Jesus Christ Superstar in Bristol

When we emigrated to America in 2013, one of the things I was excited about regarding our new location was the access to the theatre.  We were in the suburbs of Philadelphia which gets lots of touring productions of big shows in addition to its in-house theatrical companies and we are an easy day trip away from New York city.  Ultimately, however, we have not been able to take advantage to all of these theatrical opportunities.  The thing that has thwarted us is the cost.  Even for the touring productions, the ticket prices are too far out of our budget – especially since, of course, we need six tickets.  Some day I hope we can go as a family to take in a Broadway show but for now, pity though it may be, that is out of reach.

We, therefore, have been looking at local, regional theatre.  When we saw that the Bristol Riverside Theatre had a production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, we leaped at the chance to take the kids to see it.  Mr Pict and I both love musicals and, though I am not generally a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s work, I have loved ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ since I was a child and would borrow the vinyl album from the library.  Mr Pict and I can both sing all of the lyrics of the rock opera from beginning to end, we know it so well.  In addition to wanting the kids to experience a musical they know well live on stage, it felt like a very relevant musical to take the kids to see given that one of its most prominent themes is political activism and fighting for an agenda you believe in in adverse, hostile circumstances.

We arrived early to pick up the tickets from the box office and that was ideal as it then afforded the kids the opportunity to burn off energy just outside the theatre before we took our seats.

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We were blown away by the production.  From the instant the actor playing Judas starting singing the first song, we knew it was going to be a great experience.  Every single actor was fantastic, giving dynamic, emotional performances and belting out songs with really strong voices.  As with the other productions of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ that I have seen live, the staging was minimalist but very effective.  Costuming was contemporary, with Jesus something of a hipster being followed by trendy believers with selfie sticks.  There were sly but not overbearing or disruptive allusions to current affairs to drive the thematic relevance of the musical.  For instance, Pilate was dressed in a business suit and was ready to play golf during his meeting with Jesus, a follower was wielding a “Make Jerusalem Great Again” placard, and Mary Magdalene removed her wig of straight, ombre hair to reveal her natural curls beneath.  It may not have been Broadway and may have been on stage in a local theatre but it was the by far the best production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ that I have ever seen – including a production in London’s West End.  Further, I would say it is among the strongest productions of any musical I have seen on stage and I have seen a good few.

So we may not be able to access Broadway shows for now but we will definitely continue to explore what is available for us to see as a family through regional theatres and we won’t feel short-changed in doing so.

The Muse of Spatter

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I really do enjoy a bit of spatter in my art work so I was very happy to learn that spatter was the basis of this week’s Life Book lesson.  The lesson was taken by Mandy Van Goeije and was about starting loose and abstract and then finding some form within that abstraction to turn into an illustration, generating text to support that illustration, and layering watercolour and other media on top of a splattery, puddly watercolour background.

I decided to use the primary colours for my spatter because it was what was demonstrated in the tutorial and because I recognised that it was a palette that I don’t often use.  I often add spatter at some stage in my art work but it was a twist on things to actually use the spatter as the starting point.  I am not someone who tends to get creatively blocked because of having a blank page but I imagine this is a good way to get past that problem.

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Once I had the spattery layer, I had to look for shapes and forms within it that suggested the starting point for an illustration.  It is human nature to see facial features in inanimate objects (a quick google told me it is called “pareidolia”) and it is something I certainly do.  When looking at my spattery layer, however, the form I saw emerge was a human figure – a tilted head surrounded by red hair and, in the negative space – upraised arms and hands.  I think my brain determining I would see a human figure is probably an extension of the same phenomenon that has people seeing faces.  When coming up with the story element of my art work and the text, I decided my figure should be the Muse of Spatter and wrote “The Muse of Spatter dances wherever she pleases and creates from chaos” as I felt that basically encapsulated the theme of the lesson and what I created as a result of it.

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Hershey Park

On the day of my oldest son’s 14th Birthday, we decided to visit Hershey Park.  After the previous day’s hike, we thought that he and his brothers would prefer a busy day at a theme park by way of a birthday celebration rather than further explorations of Pennsylvania state parks.  His birthday happened to coincide with the first day that Hershey Park was open for the 2017 season.  This meant that tickets were half-price (since not all areas of the park and rides were open) but also meant that it was thronging with people.

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Theme parks are not my thing at all.  As I have had cause to state several times on this blog, I have a terrible fear of heights.  I also dislike things that move too quickly in a way that makes me feel out of control.  So, yes, theme parks are not the place for the likes of me.  Happily, Mr Pict, while not an adrenalin junkie, is quite happy to accompany our kids on any and all rides they might wish to go on.  I, therefore, get to sit back and watch them without any pressure to participate in any rides that make me freak out.

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I expected there to be more of a chocolate or candy theme to the park but, while present on and off, for the most part the park was like a gigantic fairground stuffed full of thrill rides and traditional rides.  We were there before the park opened so were among the first people in and, for the first couple of hours, it was not overly crowded and the queues were not unbearable.  It also helped that the morning was a little overcast and the temperatures not too hot.  That meant that the kids were able to get onto a good few rides they were really keen on doing without much hassle.

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After noon, temperatures steadily grew and so did the crowds and – with that combination – so did fractiousness and frustrations.  The lines started to get insufferably long for the kids.  For them, there has to be an acceptable correspondence between the length of time waiting to get on a ride and the duration of the ride itself.  They felt that every ride they did was super fun and worth doing but not necessarily worth the time and energy spent queuing.  Standing still can be more tiring than walking.  They started to get frazzled.

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There were a couple of rides left that at least some of the kids were keen to do.  However, when they saw the length of the queues, they decided it wasn’t worth the wait.  Mr Pict and I have been parents for 14 years now but have only recently become veterans enough to recognise when to call it quits, taking our lead from the kids’ moods, rather than push things to the point that it risks undermining the success of the whole day.  So we quit while the going was good but not before feeling as if we had got our money’s worth from our day at Hershey Park.

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Pole Steeple Trail

The Pict family had two birthdays to celebrate within six days of each other.  My oldest son turned 14 and my 9 year old entered double digits.  Since both birthdays occurred during Spring break, we decided to take a couple of days off to travel and explore a little further afield.

Our first destination was the Pole Steeple Trail.  The trail is in Pine Grove State Park and abuts on to the Michaux State Forest and all not too far from the Appalachian Trail (which we really should have a wee wander on some day).  The trail is pretty steep and, with the sun blazing, I realised fairly quickly that I have gotten a bit too mushy over Winter with my lack of outdoorsy rambles.  It was pretty exhausting ascending by clambering over rocks.  At least, it was pretty exhausting for Mr Pict and I; the kids were sprinting ahead without much difficulty and were even burning up extra energy by jumping from rocks and climbing up trees.

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It did not take too long, however, before we reached Pole Steeple  This is a dramatic rocky outcrop that dangles over the landscape.  I had been very much looking forward to the view from the summit.  The view was supposed to be my reward for huffing and puffing my way up the trail.  Unfortunately, I was way too scared and anxious to get close enough to the edge of the slanting rocks to take in the view and appreciate it*.  Sometimes my fear of heights is very limiting.  Of course, as soon as my kids realised that I was having palpitations moving around on the rocks that were not even near the edge, they decided it would be funny to jump around, run, scale up and down different gulches, and at least make it look as if they were teetering on the edge and might fall at any instant.  They had a whale of a time.  I think the area would be beautiful once there are more leaves on the trees, especially so during Autumn.

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Once everyone had finished leaping around like mountain goats and flooding me with cortisol, we headed downhill again.  Downhill was so much easier and quicker than uphill.  On our descent, we stopped not to catch our breaths but to have a “sasquatch off”, a contest to see who could best replicate the famous Bigfoot pose.  Sadly there were no random strangers around who could adjudicate and it made all the squirrels run away.

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* As a result of my wimpiness, some of the photos in this blog post were taken by Mr Pict and our kids.

Spring into Nature (at last!)

I was beginning to feel like Spring was never going to properly arrive.  It’s been a right wee tease this year with some days of warm sunshine and blue skies immediately followed by the return of chilly, damp air and grey skies and flat light.  At last, however, it seems as if Spring has finally and fully-fledged arrived.  Not a moment too soon either as I was beginning to feel like a hermit and really felt a need – not just a want but a need – to get out and wander around in nature for a good chunk of time.

The kids were vehemently opposed to a long car journey so we stayed local and went for a wander in one of our usual haunts.  It felt good to be among the trees and see the sunshine beating through the leaves, plants beginning to bud, and insects buzzing around.

We played Pooh sticks – increasingly competitively and with a little bit of cheating here and there – and the boys climbed trees and clambered across fallen logs.  We saw wildlife too.  I only managed to capture a turtle on camera but we also saw birds galore, lots of insects, and a running groundhog – which was one of the cutest things I have seen in a while.

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The boys were able to get manky and be freely feral and I was able to complete relax allowing them to do so.

Spring is freedom.

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Art Failures as Learning Opportunities

Some weeks my creative mojo is sorely lacking.  There can be many contributing factors, of course, but there are short periods of time where whatever I put my hand to is mediocre at best.  Last week was one such week.  I do remember the many times I experience success with my art and I also value the calming, restorative, recharging effect of having worked on art even when the outcome isn’t what I would hope for.  Nevertheless, last week was one of those weeks where nothing I did in terms of art was pulling together.  The pieces never emerged from the ugly phase.  They just got uglier.

The first piece was produced in response to a Life Book lesson taken by Jodi Ohl.  It was all about adding typography to a colourful, layered background.  Layering has long been one of my art nemeses so I knew it was going to be a challenge.  Sometimes I rise to the challenge but not this time.  The palette of bright colours I added worked with each other for maybe two layers and then they started to fight with each other and then they somehow lost their vibrancy and looked not so much like mud but like sludge.  I tried to knock back areas by negative painting in thinned gesso and that only served to make everything look more dull and grey.  In a last ditch effort, I added some Neocolor II inside the feather shapes, trying to obliterate the underlying layers.  That pop of colour rescued the piece from going into the trash but I still found the whole piece to be unsatisfactory.  Having used gritty gesso, I decided not to waste the nib of any pens on this piece and instead stamped out lines from the famous Emily Dickinson poem around the feather shapes.  I was glad to see the back of this piece and move on to something else.

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Alas, the thing I moved onto was a page in my art journal, a response to the Art Journal Adventure prompt for the week.  The idea was to use curvy and round elements.  I had not used my gelli plate for a while and the youngest kids were up for having a play with it too so I decided that that would be my tool and technique for this week’s page.  I have not experimented much with printing directly into my art journal from the gelli plate so that was my personal challenge.  I chose to push the journal down onto the plate.  Perhaps things would have worked out better had I flopped the plate onto the paper instead but I doubt it.  I cut out some circles and curvy arch shapes from shipping envelopes to use as masks in different layers.  The first couple of layers looked pretty good but there was not enough interest for me to quit while I was ahead.  I pushed on with a further layer and obliterated what had been a nice little area on the page.  That was annoying but I pushed on hoping that subsequent layers would lead to some other interesting shapes and textures and contrasts emerging.  Unfortunately, that was not what happened.  I think I need more regular practice with gelli printing in order to develop some skill with it, some idea of how to achieve different looks rather than my haphazard, slapdash way of doing things.  I got to the point where I was sick of the sight of the page so decided that was a good reason to stop.  I finished it all off by gluing down some of the circle masks I had been using.

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It was not a good week for art, therefore, but I am choosing to focus on the positive of the flaws and failings being learning opportunities.  I have, as stated above, learned that I need to actually plan out what I am doing with the gelli plate rather than just shoving elements together and hoping for the best.  The solution is more practice.  I have a small gelli plate so perhaps I will keep that to hand and have a play with it more frequently to see if I can develop some sort of process that works for me.  I have also learned that layering remains something that I struggle with and I should probably just conclude that it is not my thing and stick to techniques that do work for me.  Investing time and energy into approaches that result in pleasing outcomes is ultimately going to be more fulfilling than trying to learn a technique that eludes me.  It is OK for me to hone the skills I possess instead of chasing after the ones I don’t.   My mojo will return.

Battleship Sleepover

A couple of weekends ago, my two youngest children got to experience sleeping on board the USS New Jersey.  It wasn’t that I had tired of their antics and decided to ship them out to learn some military discipline; it was an event with their Scout troop.  I did not actually go with them.  I happily and wholeheartedly volunteered to stay home with the older two boys.  In the past, I have spent the night in a historic prison and an abandoned farming township but this time I felt that Mr Pict should have the sleepover experience.  This was not just because I wanted to stay home cosy in my jammies but also because I would have been the only mother on the trip and – quite frankly – because I did not fancy trying to sleep in a situation where I felt uncomfortable and claustrophobic.

The USS New Jersey is a battleship with a long and interesting history – well, interesting if you like military history which I don’t but which Mr Pict does (another reason why he was just the parent for the job).  It was launched in 1942 and not completely decommissioned until the early 1990s so it saw action in World War 2, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War.  I really cannot accurately relate any of its detailed history, however, as I was not on the tour and – though I did listen to my husband’s report – I did not absorb and retain the information.  That’s what Wikipedia is for.

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The USS New Jersey became a museum ship in 2001 and is permanently docked in Camden, New Jersey.  It can be visited during the day by members of the public but getting to stay overnight was only possible because of the kids being Scouts.  Soon after they arrived, the troop was taken on a guided tour by knowledgeable volunteers.  They got to see a wide variety of spaces on board the ship and learn about the different eras of its history.  Our youngest son even got to sit in the Captain’s chair, a position he apparently rather enjoyed.  After the tour, the group dined in the mess area.  My kids are cheese snobs so were not impressed by the box mac’n’cheese on offer but having to eat food you don’t necessarily love probably added to the whole naval experience.  They were lucky they didn’t get hard tack.  Their bunks for the night were the exact same bunks the navy personnel would have slept on when the battleship was active.  The photos of the kids slotted into the narrow beds made me feel queasy so I was very glad that we had made the choice to have Mr Pict act as chaperone.

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After breakfast the next morning, they got to have a daylight wander around the ship, look at the Philadelphia skyline from the vantage point of the deck, and then it was time to head home.  As lukewarm as I a about military history, I think it’s a pretty cool thing for them to be able to say that the slept overnight on a battleship.

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