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Thalia Book Club Camp offers up-close interaction with renowned children's book authors and illustrators, book discussions, and book-related field trips around the city. This blog follows the camp's activities.

Bloomsday Preparation

Published on June 3, 2008

How I Spent My Memorial Day Weekend: Well, I did a couple of normal things for a few hours of the three-day holiday weekend, like visiting friends in the country, picking up my car from its winter storage for summertime use, and attending the festivities at the newly-refurbished Soldiers and Sailors Monument near my home on Riverside Drive. And I did do a bit of resting up after a week that included a 12-hour Bach marathon, a Selected Shorts booking up in Westport, the celebratory closing night of our 24th season of Shorts here at home, the final lengthy session of our All Write! adult literacy program, and a little bit of fund-raising, new Board Member-recruiting, and copy editing for next season’s brochure.

But MOST of my time on the opening weekend of summer was spent at the computer switching back and forth between two huge Excel Spreadsheets, one listing the 138 reading slots contained in the final script I have devised, with the help of my collaborators Allegra Vecchio and Mac Barrett, for this year’s June 16th Bloomsday on Broadway XXVII, our 27th annual celebration of language, lust, love, and literature in James Joyce’s Ulysses, which takes place on June 16, 1904. The other spreadsheet contains the names, addresses, and hours of availability on June 16th of the 98 Broadway stars, working actors, Irish diplomats, scholars, and avid Joyceans who have said they are up for reading this year.

Each year, Bloomsday on Broadway takes a somewhat different focus in its selections from the multifaceted novel, Ulysses. Our ambitious plan this year is to spend (roughly) the first four hours reading—for the first time ever, anywhere—the complete, uncut, uncensored text of the book’s next-to-the-last episode, the “Ithaca” chapter, in which Mr. Leopold Bloom returns home after his day’s wanderings, bringing with him the book’s other hero, young Stephen Dedalus. For this chapter—his favorite, he said—Joyce chose a mock serious form of pseudo-scientific question and answer catechism in which every little thing is described fully, often in hilarious minute detail. For example, when Mr. Bloom, starting to make some hot cocoa which will help young Stephen sober up after his Nighttown brothel roisterings, turns on the kitchen water tap, the question reads “Did it flow?” And the answer is a two page description of the Dublin water-supply system from the mountain reservoirs through the pipes and right up to the kitchen, followed by a rhapsodical disquisition on the wondrous properties in history, geography, and physics of good old H2O!

Which brings me back to my computer and the two spreadsheets. The artistry is in trying to match each reading selection to the right reader, keeping in mind such considerations as acting experience (the top actors get the toughest assignments—Marian Seldes will read the water section, Frank McCourt will catalogue Bloom’s bookshelves, brother Malachy will enact the violent patriotic Irish Citizen), vocal suitability, the flow of voices, male and female, old and young, fairness (giving everyone who reads a decent, enjoyable part to play), hours of availability (Stephen Colbert can’t get there till late, so he’s reading about Mr. Bloom finally getting into bed), and history (now let’s see, what did she read last year and the year before that?).

Piecing all this together is slow, painstaking work, with considerable anxiety that it can all work out just fine, but with every cell in the spreadsheets now filled in, I feel great, and excited that this is going to be a wonderful 27th Bloomsday. Let me conclude this blog posting with the final three paragraphs, which may interest you, from the letter of transmittal which is going out today to each reader along with his or her script:

Feel free to call to discuss your text and ask any questions about its meaning, pronunciation of words, or the quasi-comical tongue-in-cheek catechism style which Joyce used for the Ithaca episode. PLEASE NOTE our long held artistic policy that prohibits artificial accents, even if you do them well. This is Bloomsday on BROADWAY. You must sound like yourself, whether you were born in Dublin, Limerick, Brooklyn, Boston, San Juan, Tel Aviv, or Texas.

This year’s Bloomsday on Broadway will not be on the radio, but will be streamed live on Symphony Space’s website: blog.symphonyspace.org. Tell your friends all over the world to listen. Tell your friends here in the New York area that it would be great if they bought tickets and came to enjoy the show at Symphony Space.

At 11 pm, after the “Ithaca” epsode is completed, we will have a brief selection of songs from Joyce’s Chamber Music, followed by Fionnula Flanagan’s 2 and ½ hour reading of the complete, uncensored final “Penelope” episode, the night-time thoughts of Molly Bloom. You can stay to witness this prodigious performance live, or go home at any point to snuggle up in bed with your computer until Molly’s final “yes!”

If you’ve never attended a Bloomsday before, I hope you’ll give it a try.

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