The typical ART spring show seems designed to mollify 'middle-brow' expectations and make recently cutting-edge social issues palatable to the mainstream just as those issus are becoming acceptable to the mainstream. This means doing not-very-daring, but entertaining, stuff, with which I have no problem. I had fun.
I usually don't care for Michael Mendelson's gay-gay-gay schtick, but it works terrifically, here. The guy is a good actor, indeed.
It looks likely that the steady writing gig that I thought was emerging has probably fallen through, at least as the steady money-maker I'd hoped it would be. But, this is an interesting moment, because losing more than half of the income I'd thought I'd have over the next couple of years is forcing me to take more seriously the theater and film work I'm doing. No. It's not making me more determined to 'make money' at theater and film--that simply isn't possible, the way my world is currently constructed--but rather, it's making me look more closely at the INTRINSIC value of doing film and theater for virtually no money. This is convoluted. Bear with me.
By working a lucrative day job as a writer while pursuing art I would be trying to have my cake and eat it too, to get the benefit of higher social status--e.g., the professional women I've been dating prefer guys with money, no two ways around it--while also burnishing my self-image as an artist. This would make me look like an imporant and imposing man. A guy in whom people take interest. A rich artist--ooo, how sexy and successful! But, without the day job, I'm JAFA, a guy in whom others see a cliche, without money. JAFA. "Just Another Fucking Artist."
It so happens that I do have enough money, without the day job, to live comfortably but not extravegantly as an artist, as long as I keep my needs simple and do not have to support anyone other than myself. But, to live this way without being in conflict with myself, I need to stop holding onto the kind of social status that my family background and education lead me to expect of myself. Until now, I haven't been able to do so; perhaps the time has come when I can. After a couple of years of working in Portland theater, I've begun to know--and be accepted by (I hope!)--other working artists who have already traded off their social status in favor of doing art. These are intelligent and talented people whom I respect and like. Increasingly, they're a big part of my social world as well as colleagues. They're becoming my role models. In them I see another kind of status.
The immediate pay-off for letting go of trying to have it all--be rich and do art--is that I'll have more energy for art! I can stop being distracted both by efforts to earn more money to support a more 'normative' lifestyle--which is somewhat beyond my means, at present--and trying to appeal to those who expect it, e.g., some of the women I date. I can stop hedging my bets. I can start refocusing my energy, putting it into what is in front of me, now. I can make more of what I'm doing not because it will make me money or raise my status or get me girls, but because the work in itself is spiritually fruitful.
This moment may be the start of the end of my dilletantism.
Talking about money remains one of the last taboos. We all keep secrets around it. One of the big purposes of this blog is to keep myself free of secrets that might block me as an actor. Secrets grow into hard little radioactive lumps in the psyche and imagination that we learn to avoid; e.g., if I'm afraid of the homosexual desires that I feel, I will restrict my ability to feel emotional intimacy with men on stage, even if there is NO sexual content in the scene; if I don't want to be perceived as JAFA, I'll not allow myself to fail on stage, and so never take the risks that will lead me to succeed.
A young actor told me last week that "acting is lying," by which I felt angered and hurt. To me, to act is to reveal myself, and myself is definitely a 'true' thing, not a lie. I immediately felt hesitant to take any risks around this actor, because I wanted to protect myself--protect my secret--from him. I feared his snickering at me, since he'd be seeing me as 'lying badly' rather than as stripping my soul bare. He made telling the truth taboo.
This is where you have to have a tough skin. This blog helps me keep it.
I often see actors audition successfully for parts in which I knew they would not be quite right; that is, their performances would disappoint their director and audience, as well as me. They audition strongly and rehearse poorly. Now, there is no real surprise or dishonor in this. Audition skills--as we know--are particular, and any performer who has them deserves a nod of respect. But, I am surprised that directors don't necessarily see what I see in these performers, and, in truth, in my own auditions I've been hugely overly reliant on what I've been thinking of as the director's ability to see--to have a sixth sense for--how some performances will inevitably grow in rehearsal, and how others will never escape the hard, bright, pushed, brittle presentation in the audition room. By depending on my assumption about a director's 'sixth sense,' I've been hoping s/he would see in ME what I see in ME; that they would understand my own rehearsal process before they'd ever been exposed to it. Bad boy. I'd be better served by not asking directors to read my mind.
So, I need to risk being hard, bright, pushed and brittle in audition, myself.
I have met a woman for whom I've been feeling passion build in the way a swimmer, having dove through the surf, becomes increasingly aware of the current pulling him out to sea. He swims shoreward, but moves outward, backward, toward the long blind swells of an unknown larger self. The ocean is many colors, turquoise, green and transparent near shore, where you may see the bottom and all the spiny bottom-dwelling sand-sucking thingabobs that live there; further out, the water grows densely blue, then black, fathomless.
In my early thirties I did some sailing. Once, my ex-wife and I sailed out of sight of shore for several days, passing between West Palm Beach, Florida, and Beaufort, North Carolina. We took a straight course while the coast line curved deeply inward, a hundred miles or so to the left. We luffed along on flat, dull seas in the day, and skimmed under reefed sail on eight-foot following seas at night, in a cockleshell of a sailboat, a short bit of Fiberglas and canvass between us and the sky above and the ocean below.
When on deck by myself at night, as Deb slept or read below, I saved myself from the intense draw of sheer vertigo--the seductive, gravitational pull toward the unknown--by the work of maneuvering a boat between the surface forces of wind and wave, keeping the boat upright against the wind, and aiming it straight on the following waves that built up with the forces of both wind I could feel on my face and the ripple--the echo--of storms raging hundreds of miles off, the sea under me heaving in response, continents away. I kept the bow straight, worked the tiller to counter lateral forces, reefed in sail, dead reckoned our course on charts and corrected every few hours on GPS. All that dense black--given visual shape by little more than the unexpected sharp gleam of occasional white tips on the tall waves grasping at our stern, and tactile form by the physical push upward of the seas beneath me and soft cupping, steadying downward force of the starless sky above--whispered to all my sense that there was more, much more, to experience than my philosophy could ever, ever imagine.
Then, in the grey of one early dawn after the wind died, I turned on the engine and motored through the outer harbor at Beaufort, chugging quietly between the mammoth sleeping hulks of outlying tankers and cargo ships sulking heavily at anchor. When I approached the seawall to enter the inner harbor, I woke up Deb, who made coffee, and into shore we putted. At one point, we waved to a crowded tour boat full of recreational fishermen on their own way out to sea, the bow wave from their larger boat nearly swamping us.
I wondered what was next; and if I'd recognize it's source in the mystery from which we'd just emerged so far from shore.
I've not been to sea since then, and now, welcome the new tug of old currents.
The theater that most changed me by drawing me into experience more vivid in some ways than the rest of life was in Cambridge, MA, and Providence, R.I., during my twenties. While a graduate student in philosophy at Boston College, I had (student discounted) season tickets to The American Repertory Theater, under the artistic direction of Robert Brustein, in Cambridge, and to The Trinity Repertory Theater, under the direction of Adrian Hall, in Providence.
I needed to see this theater. I needed to sit in the same seat I had for several seasons in a row, and to discuss the plays during intermission with the same gaggle of suburban ladies who had the seats next to me. I needed the adrenaline buzz of intelligence and passion shared by these companies of actors with their audiences. Andrei Serban directed the Three Sisters. Joanne Akalitis (forgive my atrocious spelling of these names, it's a weakness of mine) directed End Game, much to Beckett's dismay (he sued ART over the production.) I saw Philip Glass and Robert Wilson operas. Week to week, I couldn't wait either to ride my bicycle over to Cambridge or drive down to Providence. These theaters were as important to me as anything I was reading in grad school, as important as love affairs, as satisfying as travelling in Europe and the mid east.
Later, in my thirties, I saw some theater in New York that made it's mark on me, but not in the same way as ART and Trinity Rep did in my impressionable twenties. Today--in my forties--I usually run to New York to get glimpses of that experience of NEEDING to go to theater, and occasionally I do; e.g., last year, THE PILLOWMAN knocked me out; the year before, ASSASSINS shook me out of my prejudice about musical theater, and I AM MY OWN WIFE revealed to me again the usually-unfulfilled potential of one man shows (I saw Spalding Grey in Cambridge in the early 1980s, when he was just getting going, in a tiny space. That was just pure joy!) But, I want to experience a NEED for theater here, in Portland, my home town.
What can make me need to see theater in Portland, as recently, Keith Scales' performance in FROZEN did? What theater event can so satisfy me that I MUST--not just choose--to come back for more? What qualities must a company reveal?
Driving into downtown last night to meet a date, I figured out how I'm spending my summer, while I don't have any stage work on the horizon. I'm doing two things: 1) write the series of monologues that Neal suggested (a great f#@k'n idea, since it's the perfect focus for my interests and best uses my strengths and 2) write the business plan for PENDLETON. This means clearing the mental decks. I'll do other stuff as it comes up--e.g., I did submit myself to an agent (maybe a good idea; maybe not) and I'll do whatever work comes through that, without pushing for it--but I'm organizing myself around these WRITING projects. This means going into a mode of activity I've not let myself experience in quite a while. Man, what a relief, to let myself go there!
A few days on the coast, some time in the mountains, a trip to Ashland, time in Vermont with my brother, all with notebooks and reading in hand. Wonderful.
One of the recurring themes in Shakespeare to which I most relate is the question, "when do we take action?" Old Seward, in MACBETH, warns his compatriots that in the teeth of coming battle that
"Thoughts speculative their unsure hopes relate, But certain issue, strokes must arbitrate..."
Although the context for this warning is Malcolm's potentially over-hasty prediction of success in the fight against Macbeth, it also mirrors Macbeth's decision not to let his imagination and self-reflections keep him from his (immoral) act against Duncan, though Siward fights on the side of good, Macbeth, on the side of evil. Siward's warning also contrasts not only Banquo's circumspection--which leads him to refrain from action, at least just yet--but also Hamlet's, as well (if I knew Shakespeare's plays better, a flood of examples would come to me, but this will have to do for now.) Hamlet, poor shmuck, has good reason to doubt and insist on uncovering sufficient conditions for committing what would be treason, if those conditions are not met, whereas Fortinbras basically doesn't give a shit about all that--if he wants a piece of the rock, he's going to take it.*
At what point do we cease our deliberations, analyses, moral calculus, doubts, and scruples to take action? When would action be precipitous? How much do we need to know before taking action? When does all that no longer matter and we must throw ourselves into action, come hell or high water? These are not immaterial questions in our own day, of course, what, with the "war on terror," in which action is necessary, on the one hand, and the dangers of being precipitous have been all too clearly born out, on the other.
These are also questions about what it means to be 'human,' per se, especially in the social context to which we are always responding. Animals don't think, they act. Humans, sharing a bit of the divinity of angels--higher on the scale of being than is man--do think, but are also animals--lower on the scale of being--who must act and CAN'T think. When does being properly human mean partaking in our 'lesser,' beastial nature? When must we overcome our lesser selves by insisting on higher deliberaton? Macbeth, for one, utterly gives up his humanity (arguably, Siward does as well, when he rejects grief over his son's death, in contrast to MacDuff's insistance on weeping for his family's murder, for which HIS over-hasty action was the cause) by casting out all reason. By the time Lady Macbeth kills herself, Macbeth is reduced to a beast, for which words have lost all meaning, conveying no significance beyond providing a verbal mirror for our fractured impressions of the incomprehensible life coming at us; like the twittering of birds or the grunt of a dog, registering nothing more than indigestion and the need to fart after happily eating the wrong pile of shit on the sidewalk.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow Creeps in this petty pace from day to day To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle. Life is but a walking shadow; a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.
This is the most nihilistic moment in Shakespeare with which I am familiar.
If the world is to retain meaning--if I am to be fully 'human'--when do I give over to introspection--as well as my calculations about how my actions will effect others--and when do I chuck it all aside to act on 'instinct?' When does courage mean refraining from action or taking it?
These are questions that I am exploring in my own work. In my acting, my starting point is "what is authority?" In my writing, it is "does cowardice make true happiness impossible?" Both refract the question, "when must we take action in order to remain human, even it if costs us our lives?"
*[I hate seeing Fortinbras cut out of productions of HAMLET. He is not extraneous to either Hamlet's action or the action of the play as a whole. Directors who cut Fortinbras utterly miss the importance of Shakespeare's epistemological doubts to his ontological and moral investigations.]
*[One of the great contrasts between Hamlet and Macbeth is that the former allows himself to be overwhelmed by Reason--by rationalizations--whereas the later is overwhelmed by Imagination, which are quite different faculties, for Shakespeare. Hamlet heeds thought to the point of dangerous indecision and madness. Macbeth rejects thought in favor of Imagination to the point of over-decisiveness and madness.]
p.s. please forgive the rambling but overly-compact nature of this entry. Perhaps it belongs in an offline notebook, but I like working out this stuff, here.
My friend Suzy Vitello--one of fewer than a half-dozen people I would struggle to live without--has begun a new blog, let's talk about writing. Anyone interested in intelligent discussion of writing craft and learning about the work of contemporary writers will want to follow it. Suzy also gives frequent public readings in Portland of her own work, so you'll want to check those out, too.
Suzy's been published a lot and well, recently including a piece in "The Mississippi Review," so you know what I'm say'n when I'm say'n I'm proud of her. The sad thing is that, when we first met, she and I both thought that I was the better writer! Well, color me yellow and call me a banana growing brown spots at the bottom of the bowl; turns out, SHE was the real thing.
One of the most fascinating aspects of dating so much lately (through Match.com) has been listening to the similarities and differences in the dreams, hopes and fears expressed by my dates. We're all more alike as well as different than we ever imagine. We're each the unique hero of our own stories, on the one hand, and a mere, anonymous bubble of commonly shared longings, on the other. We're all buying the same furniture and arranging it in similar--if not exactly the same--ways.
Hopefully, those of us who are divorced aren't rearranging it on the Titanic.
• A friend who saw the show last night told me that I needed to "breathe more," and that I "looked nervous and stiff," especially in my scenes as Seward (I'm dropping the limp I've given Seward--it's taking me out of the moment.) I know she's right, but I wanted to believe that these habits had abated enough to become private matters, unnoticable to the audience. Denial is a wonderful tool, sometimes.
• I know how I want Banquo to be but I'm not 'doing what I want,' with him. In my first scene with Macbeth and the witches, I'm coming off more vain glorious and pissed off rather than as Macbeth's expansive buddy, and in later scenes, I'm too formal. One cause of this is that I'm still a little thrown by having to yell my lines, but also, I'm just nervous, still (I'm confident that I'll get Banquo to be far more chummy, next weekend.)
• Partying with the cast after the show, having spun out a little into a small 'shame spiral'--which is reflected by the above comments--I found myself grow shy and quiet, enough to be noticed--for others to be worried if I were feeling okay--and so I had to get out of there fairly early. Jeesh. I'm such a 'bipolar' kind of guy. Mr. Expressive and fun one moment, shy and inarticulate, the next; with non-theater people, the life of the party; with theater people, an awkward wall flower. Bah. Humbug.
Anyways. Nothing to burn my house down over. After all, my social calendar is full enough these days that I'm less prone to obsess over these dingy and trivial complaints. But, I gotta be me, which means Mr. Grumpy, on occasion.
p.s. One more point about last night: The vocal work is paying off! I'm vocally loud and clear, for which the audience seems to be grateful. I know I am.
We're all happy with the opening of Portland Actor Ensemble's MACBETH last night, performed outdoors, in Pettygrove Park. This is a spirited, engaging 'amateur' production (I've recently become fond of the adjective 'amateur' not as a put-down, but as a nod of respect, a reminder of the dignity inherent in people doing something they love,) with performances ranging from enthusiastic and--er--'undisciplined' to highly skilled, and all of them highly committed. We had an audience of 102 brave last night's cold weather (in the 50s), and with word of mouth, we're going to be drawing 200-300 a night over the next few weekends, which is great. These audiences--we had these numbers for last year's OTHELLO--are the largest for which I've performed. It's fun.
About my performance: this was the most comfortable opening night performance I've given yet. It was solid--if not yet fully articulated--I connected well with my fellow players--especially Nicole Turley, who plays my son, Fleance--and, above all I was on my VOICE, which as you know, I've been obsessing about. I found it. It carried. It pinged. You could hear me in Nebraska. And it felt great. It's a terrific sensation to feel your skull resonating as freely as the skin on a drum.
In the hours before going on stage, I'd felt numb in body, and dull in spirit. I couldn't find my enthusiasm; in fact, I felt... impotent, which is a word I use precisely, since this numbness and dullness was akin to what I often feel before going out on a date about which I suppress the anticipatory excitement I may be feeling. Before a performance on stage or on a date, I not infrequently feel like I 'can't get it up,' which, can, indeed, be a self-fulfilling prophecy. How did I deal with this yesterday? I turned my attention to the 'numbness' itself, and remembering what I wrote a few days ago about my actor objective to let the audience see my PLEASURE in performance, I decided to let the audience in on the SEXUAL pleasure I get--any actor gets--in performance. I prepared to let them see me act from my groin and pelvis as well as from the heart and head (as an actor, you HAVE to let the audience in on your most earthly pleasure, or else, they won't believe you.) By the time we got to curtain, I felt 'back in my body,' the numbness gone. And by the time I hit the stage I--er--rose to the occasion.
Unless my life goes flying off in an unexpected direction or blinks out entirely, I believe that in three-to-five years time I'll be ready to form a theater company, even though there may be too many in Portland even now. My theater tastes are beginning to clarify even though I can't articulate them well, yet. Doing Shakespeare, on the one hand, and film, on the other, both influence me. I know that I like language and physicality both and that I love marrying serious intent to whimsicality. I also know that I prefer strong narrative works, though I'm prepared to let that change. I'm not interested in plot for its own sake, but as something that helps orient actors and audience as other things are going on. I like high entertainment value and high literary/dramatic interest, both.
I also like working in a focused, if playful way. The one thing that irritates me most in the rehearsal room or on set is the 'cluster f@#cks' that often form when a group of people need to do a task for which no one takes charge--oy vey, man, it's a headache-and I'm not fond of frittering work time away in too much actorish yack-yack (some is good, even essential). As I work around town, I definitely tune into--and remember--those actors and other theater artists who demonstrate focus and commitment and with whom it is fun, fun, fun to work.
I'm also looking out for actors and theater artists who would seem to benefit from--or at least show interest in--working consistantly with the same collaborators over time. Pick up, scratch casts, in a lovingly amateur theater town such as Portland don't get much CHANCE to do great work (something which a group like Theater Vertigo recognizes and tries to correct) as actors get treated like a commodity, and don't get a chance to develop their own, idiosyncratic talents or fallow skills. Directors don't get a chance to know how individual actors work so that collaborations can develop over time, or actors simply don't work often enough. In Portland, there are exceptions. One is the loose, running gang that is Don Alder and his actor pals such as John Morrison, Jeff Gorham, Danny Bruno, Hollis Wilson, David Burnett, Sarah Luchte (and a few others) who work together again and again. Don works with these actors again and again not because they're the 'best' actors available for a project at any given moment (though, they often are!) but because they're the best actors for EACH OTHER at any given moment, which is often better for a project than hiring actors who seem best for a project, on the basis of an audition or two.... Ya'all follow me?
Of course, I'm thinking of myself. At the rate I'm working now--and doing the kind of roles I'm being given--I will slowly get better, but may never start landing the lead roles for which I have an appetite, as long as I'm a 'commodity' in the same 'market' with actors my own age, with more experience and readier access to their talents than I have now. In a company setting, where my strengths and weaknesses are made more pliable and responsive to those of my fellow actors, what are limitations for me, now, would become strengths for both myself and the company, in short time. I think that Third Rail recognizes this, though Third Rail is also blessed to have started it's life with actors already working at a higher level than any other actor-oriented company in town; so does Portland Actors Ensemble and Northwest Classical Theater Company, which go out of their way to invite actors back from season to season, cherry picking from auditions--where necessary or possible--while giving 'less skilled' actors who have worked for them one year, a chance to develop, the next (I'm one of those actors.)
So, I'm begining to give thought to what qualities I'd like a company to have; among them would be focus, aspiration to professional standards based on exposure to the best work being done (not just in Portland!), reliance on strong narratives, mutual supportiveness (actor egos.... yuch), a shared sensibility, an appetite for classical as well as contemporary work, an indoor space, and an appetite for continued physical and vocal training (as I add qualities to the list, I realize that each or all of them are embraced by Portland companies other than the ones I've already mentioned--e.g., Quintessence--but none of them seem to have quite the 'mix' for which I seem to be looking). If such a company had to have as few as three players to embrace these and other like qualities I discover to be important, that's what it would be.
My impression is that Artitsts Repertory Theater started out in a similar way, and it worked.
p.s. Yeah, in a post below, I said I'm losing interest in stage work as I get a taste of film. That's not entirely inaccurate, but I'd get closer to the truth by saying I'm losing a taste for doing theater in which some essential qualities seem to be lacking.... But, I dunno. Often, I'm thinking aloud on this blog, which I find useful to do in public as a means of attracting communication with other theater artists who are thinking about the same ideas or looking to do similar kinds of work.
Seward has a limp, speaks slowly, and in a deeper baritone than Banquo. That seems to be working.
In voice with Theresa, I discovered how to 'lift' my soft palate for the first time, really. I'd been aiming at the wrong place, before, at the uvula rather than at the 'sphincter' of muscle that feels like a band around the upper back of my throat (forget anatomical accuracy; I'm just describing my subjective understanding of it.) I was also able to feel the 'root' of my tongue, just above my larynx, better than I've been able to before. I was able to get it out of the way.
At least, in the rehearsal room; on stage, I found myself slurring my sibilants terribly, and wasn't able to find a means to 'lift' my soft palate until more than half way through rehearsal. In my sessions with Theresa this week, we're laying off the music and focusing on this stuff. I'll learn to speak clearly if it kills me.
I'm beginning to have more fun with Banquo. The rest of the cast is leaning into their parts, as well. I'm beginning to feel good about recommending it to my friends!
Macbeth is coming together just in time for opening. The space is getting more interesting, now that we're running the show, and can see how the staging of each scene supports other scenes. Actors are stepping up their performances; as Michael said, "light bulbs are going on" over actors' heads. Projection and volume are issues, mostly because the acoustics of the space are weird, e.g., scenes on the top of two small hills--above the audience's heads--can be heard clearly, whereas as scenes on the proscenium right at the audience's feet get lost.
As I watch other performers step up to the plate I am freaking out a little as I fear that I'll be the weak link; I bet YOU never felt that, right? One note I got last night: I'm not significantly differentiating Banquo and Seward. I need to find 'character' stuff for Seward--a limp, a vocal quality, a posture--and I'm not practiced at that. It doesn't come naturally. That's today's homework.
I'm reading Peter Brook's "The Empty Space" and you should be too. If we all read this book, half the theater we now do or go to see would be stopped in its tracks. Kapuut. It's worthless shit, pardon my French, "deadly theater." It wastes everyone's time not because it's bad but because it's dull; dull because it's either very polite or very earnest (which is the same thing: political didacticism is a version of propriety; it seeks to be responsible by being 'irreverent' or 'challenging' in the most impeccable avaunt garde manner, which we are to admire. Blah.) If we all read this book, the other half of theater--which didn't get thrown out, with a yawn--would be all the more exciting as we all--performers and audience alike--put more of our energy into what was left. Brooks says, at one point, that audiences deserve the theater they get, not only by accepting a lot of the shit that the theater asks them to go to-which they do, politely--but also by not participating actively in the theater experience; by listening well; by caring. Actors and audience feed off of each other. Or bore each other (yah--a bad audience can ruin a good performance!) If we were viciously to kill off half of the theater that we now produce, perhaps that would focus the minds of audiences and actors alike on the half still left. Perhaps we'd stop boring ourselves (before you write in outraged, please take a moment to remember reading "A Modest Proposal." Okay?)
The worst thing that we could do in asking audiences to come to Macbeth would be ultimately to bore them. Sure, they can survive STRETCHES of boredom during the show--and I don't mind asking them to swallow a few moments here and there, since few amateur or semi-professional performances can uniformly sustain interest from beginning to end--but not an entire evening of it. The gestalt of the experience has gotta be vivid. Alive. Whatever it takes.
I've been getting a lot of pissed off comments lately because I've been "too hard" on myself and other actors. Those comments are well taken. They're correct, in that I've been "too hard" about the wrong things. We're all trying like hell to do our best work at whatever technical or imaginative level of which we are capable, and my continual bitching about our short-comings only depresses everyone, myself included. I end up putting a lid on imaginative possibility by asking us all to do it 'the right way,' whatever that is. BUT, I've not been hard enough about the right things--or thing--which is:
WHY WE DO THIS.
When we forget why we do theater we lose our purpose not only in the large sense but in the immediate sense--in the moment to moment reality--of doing our work. Not having a goal, we accept more boredom than we should. We dither. Hesitate. Trip on our lines. Push and over act, trying to make up for not knowing why we're on stage to begin with. Don't do our homework. Get touchy at criticism (seeing criticism as an attack rather than as one of the tools we use in our craft.) Indulge our sense of entitlement--i.e., our entitlement to 'express ourselves,' without standards. And other sins.
So--why do we do this? My own answer--at least today--is:
"To awaken the Laughing God in each of us in all it's blind love and cruelty."
I mean that almost literally. I certainly mean it a non-abstract way. The Laughing God may be invisible--it may be metaphor, sure--but I am definitely using it to describe a tangible event, something happening that one can feel in oneself and see in others, and can talked about and acted upon.
We open MACBETH next Friday for a five week run, Friday and Saturday evenings only. Today, I'm giving thought to what I want to accomplish in my performance. Beyond all my worries about technique, perspicacity, or simple talent, I want to do one thing:
Give our audience something it wants to hear.
So, how do I do that? For starters: listen to the audience. Meet it's energy. Don't pretend this is "fourth wall theater" (as an actress put it the other day). Allow the audience to take it's part in the dramatic action by neither ignoring it when I feel it's interest rise nor punishing it when it's interest fades (that is, don't rush the action, on the one hand, or attempt to stick to my acting 'plan' when it's not working, on the other.)
Trust the audience's desire to hear a story. They don't come out with blankets and lawn chairs on a cool June night to watch me feel embarrassed or otherwise defend myself against my vulnerability at exposing my own delight in what I'm doing, for good or bad. No, people in the audience come out to hear me spin a good yarn and have a blast doing it. They want to see and hear me enjoy THEIR company (it would simply be rude to do anything less.) And if I'm going to hang myself, they want to see me DO it with all my heart, not half way, not with an embarrassed half smile or faltering step.
Man alive. In my voice sessions, I more and more frequently find the big, clear, deep, bell-like center of my voice and hear suggestions of color that I don't hear elsewhere... especially on stage. Oh, the frustration! Doing Banquo outside, I'm not getting anything like the production or clarity I get in the rehearsal room. Christie Hernquist (Lady M.) and Brian Rooney (M.) can be heard clearly in the way that the rest of the cast is struggling for. The roof of my mouth is raw (though not the back, which is good), and I sound to myself as if I'm yelling at the bottom of a lake. And the less I say about 'nuance,' the better. I ain't gett'n none. Again, Christie is doing better than the rest of us. In fact, she's quite remarkable, especially since this is her first verse show.
The space we're working in is particularly difficult, I must add. It's big. It's outdoors. 'Nuf said.
Of course, this hasn't been a great day, all around. Today's voice session was a bit rough--it was odd, in fact, since my voice sounded GREAT but I couldn't find pitch to save my life. Also, I'm stinging a little from having lost a couple of parts in auditions lately, parts I should have been able to get (I was just the right type for one.)
What should I change in audition? Focus better. Make better, bigger decisions about objectives, work more quickly with impromptu 'as ifs,' and take a few frigg'n risks. The last part I think I should have gotten went to a an actor I consider to be weaker than me (in my hubris--what, me, hubris? You're shocked?), but he came in with a ballsy audition and sold the jokes. So, good on him. I gotta do my homework (yes, Neal, baby, I hear you--let myself breathe into where I am, and don't worry about 'stepping up.' The point is well taken.)
This weekend, between run-throughs, I'm getting to work on a business plan for PENDLETON. I have some ideas about what distinquishes Neal and I as a creative team, and will begin to jot them out as a blue print for researching and structuring our pitch and road map. I think we have something good in PENDLETON. Neal also wants to begin workshopping it soon, which is going to be a lot of fun, and deeply informative. The actor who plays a key part--Zach Sherman--is exciting on screen, Neal's a terrific writer, the theme is good, we get to horse around in eastern Oregon, I get to act, and learn how to put a film together. It doesn't reall get better than that. There now. I feel better already.
I'm also finding ideas coming in on me for a series of Bogosian-style monologues, at a friend's suggestion. I have a working theme and I may have a literary source to work from. I'll learn a lot and stretch myself by putting these on the page, into workshop, and on camera.
"Regarding the comment on not having the instinct to be funny: please be careful with that. you are in a process of learning to be where you are and trusting your instincts. it is only an early step in your development as an actor. while that may seem discouraging, you have only recently come to the place where you are ready to begin the real work of becoming an actor. you've been in pre-med up to now. med school is just beginning. sometimes i hear you speak and it sounds as if you're assigning yourself to residency, to continue the md analogy. perhaps letting go of understanding the process and enjoying the work would be a more appropriate and enjoyable task. particularly when it comes to results like auditions."
This calms me some; also helpful would be to remember one of the lessons from S&C: an actor does well to practice emotional as well as physical endurance, off stage as well as on.
I went to this movie prepared to feel impatient and disappointed, and instead, enjoyed it thoroughly. It turns out to be a quick, one-two punch session of couples counselling in the guise of a romantic comedy. It's done in absurdly large and cliched terms, but it's accurate, nonetheless, in depicting the universal course of romantic breakups.
In a way, this is the big budget version of THE PUFFY CHAIR.
Hunh. What does this say about the mood out there? The zeigeist's opinion of the current state of our romantic hopes and illusions?
My dear friend _______ puts the final signature on her divorce papers today. Before her appointment with her soon-to-be-ex and the arbitrators, I went with her to see THE PUFFY CHAIR, a DYI film that is best at recording the cross talk and mutual incomprehension of young lovers, in particular when one of them is a slacker male who likes to say "dude," a lot, not so much unlike my friend's ex. The film was a reminder of why she needs to sign those papers.
Nonetheless, my friend was carrying the weight of all the world's disappointments on her shoulders, when I hugged her, and she turned away to look for her car in the parking lot. Divorce is hell, a rite of passage much more difficult to undertake than getting married in the first place. I would know, having been through it twice, once by choice, once not. I healed more easily from the one I did by choice, whereas catching my breath again after being dumped took years. My friend is choosing this one. She'll do fine. Still, my heart broke watching her go.
I've seen divorce test and forge character. It's a rebirth, for better and worse. A moment of silence, please, for those who find the courage to walk alone to the car when the time comes.
Following up to the post below: a lot of what I'm feeling is my complicated reaction to life becoming TOO good. Last year, as I began to lose weight, I felt vulnerable and panicky as my belt cinched in, a notch at a time, by several inches, when all was done. I felt exposed. I'm feeling something like that now. I'm healthier, less neurotic, and happier than ever. My creative and work lives are continuing to take shape after the point at which I usually sabotage myself (though, it's never too late for that!) My love life even has some momentum....
I'm feeling careerist itchings. I have a part in a film next year. It will be the lead or a small supporting part (depending both on the scope of production and how well my skills have developed by then), both of which are good, career-wise and artistic-growth wise. I need to keep my attention on my artistic growth and avoid the temptation of gripping to career aspirations.
I sense that the prospect of HAVING a career is more real, now, and I could always blow it by trying to grab it, as I have in the past. Patience. Patience and calm. Patience and calm and work. Patience and calm and work and good faith.
Life is a narrow path on a high bridge. You can't look down.