Kage Baker was an old hand at Hell Week.
That is the week before a show opens, the last 7 days to make sure every set is fastened together, every stage manager knows their schedule, all the concessions stands are fully stocked. To make sure that no one in the local government is mad at you, and the fire marshal has approved the floor plan.
Dickens Fair takes place in San Francisco. So at least no one worries much about the reception of the Naughty French Postcards show, or the Green Fairies at the absinthe bar, or the terribly jolly girls at Mad Sal’s Dockyard Alehouse. And you can only hope for the best from the actors, who may or may not know their lines but will certainly improvise something absolutely brilliant if they forget the words.
I spent this past weekend of Hell Week supervising the final dressing of my particular set, the Green Man Public House. We are a tremendously respectable public house; indeed, we cling to middle class values with nervous, palsied hands. But it gives us things like a very comfortable Parlour, wherein you can find figures as diverse as Fagin, or Prince Albert enjoying a quiet glass with his gentleman retainers. Ladies can find a cup of tea in a non-alarming situation – or, if they are that kind of lady, they can move across the Parlour and share champagne with dubious gentlemen.
There are usually children playing on the hearth rug. Four times a day Mr. Dickens does live readings. Mr. Pickwick lunches with us; Mr. Scrooge takes his frugal dinner at our least convivial table. There are palm trees in pots and a parrot in a huge iron cage, for a touch of exotic Imperialistic ambiance. There is glass and china glowing on the Welsh dresser; there is brass and pewter shining on the Bar.
There are also something like 7 stories rising invisibly above the Parlour ceiling, wherein my family and our various lodgers, tenants, spies, local scriveners, alien lifeforms and God knows who else are housed. Or so the indefatigable Neassa – who keeps a list of who lives where – informs me …
The original design of the Inn came from Kage Baker’s mind. Several years of rebuilding and redesign incorporated all manner of ideas from our folks – but everyone seemed to be seeing it through the prism of Kage’s mind, and fell in with her ideas. They still do, and it’s still happening. The new ideas fit with the old ones, enhancing the picture that began behind Kage’s eyes.
It comforts me. I feel like I’m still living in parts of her brain. I know how everything works in there – or, if its actual function still confounds me, at least the confusion with that bit is familiar.
There are pieces of deco hung on the walls whose origin no one remembers (even I am uncertain) but they are hung up and used because my folks have always done so. A weird bit comes out of a box, someone asks: “What the heck is this?” And someone else says: “Oh, hang it up by the Bar; we keep spare cups on it.” Maybe we’ve always done it; maybe we only did it last year. That makes no never mind, because it’s there, it’s ours, and our people have re-purposed it.
The whole Green Man is like that.
Many millions of clever words have been written explaining how the past goes, never to return. How time is a river and you can’t enter it twice in the same place. How yestreday is unchangeable and tomorrow is unknown.
You know what, Dear Readers? They’re all wrong.
One down. And all the rest to go. Another town and one more show!
Time to Dance In The Streets.
Kathleen, I sometimes muse about my relationship with The Green Man’s parlour. The nearest I can come to defining it, is as a sort of retreat, to which I come for respite and renewal, one month out of the year. I renew old friendships there, catch up on gossip and make new friends. I play a bit of music, now and then, do a bit of singing and listen (as though I’ve never heard it before) to Mr. Dickens, reading from his Christmas story. It is, truly, my home away from home: My Parlour.
The odd thing, of course, is that I’ve built it- or helped build it. For the first few weeks, I’m likely to still bear bruises and the occasional abrasion from moving, building, cleaning, tacking and general scrambling about. What a miracle it is that, when we open- when the work lights go off and the bastard amber and pink lights up over our heads- I completely forget that I was someone else, living another life, as I take my place at the Family table, sipping my cold, morning cider.
It’s a kind of madness, of course, but (in my professional opinion) it’s a good, even Devine madness, unknown to those who have never ventured beyond the frontiers of normalcy.
When I count my blessings (as I sometimes do), being a part of this thing into which I’ve blundered, is very high on the list, and I will take my place at table, for as long as it is given me to do so.
And, when it is over, I’ll dismantle the very same table (suddenly become rickety and time-worn), load it onto a truck and store it away until the next time, trusting in Providence that there will be a next time.
for now, though, I will put such thoughts away. We open on Friday. What a happy sound!
See you there.
The past is ever with us, even when we are not aware of it. And the future? I have the strong feeling that it exists out there, in all is infinite possibilities, and it is up to us to stumble into the one we were meant to occupy.