I don’t know where to begin with this one. We all had a character that we went back to, time and time again, for one reason or another. By the end, I had a handful, but the one that absolutely defined my time at Temple Studios was Conrad.
It all started at my third show, on a Saturday night just before Christmas. I barely remember the details. I do know it was quiet. Really quiet.
I found Conrad (Adam Burton, obviously) alone in his dressing room, in the final loop, right after the reset. My mouth was dry, my heart racing. Being in that dark little room as he scribbled on a flyer and prepared his suitcase was completely terrifying. It took a fair amount of courage to not just turn around and leave. I felt like an intruder in his private space. I was still at the point where I had no idea what to expect - and Conrad was a stranger to me, but even then, always seemed to be aware of us.
The blurs I remember from that evening are mainly selfish ones. My complete shock when he locked me in his dressing room and how for the the first time I felt I had become part of a character’s story, a confidante as he unlocked the door and we continued onwards together.
That loop also had me step into Studio 3 during a show for the first time; an experience I found completely unsettling. (Unbelievable now, given that it became somewhat of a ritual to spend a bit of time in there each show)
When he started rehearsing lines back in his dressing room, I fumbled to pull out a chair and sit down. His eyes were on me the whole time. I didn’t give his shoulders a rub.
I remember how the scene with Romola in Studio 5 made the hairs stand on the back of my neck and my body go stiff. Those voiceovers, those disembodied voices. The way a whole new level of control, or fate, or destiny, or whatever it was, emerged for me. I knew nothing of Romola’s story at that point, but I remember how fearful I was for her. And how Conrad being asked to visit Studio 8 chilled me to the bone. I would see this scene play out again many times, and it never once lost its impact.
And then, my first trip to Studio 8 with Conrad (and my only time with Adam). I wish I could recall the details. Mainly it’s just the startling absurdity of his Grandmother costume, his shaky voice; so quiet, so close to my ear. I remember a dash through the darkness, and leaping up the stairs to watch the final murder as he gripped my shoulders. Me, out of breath, shaking. I was completely invested in Conrad. In our journey together. We’d been through this whole thing tonight, side-by-side. And then he let go of my shoulders.
A rose appeared in his hands, from absolutely nowhere, given to me to throw. Then he led me to the stage, and left me. I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt more alone. I wasn’t ready for him to go.
It was this loop (and Adam Burton’s ridiculous ability to engage you in a story) that is really to blame for all of my visits since.
Following that night, Conrad become as much a habit as visiting Temple Studios did. I spent a few more loops with Adam’s Conrad before he left. Starting to notice the details: The way he used to look at the “Property of Temple Studios” sign and say “I don’t think so”. The imaginary shooting of Claude and Alice on the board room table. The exchange with Harry. The constant use of his dropper. The clicking of his fingers. The way he timed putting his wig on absolutely perfectly with the music. The weird little exchanges with Omar’s Fool in the corridors outside Studio 2. What was it that the Fool told them?
At this point in time, I had Conrad down as someone who was professional through and through. Perhaps a touch cold. Someone who was sick of the studios, using his scientology and drugs as a way to cope. Someone who really wanted to be on the outside, living his other life in drag, outside of the studio’s grasp. But they got to him first, sending him to his fate.
This picture of Conrad grew less and less clear for me over time. Different versions of him, my mind drawing tenuous links between him and The Grocer, him and The Fool, and my changing interpretation of events outside the studios, all adding to the complexity of his story.
I admit, I was worried when Adam left. Worried I wouldn’t like whoever was to be the new face of Conrad (I never did connect with Owen’s version). Worried that my favourite thing in Temple Studios would no longer have the same pull. And then Ben Whybrow turned up, beard and all.
The first few times I stumbled across him I remember thinking “This doesn’t feel so bad…”. But I wasn’t ready, not yet anyway, for a full loop.
Then one night I caught him in the Horse & Stars (probably in one of my extended visits with the Barman) and ended up heading along to the motel room behind him. He caught my eye and very soon I found myself removing one shoe, then the next, one stocking, and the other. Carefully handing them back. I still wasn’t ready to stick with him though, and watched him slip away through the studio gates whilst I headed on over to Tuttle’s.
There must have been something in his wolfish grin though, because during the very next loop as he pinned Tuttle up against the wall, I found myself drawn back to his side. Another rendition of I Can Never Go Home Anymore, then self-conciously slipping back into a relatively crowded motel room.
I felt half-guilty seeing this scene twice in the same night and slid behind some other white masks. But then, he had fixed me with his gaze again, grinning. And I was undressing him for the second time that night.
There was no way I could resist any longer, and soon we were in his dressing room, “It’s okay, you can drop the act now”, an inkblot, being questioned about why I do it, is it the thrill? The shadow of a moth. The drops on my tongue and running down my chin - wiped away gently with a thumb.
This Conrad felt more youthful. More playful. A little more carefree. He owned the stage during the magic trick and recited lines from The Glass Menagerie in his dressing room. He more easily gave up all his money to the Gatekeeper, again, with a grin. And in Studio 8? He felt more desperate. “We all have a part to play”. His weight shaking in my hand as I led him to the little bed.
He held me tight as we raced through the darkness, our breathing heavy. The horse. A moment. Stanford’s voice echoing through the darkness “He will lead you”. We run. He stops suddenly and I nearly go flying. A change of direction. His torch scanning the floor until it lands on his face, eyes ripped out. “Hurry, we’ve got to go”. Charging up the stairs, clutching my hand, darting through the crowd, just in time to see the final moments of the murder.
And, though he left me, he also came back for me. More drops on my tongue. Parting words and a goodbye before leading me back into Studio 3.
It was thrilling to know that I loved this Conrad just as much as the first.
Jude soon followed. Motel speeches that ended with “Read the book!”, reciting Hamlet in his dressing room, cartwheels through Studio 2, an anger at Andrea that I had never witnessed have such intensity. All sass and confidence until he started to fall apart at the seams, stumbling and falling down the stairs on his way to Studio 8. Not letting me step on the string.
And, then, there was Alex, who turned up and had absolutely no right to be as good as he was. Hilarious, dark, dangerous. In so many ways a completely different creature. Catching his last loop on his first night, I knew from his motel room speech that he was going to be a good one. I could forgive him fumbling with stockings and a bra, when he delivered that speech in a way that made it completely new again.
He was also unwittingly to thank for one of my absolute favourite and most unexpected Temple Studios memories. Having dashed through Studio 8 with him in the final loop, I found myself kicked out into the corridor… alone. Shaken and utterly confused I looked to my right, my brain whirring with the knowledge that the final murder was probably already underway, an empty corridor. I slowly turned to my left, to the stairwell, only to find my eyes meeting Stanford’s. He held up the rose he was carrying and beckoned me over, grabbing my neck and asking if he could trust in my discretion, before marching me to watch the murder.
After that first night, Alex’s Conrad only got better. Commanding, self-assured, everything Conrad should be. I wish I had seen more of him. He was forceful about getting his shoulders rubbed too - and remains the only one I felt obliged to obey.
Then Adam was back and my final months following Conrad were all about the differences, the changing moments, the new additions and the favourite scenes.
There was the complete surprise of a newly-shaved face and drops on my tongue after Andrea led me into a deserted Studio 3, covering my eyes and stroking my arms with her feathers before vanishing.
There was the time, just once, that I followed (Ben’s) Conrad for his first loop after finding him doing push ups in his dressing room at the start of the show.
There was the somehow-self-aware “Perhaps we met in a dream?”, to Harry’s questioning. The loaded looks between Conrad and Dwayne. How much did he know his part in Mary’s death? Who arranged him as a distraction? Dwayne? The studio? Was this just another part he had to play?
There was watching each different Barman’s reaction to him as he removed his wig - and the way the lighting during that scene made it look utterly cinematic no matter where you were stood. (To watch it from in the saddlery, through the doorway, was just as special as from the other end of the bar, as you slunk to the right so as not to have Conrad’s gaze fall on you as he undressed).
There were so many scenes in that motel room. Some empty, some full, some with disobedient door holders or people chewing gum. People keen to remove his stockings or people horrified by it, just using the tips of their fingers as they struggled not to make contact with a thigh. There was the way he sought out everyone in the room while blotting his lipstick, and how I nodded in agreement every time. The way he zipped up his trousers just before leaving. It was always different, always a joy.
There was Ben’s Glass Menagerie lines and Jude’s Hamlet and the addition (in what felt like the last few weeks) of Adam’s speech in his cage whilst waiting for the PA. I never did catch much of what he was saying.
There was the increasingly dirty looks Conrad was dishing out during the magic trick as he plunged the sticks through the box. The final week was outrageous. There was the discovery that Conrad really IS lying when he tells Luna “it’s water”. Gin, definitely gin. And there was Larry, taking me by the arm and escorting me to “my usual spot”.
There was James’ Harry telling Conrad “Nice moustache!” and the new speech that emerged right at the end as Conrad waits to enter Studio 5. Talking to his shadow, words about how he used to have an inferiority complex, how he’s different now. Words I wish I had committed to memory and that maybe would have helped me unravel his past.
There was the makeover to his dressing room in early April, and the way he pointed at the magician before heading to Studio 3. A photo of someone credited, by a note on the back, as an inventor of method acting.
There was the way that Conrad, particularly Adam’s, seemed to get darker somehow. And seemed to become more and more tormented at the end of his loop. The way the PA seemed to become more powerful as time went by, and he seemed to become weaker.
There was the Fool, staying on the stage during the finale next to William and Mary, while Conrad mirrored him, crouched down at the side next to Wendy and Marshall. Conrad’s words of “the former becomes the latter, and the latter becomes the former, by sudden unexpected reversal” running through my head as I try to make sense of their respective trips to Studio 8 each loop.
When I came to the final show, probably much further from understanding Conrad than I had been on my first visit with him, he was the obvious choice for much of my last night in there.
It was a great choice. Gone were most of my tears from an emotional final loop with Jesse’s Grocer the night before, and instead Adam played it with humour, acknowledging the huge (adoring) crowd following him.
Words were changed in the motel room and met with raucous laughter. “Can the last one in hold the door?”; “Maybe I’m pretty good at this now” as his shoelaces were perfectly tied;”If this is a nightmare, perhaps we’ll awake tonight?”. All topped off with the way he still tried to catch everyone’s eye, whilst blotting his lipstick, despite the room being full to bursting.
There was the insanely loud cheers during both magic tricks - the second one with cameo appearances from Ben and Alex, which brought tears to my eyes as I silently said goodbye whilst grinning, laughing and whooping.
And there was the final trip to the motel room. Where I snuck through the back door, making sure I’d see his final speech, except I didn’t quite time it right and arrived to an empty room, a split second before him. He looked me up and down and his final words to me were “You’re early”.
When he left, he parted with a simple “Until…” and a pause that lingered, heavy in the air. The tiniest touch, the perfect sobering reminder that there would be no “next time”.
I was wondering who you were when he said “You’re early”!
What a beautiful description of how much the character meant to you - thank you so much for sharing.
I spent more time with William than with any other character.
The odd thing is, I didn’t really *like* William all that much. When I found out the show was going to be based on “Woyzeck,” my first reaction was disappointment - “Woyzeck” does not exactly have the same allure as “Macbeth.” Also, killing off a woman to demonstrate a man’s suffering is an old sexist trope that I wasn’t all that excited to see dramatized yet again - though I felt better when I learned the show would have a gender-reversed mirror version.
Although I didn’t love *him*, I loved William’s loop. I’m an “outside the gates” girl at heart - I loved the town and desert so much, felt so at home there. And Paul Zivkovich is so talented - he was the William I followed most, and even if I didn’t love the character, it was impossible not to be awed by his performance. Plus, William had so many incredible scenes, with so many other great characters - there was never a dull moment in his loop. Any time I was having an “off” night, or just wasn’t connecting with anything else, I found William and had a good show.
William was the first character I ever followed, first loop at the first preview. I found him in the trees with Andy - they were the second and third characters I ever saw - Barman, Andy, then William. William was Paul Zivkovich, so I stayed with him. Andy was Rob McNeill - I recognized him from the “Faust” DVD - and since their William/Andy friendship became one of my favorite aspects of the show, I’m glad that I started the very first show with them.
The William loop, in the first preview, was very similar to the finished version. (I assume they spent most of the early rehearsal time focusing on the leads - compared to many of the other characters who weren’t close to their final loops yet.) The differences I remember are small - Conrad didn’t pull William onto the stage, just teased him at the bar; William “saw” the audience less; the fountain wasn’t running, and he didn’t pull sand from it; it didn’t rain in the finale, and William and Wendy just carried their lovers to the center of the stage instead of drowning with them in the pools.
In the early days, I’d emerge from the first lift on the first floor and find William & Mary on the porch, to the eerie noir music of “Old Friends.” Later I realized that because Temple Studios is so much bigger and more open than the McKittrick, I could follow William any loop without being suffocated by crowds, so I’d often follow him in the middle, or even final loop so that we could run down to the finale together, the emotional closure of the final scene much more powerful after you’d just spent a loop with William. The sick, overwhelming horror of clutching the corpse of the one you love, knowing that her death is your fault…
But starting at the beginning…
William and Andy in the boardroom. The extraordinary physical skill it must have taken to pull off that dance. I loved how Rob’s Andy was kind of a ditz, just wanted to go about his day, but he really did care about his friend, was bewildered by William’s visions and did his best to snap him out of them, to be William’s anchor to reality. I cared about William in large part because Andy cared about William.
I loved Conrad’s cabaret better than Eugene’s, though both scenes are favorites - I think it was the vastness and beauty of that space, how commanding and charismatic Adam Burton was, and how much was going on with all the characters, some interesting bit of nuance no matter where you looked - Dwayne’s seduction, Mary’s conflict, Barman’s attraction/repulsion toward Conrad…
Paul played William as so innocent, so awkwardly uncomfortable, so unaware of his own darker instincts. I always sympathized with his William during the cabaret - he was just so out of his depth.
I really did try to give all the other Williams a chance. I was happy to finally catch a show when Rob was on, and his performance was great - but his William was such a passive-aggressive, needy, controlling creep toward Mary that I was relieved when his loop ended so that I could get away - that version of William made my skin crawl. I tried Omar, Greig, Ygal - they were all great performers - but they all had an underlying anger or passive-aggression … something that I found off-putting. It was only Paul’s William that my heart went out to, I think because he was so lost, so unaware of his own darkness.
Just back to the cabaret for a second though - Adam Burton was so fabulous, wasn’t he? The show was so many things, so vast, and I loved so much of it, but when I think about William, when I think about the Horse & Stars tavern, about Conrad’s cabaret, and later William and Mary dancing to “Walking in the Sand”… that’s the heart of the show to me.
The very last time I saw Conrad’s cabaret with Paul as William, it was Jude as Conrad - I liked Jude’s Conrad, but I do wish it had been Adam. I saw that scene so many times with Adam’s Conrad and Paul’s William, but I don’t have any memory of which was the last one I saw.
The last time I ever saw the cabaret was the final one, third loop at the last show. Adam Conrad with Greig William - I couldn’t really bring myself to believe it was the end. I stayed with Conrad afterward, and watched Nico’s Barman have his sexually conflicted freakout - a great scene that I rarely witnessed, because I was usually darting off with William.
Kirsty Arnold was my Andrea in the audition - she was so good every time. My most vivid memory was at Paul’s last William performance, when she shoved him off the stage while kissing him, instead of the usual beatdown. Claude in my memory is always David during the audition, even though he left so long ago, the presence of him looming so powerfully even when he was just sitting there watching…
I’ve had interesting conversations with people about how manipulated William was - clearly the Studio was manipulating Wendy all along, but between the humiliation of Andrea’s audition, the Doctor being in cahoots with Stanford, the manipulations by studio employees like Conrad, the Studio connections of characters like Dwayne, the “townsfolk” like Eugene who are actually actors, Stanford’s window into William & Mary’s house… I always felt that William’s story was equally manipulated, just less obviously so.
I tried to see the suspicion duet on the porch from all the angles - close, far, inside the house, from the side, and with different casts… it was such an extraordinary dance, and so cool to see different interpretations. I loved how Paul did the moment with his head under the swing - he’d cut it so close, I’d hold my breath.
Someone told me after the show ended that the reason the Barman helps Dwayne beat up William and Andy after the hoedown is that they stiffed him on the drinks they ordered in their earlier scene at the bar. In a zillion loops with William, I never noticed this. Oops.
I loved just going places with William. At Sleep No More, following a lead character is like being in a mosh pit, no time to enjoy the scenery, just a struggle to not get elbowed. But the space at Drowned Man was so big - I never had trouble following William. It felt companionable, an opportunity to hear bits of dialog, to see him interact with Mary or Andy, even just enjoy the beauty of the space.
The tree dance was beautiful, not quite as epic as Wendy’s because the space there was smaller, but I was always awed by the athleticism and the coordination between the two performers, the trust that Andy would catch Wiliam. Some made it more obvious than others that Andy saw Dwayne and Mary in the distance, was trying to keep William from knowing. The gris gris was a great subtle way of introducing a bit of the supernatural into William’s loop, and of symbolizing Andy’s well-meaning but ultimately ineffectual friendship…
That dance on the car, I just remember being awed by the physicality of it. It seemed so dangerous, so beautiful, so epic, the intensity of the emotion infused into every moment. I’d gasp every single time William threw himself backwards off of the car.
Visiting the Doctor was so creepy - I loved the slow, dreamlike eerieness of the scene, the mirrored version of the same scene with Wendy shortly before… To be honest, though, I mostly just appreciated the opportunity to sit for five minutes. :P
I saw so many performers as the Doctor, but if I close my eyes, I see Tomislav English, hair slicked back, pupils huge and black, moving with such confident, disinterested malice that you’d never believe he was the warm, innocent Andy of the other cast.
I remember in the very early days, the Doctor wouldn’t greet characters with a flashlight - what a great addition that was…
I could watch the hoedown forever. I got over the private party pretty quickly, but I never got tired of the hoedown. Maybe it’s because the sight lines were better, and there were so many places to watch it from - any place around the circle of the bar; either side of the line dance; sitting or standing on the raised section in the back; sitting on the barrel; through the sex window (ew); from the saddle shop even. That set was so huge and beautiful - the fairy lights, the surreal chandelier… I just loved being in there.
Every single character had multiple interesting things going on during the dance - it reminded me of the ballroom dance in Sleep No More. Even if they’d just interact for half a second, every character had a different relationship to every other character, and they were all there for their own reasons, nearly a dozen stories converging. The dance itself was so joyful, so much fun, even though you knew there was darkness underneath - Mary with Dwayne, Faye with Miguel, Andy with Drugstore Girl - even the Barman getting in on the act, and Badlands Jack back in the day, and later the Grocer, awkward but enthusiastic.
The energy at the final show was so incredible, the audience cheering, stamping their feet, singing along… And knowing to go silent at the exact right moment.
Poor William, so left out, so pushed aside, so unhappy. Drunk and angry, wanting to reconnect with Mary, wanting the one good thing in his life back, and instead pushed aside again, crushed - his heart and mind shattering when he sees her with Dwayne.
That moment, the sudden darkness, everyone dropping, William hanging from the chandelier while Mary and Dwayne fuck against the window - that’s why Punchdrunk is brilliant. The effortless transformation from reality to surreality, the whole audience suddenly seeing the scene as William experiences it, the shocked, broken horror, frozen in that long moment of his heart breaking.
The fight was so brutal and so violent - the choreography seemed so dangerous - I don’t know how they pulled it off every night. I saw it from many angles, but I think standing next to the barrel was best - you had an unobstructed view of everything, and the performers were so precise - Andy would swing that baseball bat at Dwayne and it would hit the wall next to you, safely, every time. Black masks, and then Badlands Jack, and then Eugene, would clear off the the table so effortlessly, you wouldn’t notice unless you were sitting there, just suddenly it would be empty and then Dwayne would throw William over it - it was such a great use of the space.
Afterward, the fountain scene made me cry. A lot.
William was so lost, but again, the reason I cared was Andy. Andy was so bewildered when William started giving over his possessions, and then William would pull out the gris gris and Andy would start to understand, horrified, and he’d try so hard to get William to take it back, to accept his protection. This is another reason the Drowned Man was so wonderful - all the characters were flawed, interesting, complex, but so many of them also were so relatable, they drew you in, created such an emotional connection. Andy wanted so desperately to save his friend, and it was devastating that he couldn’t.
The music was so beautiful at the fountain and afterward. All it takes is listening to “Avarice” and my eyes well up and my throat gets tight and I can see every moment of it. William reaches into the fountain, and dry sand slips between his fingers - like at the doctor’s office earlier, like at the Red Moon Motel soon. He spins, cleans his hands in the fountain, and runs to the house, falls to the ground in front, in a pool of light. The choreography is so beautiful here, as he seems almost to be caught in waves, lifted, spinning, a foreshadowing of the finale. He calls for Mary, and finally she emerges, tearfully, from the house.
It’s Mary’s regret that makes the next scenes so heartbreaking. She’s devastated, she’s so sorry, she just wants things to be as they were. She really does love William, and he really does love her. They clutch each other, so lost, and they’re *this close* to things being okay, to finding redemption in each others’ arms… If only William could accept it.
I almost always saw these scenes with Paul and Kate, and I loved both of their performances. She played it like Mary wanted to go with William, wanted so utterly to recover their lost connection… She went willingly. And William wanted the same thing, he loved her, he wanted their connection back - he *had* it back… he had everything he wanted and he let it slip through his fingers like sand…
"In the Still of the Night" would fade into "Walking in the Sand" as they entered the tavern, the light glowing blue, the most beautiful scene. The last time I ever saw it with Paul and Kate, I didn’t realize would be the last (Sara Black was Mary at Paul’s last show) - I was in the town, near the fountain, and I stopped and looked - through the saddle shop, past the bar, and, so small in the distance, William and Mary spun in their slow dance. From so far away, it was still beautiful - the scale adding to the epic emotional resonance.
He’d carry her to the door, up the stairs, and the sand would slip through their fingers as they ran to the Red Moon Motel…
The murder was always chilling - her initial discomfort turning to horrified struggle, his face almost blank, the way she’d fight free, getting one arm loose, but she couldn’t escape.
The hug from William afterward made it more sad - he was so alone, surrounded by a sea of masks, bewildered, lost in delusions, unable to tell what was real - even after he’d just murdered Mary, he didn’t understand - he sought her with such desperate sorrow.
The best William loop I ever had was a long time ago - October or November - and ended with a Red Moon Motel postcard slipped into my hand. It’s something I will treasure forever - a momento of an artistic experience that moved me so profoundly.
The last reset I saw was with Greig and Leslie - it was the last ever, final show, beautiful Wendy with her red curls and red hands, eyes welling as she reached to the gate to mirror William one final time…
People have mixed opinions of the finale - but say what you will about the line dance, the final part was wonderful. William and Wendy, tossed in the waves, finally reuniting with their lovers. Sometimes I’d be close enough to see their faces, and I’d wonder - is it just the devastating horror of finding your lover dead, of realizing that the person you love most in the world is gone because of you? Or is it relief - the joy of reunion, finding them again, the ability to finally be with your lover forever, sinking into the waves together…?
Please don’t stop writing. There is absolutely nothing shameful about remembering and sharing an experience and a work of art that was meaningful to you.
Misguided, manipulated, magical. To me, his role in the “The Drowned Man” is at the core of how the town really hangs together. In Encino, Mary needs saving from her sins, and arguably, the chain of events that take place prove that although she might go to her grave forgiven, her murder was ultimately unavoidable…unless Miguel… ah, such a tragic tale.
For me, Miguel represents the occult, the Angel of Death, but strangely can be perceived as Christ-like in his suffering. The anointing in the desert by the Dust Witch, a tortured, deeply emotive ritual both punishing and purging the sexuality that forms the essence of Miguel’s Achilles heel, acknowledges both his coming of age and loss of innocence. His good intentions seem to cause harm - a gentle moment in Romola’s trailer, the protection Gris Gris spell which ends up round William’s neck, ultimately leading to Mary’s death in Miguel’s birthplace.
There have only been two portrayals of Miguel which managed to encapsulate for me, everything this boy should be, everything he should make us feel and who truly bare their soul in performance; that of Ed Warner & Nico Migliorati.
The latter was my first full Miguel loop (both had made appearances in earlier shows but were not my focus at the time…the washing in the tent out of context was rather strange, but all would be revealed later!) His was a Miguel of life experience, of intensity, desperation and passion.
I picked up Nico’s Miguel at first reset, having followed Mary to her death… Waiting in the desert in the shadows, the horror and pain of the obsession and jealousy within the murder I had just witnessed loomed all around me. There was a stillness in that moment - I was alone - which contrasted significantly with the violence that had just taken place, and the amount of white masks that had surrounded me moments before… Lila arrived with her followers, lighting changing as she approached, suggesting her unfamiliarity with her surroundings. The music’s tone and pace also shifted…foreshadowing Miguel’s rebirth.
In that moment a hand stretched towards freedom from deep within the sand dune and seemed, just for a moment, to stop time. With Lila’s help, I caught my first glimpse of Miguel - dishevelled, disorientated, desperate for air, rolling down into the sand below. Their dance, in this portrayal, was one of discovery - Miguel working out how to touch her, their arms contorting, twisting, enveloping each other with a strange aura of both sexuality and innocence. Nico’s Miguel had clearly been with women, but somehow Lila’s innocence brought about a tentative, wide-eyed confusion in him, rendering his experience useless. In the moment when Miguel showers the sand over Lila, it appeared as though he was casting a protection spell - his gaze intense and trance-like, surrounding Lila within an impenetrable cloak made from the very earth of his roots. As the first tarot card was dropped in the sand, his body seemed to quiver minutely as he absorbed the shockwaves of Lila’s pending loss of innocence.
It was when this Miguel left the desert that outside influences seemed to take hold of him, ultimately leading to a chain of events he could not prevent.
In the Drugstore, when the Gris Gris was created for Andy, there was a sense both of playfulness and the mystique present which was so central to the character. Prior to the scene, the chase through the motel and over the roofs was so weightless, and it was abundantly clear that Miguel had complete control over the situation, rendering Andy confused and disorientated, the perfect precursor to the casting of the spell. Nico’s Miguel did not thrive on the power of manipulation, as he held within him no sense of arrogance, the sense of playfulness throughout the dance and his disappearance into the phone booth provided such a perfect contrast to the tortured soul we were soon to become engrossed in.
Nico’s Miguel interacted a great deal with white masks, using the tarot cards to ‘find’ those who needed saving. There was always that intensity and desperation inherent to his characterisation, forcing you to feel his pain, and the further into the loop he took you, the more you found yourself immersed in the fear and desperation in his story. The night of my loop with him, I was lucky to be chosen as Miguel’s partner in crime, the first indication of this being in the seamstress’ shop as he reappeared from the phone box. Taking his glass of water, he smirked mischievously on noticing I was already in the shop knowing he would emerge there, rewarding me by making me his co-conspirator for the remainder of the loop. I remember helping to deliver the package to Badlands Jack, holding it in full view of Jack himself, whilst Miguel hid on top of the mossy trailer until the handover, and feeling anxious of Jack’s response to my having his property. Was Miguel letting me take a fall for him? Perhaps these conspiracies were the only way his Miguel could cope with the burden of his responsibilities…through emotional connection with another. Again, the seduction into the emotional content of the journey so central to Nico’s portrayal continued to pull me through the journey, with more exploration of the tarot cards. Miguel seemed genuinely shocked to find another card in the tyre, but again the mysticism took hold as he blew the dust from the card and physically showing the power of the desert summoning him, securing his fate as an Angel of Death. This manifested itself in an extraordinary climbing of the stairs up to the desert in which he slid, crawled, throwing himself upside down, before finally coming face to face with Dust Witch to be anointed.
Miguel’s anointing was, for me, one of the most crucial scenes in the loop, especially if you have been coaxed into complete emotional investment leading up to it. Nico’s portrayal seemed to revolve around the ritual being a painful transition into the Angel of Death. He was drawn to the Dust Witch with in an almost magnetic force, contorting and moving in ways that seemed impossible, fully conveying the immense power of his manipulator. At first glance, the anointing itself seemed immensely painful; the repeated rhythmic gesture as he pounded his heart seemed so desperate, as he gazed upwards yearning to free himself from the pain of the ritual. As he reached the top of the sand dune and floated upside down as the Hanged Man, the significance of the Tarot was complete and we realised Miguel’s remaining time would ultimately be traumatic. The heart-breaking sight of him lying in the sand, card on his chest was a significant reminder that this Miguel was being left with no control over what was to occur in the rest of his story. Interestingly, I found this Dust Witch to be cold and unsympathetic to what lay ahead for Miguel, which was not the case with my other Miguel loop, and I felt this really supported Nico’s interpretation.
My final two interactions in this loop, the cleansing in the tent and the final 1:1 were both moments of immense intensity and emotion. The cleansing really added a sense of finality to the ritual we had just been observers of, and to be chosen for this moment made me feel extremely vulnerable from the off - this encounter being in sight of others like myself, with no identity. Kneeling in the tent, watching Miguel rinse his hair and face of sand, I sensed for the first time since entering the desert for his anointing, a tiny spark of freedom from the force of the Dust Witch, and as he handed me the sponge and motioned to wash him free of the paint, I realised that for this Miguel, the white mask (in this instance, me) would be his salvation. His physical response to the contact seemed to project relief as he initially collapsed over my hand, softly shuddering, before gazing back up at me, encouraging me to continue, freeing him from the Witch’s spell, restoring his passion and experience, giving him back his control. By the end, it was as though a weight had been lifted from him, and although later we were to discover that his fate was indeed unavoidable, just for a moment, it seemed he would be able to become himself again. As we shared whiskey from the bottle, it was easy to believe there was a more animalistic, sensual side to Nico’s Miguel, which we were about to see and discover would be his downfall.
Sure enough, as first Dwayne arrives, shortly followed by Faye, I felt for the first time in the loop, that Miguel was himself, an equal to Dwayne (in fact in many ways more than Dwayne…Miguel was perceptive, calculating in his seduction of Faye right in front of Dwayne) It is interesting to note that the loop begins here if you come from the first lift, meaning your first impression of Miguel is significantly altered. Some may have a cold response to him, seeing him merely as a predator at first, but for those who have followed from the start of the loop, it is a relief to see this Miguel unbound. In this scene, where we finally see Miguel as he wants to be, Nico looks like ‘Miguel’; by this I mean his appearance suggests a man at home in the shadows, mystical and intense, confident as a physical presence. When he rises from his seat to dance with Faye, his movement is soulful and deep, connecting with the music, and my initial thought on his seduction of Faye suggested that perhaps they (unbeknownst to Dwayne) had been intimate on previous occasions. This theory was reinforced during and after the hoedown, where Faye continued to be flirtatious, Miguel responding with powerful intent and predatory focus. This Miguel does not seem to be a part of the community, more a presence that it tolerated; even Dwayne ignored him in public.
As Miguel and Faye engaged in their dance of seduction through the town, it seemed evident this was not their first tryst. Their bodies seemed familiar to each other, and they moved with confidence and sensuality, without force or aggression…nothing to prove to each other. When he left Faye in the motel, Nico’s entire body language changed, as the tension returned across his shoulders and a sense of restriction overwhelmed him…the force of the Dust Witch seeming to return. Nico’s awareness of movement as a tool for expression is so prominent in his performance that, at times, you forget there has been no dialogue in the loop. As he discovered Mary, in her state of undress in the street, with one soft touch he charmed her and carried her to her bed as if weightless. In this moment, I felt as though he knew that in essence, he was ‘laying her to rest’ and there was nothing he could do to change it. As he left, hugging her clothes tightly to him, he raced through the town to return again to the desert.
To finish the loop with the 1:1 was truly one of the most emotional experiences I had at Temple Studios (the final night came close). I had heard of instances of white masks being overcome with emotion in 1:1s, but had not experienced it myself until that day. Nico’s interpretation was so emotive and provocative, so deeply moving, I was soon to cry in front of a stranger, completely unknown to me, and believe completely in the act we undertook together. As I was taken roughly by the hand, the others sent away and the door closed, he drew me to the floor opposite him, and led me in a ritual of desperation and anguish to find some way of helping Mary. Before the ritual began, a connection was made - somehow to emotionally invest in the casting of this spell, an air of us being ‘in it together’ was created - taking a moment to restore the connection made back at the cleansing ritual, his dark eyes searching my face, gauging my willingness to take part. In this instance, Miguel was inviting, taking time to teach me and help me understand the importance of what we were doing. He was tactile, a little forceful in his desperation, making it seem as if the spell HAD to be cast by two. Placing the doll on top of the clothes, sprinkling the dust, and breaking of bread (another Christ-like reference) we eventually came to mark each other’s foreheads with the clay-like substance, our eyes never breaking contact and suddenly he took me in his arms to tell me “They build their own gallows”. I felt the tears stinging my eyes - I was just as afraid of the inevitable outcome as he was. When the ritual was complete, he drew me to my feet, and before giving me Mary’s clothing and the doll to carry, kissed me gently on the forehead and whispered “Two will die”, searching my face to ensure I understood. Before I knew it, we were running to the altar to place the items there. As I backed away, Miguel shot me one final look before he took up his place at the scarecrow funeral, putting on his head to match the others, accepting the situation with a sense of duty, sitting with grace and poise in the congregation, awaiting Andy’s arrival and breakdown. As the reset came, the familiar music echoing through the desert, the final image of Andy in Miguel’s arms, lit only by the light from the Dust Witch’s shack still stands as one of the most memorable moments in the entire production.
From Nico’s portrayal of the role, I believed in the journey of a man who once had no cares, lived a nomadic existence, coming and going as he pleased. He had known women, had an intensely passionate nature and enjoyed his own space as much as he did company and whiskey. In his loop he was transformed into a wide eyed, fearful shadow, afraid of what he didn’t understand and desperate to find someone to share in his burden in a way that could give a sanctuary, some moments of security.
It was fascinating then to sit this man alongside the, at first, innocent youthful presence Ed Warner brought to the role.
This time I picked up the loop straight out of the first lift, arriving in a completely empty desert, dimly lit, full of atmosphere and part way through the loop. I went into the office where the 1:1 is done, and explored the books and papers on the desk. Suddenly I was taken completely by surprise as Ed’s Miguel came rushing into the room, bandaging his hand, already looking unkempt and moving very fast - in fact he left as fast as he arrived, which was enough to prepare me to follow.
As I emerged into the desert, I saw a shadow move inside the tent so I headed over, aware it was just me and Miguel. Arriving, I found Miguel looking up at the roof of the tent, waiting for something to happen. Ed’s Miguel seemed always to be full of curiosity be it in an excited way, or filled with fear. As I approached he sat up, a lazy smile on his face, holding out a bottle of whiskey, offering a swig. Miguel was being introduced as a secretive, naughty youth persuading me to get involved in his games. A hiss signified it was my time to step away, and sure enough, Dwayne strode confidently into the scene. The two men seemed to be close, their dance exuded a masculinity that led perfectly into the competition for Faye’s attention. When Faye chose Miguel over Dwayne, he shot a smirk at his ‘friend’ that was so indicatory of his need for validation as a man that, as he rose to move to the music, coaxing Faye to him, a surprising wave of sexual energy enveloped them as they moved together. What struck me was the contrast between the secretive pixie with whom I had shared a drink, and the predatory creature handling Faye so violently, a clenched jaw and blazing glare in his black rimmed eyes. It was as though he was desperate to prove his prowess and sexuality to both Faye as a potential conquest, and to Dwayne as real competition.
Following him down to the hoedown this Miguel was consumed with lust, leering both at Faye and flirting with white masks nearby. The way Ed executed the dance, it was filled with both the fire of passion and the youthful energy I had encountered in his tent. There was a fascinating moment during the dance where he faced away from everyone else, sulkily shunting rhythmically with his hands stuffed in his pockets and his eyes fixed firmly to the floor, shutting everything out. He was woken by Mary passing him in the dance, his eyes tracking her, seeming to have a moment of recognition, only to be distracted by the sexual advances of Faye - in this moment we saw that Miguel’s lust would prevent him saving Mary from her fate as he carries Faye out of the hoedown.
The dance of seduction was very rough in Ed’s interpretation. Although Faye seemed to enjoy the competition and predatory nature of the violence, it was clear that Miguel had made a decision to ignore his moment of clarity at the hoedown for his own pleasure and gratification. As he lifted and spun Faye, slamming her against walls, body full of passion and intention, we began to lose hope of finding the goodness in this him. As they paused for breath under the archway, launching almost instantly onto the crates outside the Grocers, it seemed certain their tryst would reach fever pitch. The timing of the choreography on the boxes was almost foreplay like in its execution, leading to their passionate embrace in the entrance to the motel room.
In this version of events, it was a shock when Miguel left Faye unsatisfied as he was drawn to face the reality of Mary’s murder. As he appeared in the street, the lighting changed, and Mary joined him, almost instantly collapsing into his arms. Miguel’s tears allowed us to realise that in fact this boy was overwhelmed with the pressures of manhood, whilst carrying the burden of premonition and magic. He pulled himself away from Faye, acknowledging his priority, and as he crouched, sobbing on the floor, he understood that he was too late. This moment was so heart-breaking in its rawness, it completely drew me in emotionally, beginning to prepare me for what was to come.
Clutching Mary’s clothes, he raced through the town and onto the stairs up to the desert. Racing through the desert and into the office, he changed into the scarecrow costume gasping for breath, knowing he was running out of time. In the moment when he turned to the masks watching him, slowly searching our eyes one by one, he handed me the scarecrow head and motioned the others to leave. Ed’s 1:1 began quickly, kneeling on the floor, there was a sense of urgency as if possibly he still believed Mary could be saved. The clothing, the doll and the ‘potions’ we were to use were lined up quickly, and as he tentatively took my hands to wash them, I was reminded of how water features prominently for cleansing in this loop. As we undertook the ritual, the expression in his eyes changed intensely, from a focused sense of being ‘on a mission’, to desperation and finally revealing his total desolation when he realised there was nothing we could do. As the dust was sprinkled over my hands, and rubbed all the way up my arms, I felt drawn into sharing the intensity of the moment, however in this instance, despite Miguel’s behaviour with Faye earlier, it was a maternal instinct I felt, as though comforting a child. We marked each other’s foreheads, all the while Miguel mumbling through tears, staring at me, as if wishing I held the solution and could save him. Frustration seemed to creep back into his gaze, and as we came to standing, his hands came around my neck, in an almost strangle hold, before he was overwhelmed by the vulnerability at his core. Loosening his grip, he whispered “Two will die”, handed me Mary’s clothes and we rushed to altar together.
Approaching the end of the loop, it was as though the head of the scarecrow sucked him in, with a physical reluctance to enter into the moment, but of course once the head was on, he sank becoming motionless in the chair, awaiting Andy’s arrival. Once Andy was kneeling, Miguel fell from his chair, showing how much exertion and resistance it took to rise and carry him to the tent. The image of Andy in Miguel’s arms, his coattails hanging down once again reminded me of the maternal instinct I had felt, Miguel’s youth, and the speed with which he discarded the scarecrow costume and fled the scene only served to reinforce a child running away from something they cannot cope with.
As I walked down to the sand dune, ready to rejoin the loop at the start, I reflected on how this loop differed from my earlier loop with Nico. The most interesting thing was how my initial response to the character had been affected by the different places I joined the loop. With Nico’s Miguel, although he seemed worldlier, I had first seen the influence of innocence, and how he seemed almost forced to live a life completely against that he would wish for. I felt sorry for him, emotionally connecting with his desperation and ultimately his downfall in our 1:1, and had enjoyed our conspiratorial games within the story. As I waited for the rebirth of Ed’s Miguel, it occurred to me that until I had seen his emotional breakdown with Mary, and experienced the 1:1, I had perceived him as a young man, struggling with his most primal urges; playful, full of lust and at times, selfish. I was filled with curiosity as to how my perception would develop.
With the timing that only Temple Studios has, at that moment Lila, with her followers, arrived at the bottom of the sand dune, and before I knew it, Ed’s Miguel was emerging from the top. As he reached the sand and they began their dance, it was as if Miguel was trying to shake off the emotions that had destroyed him before the reset. Due to the nature of the choreography, the limited touch between the characters, Miguel’s interaction with Lila was a substantial contrast to his seduction of Faye. It was a dance of arms; absent of passion, pure and innocent. Interestingly, as the dance ended, the dropping of the Tarot card was mysterious, but at this stage, not necessarily significant.
His interactions in the town from this early point in the loop were full of youthful tenacity, from his weightless, mischievous chase with Andy across the roof - a Miguel keen to wind up those around him - to the stunning creation of the Gris Gris which had a certain sense of playful arrogance about it. These dances seemed to be a way for this Miguel to ‘tire’ Andy before casting the charm, and the way Ed moved when retrieving bottles, corn and even pulling out a pinch of Andy’s hair, all suggested his excitement and enthusiasm for being able to do these things…as he bounced off the counter and disappeared into the phone booth.
The creation of the Gris Gris and its youthful exuberance contrasted beautifully with the discovery of the tarot card in the tyre outside the Horse & Stars, prior to the anointing. This discovery seemed more mystical, more urgent and made you question why it was there. In retrospect, this moment in Ed’s portrayal gave the first indication of Miguel’s dark side, that would lead to the predatory creature I had been following before the reset. As he blew the dust from the card, revealing which it was, his eyes seemed to lose some of their sparkle as the fear crept in.
What I remember most about the moments which followed was the way Ed climbed the stairs back up to the desert, clawing up them backwards, staring down at those following him with terror and angst in his eyes. The black around his eyes now served to show Miguel’s exhaustion and reinforced the emotion held in his eyes as we followed him to the anointing. Both the anointing and the cleansing seemed to be traumatic for this Miguel. The painful, contorted movements perfectly linked to the Dust Witch’s gestures. The suffering he went through as she covered him in ointment, and the possession of the Hanged Man were emotionally wrenching for all who watched, and as Miguel was left traumatised in the sand, those around him could only look on, waiting to see who would take away his suffering. As he reached for my hand, there was a moment where it seemed as though in drawing me back to the tent, where I had started the loop, and having experienced the 1:1 before the reset, Miguel was remembering a previous creation of himself. The cleansing itself was completely different to my last experience; this time the touch of the sponge to his chest seemed to inflict more pain as Miguel winced and clutched at my hands, crying and pleading with his eyes to force me into finishing the act. Once the paint was all gone, there was finally a feeling of resolution; the kissing of my hands and a weak smile as we ended as we began, with a swig of whiskey from the same bottle.
Both of these performances were magical in their different ways and what still impresses me is the way in which they were so completely different to each other, yet were the complete embodiment of the character. I guess it is testament to such skilled performers who are true artists and passionate about what they do. I can only say how lucky I was to experience such wonderful performances in their entirety, so completely unforgettable.
What an extraordinary post… such a lovely tribute to a wonderful character.