s a woman back on the throne. I shall sleep more soundly.”)

6. You celebrated advances in the arts, literature, and medicine, along with Albert, who threw us that fantastic Crystal Palace Exhibition. Watching the royal family care so deeply about education was a balm to my son who been often bullied for his intelligence. No one can argue with “Victoria and Albert like science, too!” and for that I am deeply indebted.

7. You were also a balm for my incredibly outspoken, incredibly short wife.

8. You supported and fostered the careers of Mendelssohn and Tennyson, two of my absolutely favourite creatives.

9. You irritated my mate Paul.

10. I don’t care what people say. Surviving as long as you did in the age of cholera, dysentery, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and wicked difficult childbirth is a true achievement, and by god, I think that adds an honorary five years to your reign. (To be extended should Elizabeth make it another five years…)

***

Signed, Your Obedient Servant, Etc.,

EJS

Good Hair: 1840s Edition

A dear friend recently declared the following to be fact–“men had SUPER weird hair in the 1840s.”

In retrospect, I suspect she was goading me…she’s a professional costumer with a keen appreciation and respect for all past styles and modes and would never outright dismiss something as weird.

But in the moment, I took the bait.

Well what on earth do you mean by “weird” I asked.  I need some evidentiary proof, because I remember our hairstyles as being perfectly normal.

She responded with a series of pictures, and I said, still, I don’t understand what is so odd about these.  Other than the bloke who looks like a circus clown, these are perfectly dashing and well-suited for hats.

True, she says, hadn’t thought about the hat bit. But still…and then she threw down the gauntlet–“Half of them have Twilight hair.”

Oh no she didn’t.

So, in defence of the 1840s, I’ve elected to share the series of photos she sent my way, humanising each with reference to one of my mates, matching up hairstyles to indicative personalities to give a sense of who wore what and why.

*   *   *

Photos #1 & 2

young geoffolder geoff

These blokes remind me very much of my husband, Geoffrey–the one on the right, especially, as it was rare to find Geoff in an actual bad temper.  (Unless deeply disturbed, he only participated in dramatic bad tempers, worn like a cloak in a three-minute downpour.)  These men are also dressed to the height of upper-middle class fashion, whereas Geoffrey purposely had regency fashions made over to set himself aside from the herd.  All that said, the hair is just about perfect.  When I met Geoff in 1834, he was sporting something quite like Mr. Sulking.  And over the years he let his curls run a bit more wild, resulting in something alike to Mr. Happily Pensive.

And what about these styles is weird, I ask you!?  Shiny, coiffed, and obviously slicked with a light soap and extract of essential oil…probably rose or spearmint…mmmm.

Photo 3:

paul

This (admittedly handsome) devil reminds me of my mate Paul, with whom I had a love-hate relationship.  Paul was already well ensconced in the circle of friends I inherited once associated with Geoff, and therefore there was nothing I could do about his presence in my life.  How to describe the bastard…Well, his real name was Ambrose Anderson–The Honourable Ambrose Anderson–and we all called him Paul, anyway, for one of two reasons: half of us thought he was a right, cracking politician (PAUL-itician); half of us thought he cast a pall (PAUL) over the world wherever he went.

You can guess to which half I belonged…

This haughty style with painfully select clothing, diving lapels, and high hair shine achieved with the likely use of bear oil was one often sported by the aristocracy, particularly those who determined to make something of themselves, rather than coasting on name alone.  Paul achieved this look until he started to go bald at the deliciously young age of 25, and then he had to wear his hair more like the bloke below in the most obvious comb-over to ever comb over.

This style is also not weird.  Shave down the sides, and you have the modern hipster, for chrissake.

Photo 4:

theo

Aside from being the style for the balding, I also associate this style (but not the dour expression) with my dear mate Theodore, who had bone-straight hair and therefore couldn’t achieve the curled locks and pompadours of those with natural wave.  Theo wore this style a bit shorter, and instead of using oil, he used soap with a hint of jasmine.  The thing about soap, though, is that it doesn’t always hold straight hair, and so his fringe was always falling in his face, much to his annoyance.  It didn’t help that he wore a broad-brimmed hat associated with the traditional style of his German-Jewish family, and it was forever catching the wind and throwing things into disarray.

I happened to very much like his disarray and made every effort to cause it during the brief months we were together as a couple.  That’s all a terribly convoluted story, though.  The point here is, although this hair might look a bit odd now, it was meant to suit hats, peaking out around the ears and collar.  I find it charming on the right man, obviously.

Photo 5:

chris

This style, as you can likely see, was also meant for hats–curled at the ears and fluffed on top, while flattened at the temples, probably with macassar oil.  It was also the quintessential style of the solidly middle class, and therefore I associate it with my mate Christopher.  Chris was by far and above the most “normal” of all of us–he studied banking, wore a great deal of plaid and assertive muttonchops, played tennis and rugby and cricket and all that, and was straight as an arrow.  He was, to use a modern term, a “bro.”

That said, the man had depth.  He never once batted an eye at the rest of us and our collective inclinations, and he was a brilliant painter, rendering up strange pieces that I would now associate with the modernist style.  What’s this, I’d say.  Well it’s a bloody lake, he’d answer.  Then why is it so…squared off and hazy and purple?  And he’d blink at me and say some people just don’t understand art.

Photo 6:

jester

Aaaaand the circus clown.  No, I didn’t have a mate with this hair…”style.”  Who do you think I am?

However, the striped waistcoat and loud cravat do remind me of a partner Geoffrey had later in life–a chemist named Maxwell whose penchant for laboratory explosions transferred to his choices in neck ware.  Probably part of why they got on so well…

*   *   *

Twilight my arse…

You say Victorian, I say Pseudo-Regency

I don’t actually believe, in the end, that I’m much of a Victorian.

I am part of an in-between generation, much in the way of the put-upon Millennials of this day and age–born between old and new technologies and world-views, somewhat comfortable with both, and generally regarded as being the root of all problems by those too lazy to question their own proclivities and shortcomings.

You are Scarlet Johansson.  I am Emily Bronte.

https://metrouk2.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/ad_160806779.jpg?w=305&h=400

Would rather be ScarJo, though, really would.

What does this look like in practice?  Well…

I arrived on the scene in 1818, as part of the post-French Revolution “baby boom,” as you might call it.  Disembarked soldiers arrived back on the shores of England, told stories of heroism, took up with young women, and populated our tiny island with soon to be orphans.

I came up as a very young man in an almshouse in Yorkshire, walked to London when I was 12, discarding my lilt and taking up something a bit more Cockney, and then came of age in the city.  I had a printer’s apprenticeship, a poor boy’s scholarship to University College London, which had just opened thanks to that blessedly eccentric Jeremy Bentham, and a feeling of continual bewilderment.

I was a transplant, you see, and I could never entirely shake that.

For instance, I developed active, functional literacy, but rather slowly, with the topics of my tutelage quite differentiated from those of young men and women who were brought up in traditional homes.  Where they read the classics, histories, and Shakespeare, I hadn’t the cultural scope for such things, and cut my teeth on pamphlet literature, newspapers, and music.  (Although I did come back around and discover Shakespeare.  Don’t worry.)

Or to take another example of this in-between becomingness–I was just shy of penniless throughout college, which does colour one’s attitudes toward reasonable goals.  So while my mates purchased finery, fought over politics, attended the season, and planned their first, or in some cases, second European tour, I purchased brown bread and cheese, ignored all the politics because lord knows I couldn’t vote in an election anyway, and occasionally tagged along after them at social events in a borrowed, ill-fitting suit and a consistently droopy cravat.

And even aside from my own personal out-of-placement, I was not privy to those things that 20th and 21st century folks tend to think of as Victorian nor was I really high Regency.

I lived in a world as of yet uninformed by John Stuart Mill, George Eliot, or Oscar Wilde.  But I had also missed the heyday so vibrantly described and lived by John Keats, Lord Byron, or Jane Austen.

I was born after the dawn of the factory system…but only just–my birth missed the Luddite movement by only two years.  So, the air that I breathed was a mite cleaner than the air of later Victorians, but sooty enough to inspire the Chartist labour movement, of which I was proudly a part, despite my apprenticed status.

https://i1.wp.com/www.historytoday.com/sites/default/files/chartists.jpg

Coincidentally, I attended this 1848 Chartist demonstration, somewhere in that sea of flat caps.

I was born in the age of the King Georges.  Victoria did not take the throne until 1837.

I was born before the height of empire, before the extension of the franchise and the era of mass politics, before the earliest welfare systems of the late-nineteenth century.  Before germ theory, votes-for-women, the decline of the aristocracy, or Darwin.

I remember the Irish Famine, but I was not alive to see the struggles for Home Rule.

I remember the Corn Law battles between the Whigs, Tories, and Radicals, but the resultant liberal and conservative parties were fledgling at best when I passed on.

I remember reading Karl Marx when he was fresh off the presses in the Springtime of the Peoples, and I read things off the continent in that year of revolutions, just out of translation.  But the resulting conservative backlash and  nationalism, as you know it, was still in flux–an open and contested project, rather than the stuff of flags and anthems.

I did drink a lot of tea though.  That stereotype holds.

And I was forced to participate in my fair share of lawn games and parlour games and turns about the park.

You try enjoying this bloody game when you top out at 6’2″ and all the gear is created for persons ranging from 5’0″ to 5’5.” Go on, tell me how much bloody fun you have…bending in half and sticking out at all angles and looking like some kind of deranged grasshopper with a hammer. Indecorous, I tell you.

So, I suppose my point is, when I speak on things Victorian, keep in mind that my experience of that romanticized world was quite rough and tumble at times, and quite oddly situated, and quite idiosyncratic.

Keep in mind that when I did develop a politics of sorts, they were radical.  I was and am a (small R) republican, a feminist, an anti-imperialist, an abolitionist, a philanthropist, a revolutionary, and an advocate for all rights broadly queer.

And if you ask me about Charles Dickens, expect a full on profanity-laced tirade.