Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Week Four in Greater Detail (this one's for you, Neal)

The four minute solo dance piece that we are each to choreograph and publicly perform is structured as a story--with a beginning, middle, and end--and demonstrates specific adjectives that apply to the actor; or rather, that represent a challenge to the actor. For me, the adjectives my dance must demonstrate are: graceful, grounded, extended, high-low and explosive.

Anyone who knows me recognizes that this assignment terrifies me. Or, it did, but I seem to be getting used to the idea. This is to be "physical theater' more than "dance," for one thing, though it certainly is not meant to be--nor can include--miming, which would be an obvious cheat. Also, I have finally accepted my instinct to go rather dark. The music I've chosen is a theme from one of the Jason Bourne movies--e.g., a piece with a clear story and in itself demonstrates my adjectives--which is dark enough, and, well... I'm 47-years-old. I've known darkness. It's made an impact on me. I'm like the moon, a celestial object without a protective atmosphere that's been pock-marked with asteroid and meteor hits over the eons. That the damned thing is still there might be amazing. It is that I am. And so.

I hesitated to go 'dark,' at first, because I don't want my ensemble members to see that in me.... Yah. Right. Hiding works every time.

When I say I'm going "dark," that doesn't mean I'm going "depressive" or "pessimistic." Here's a hint: the track I'm using is titled "Jason Reborn."

In Acting class, Jack has had us doing a lot of cold read exercises, or rather, games. Their first, obvious purpose is to get our craft up and running. The second, nearly as obvious purpose, is to get us more quickly able to commit to and inhabit a dramatic world long before we can "know" what that world really entails. Jack wants us jumping in, responding to every potential stimulus in the dramatic universe--the sounds, smells, threats, and seductions represented not only in the dialogue but also in the stage directions and or circumstances implied in the dialogue. All senses up and running. Living the "scenic truth" with script in hand. Cold read games have included passing an object back and forth on the operative word, squeezing the scene partner's hand on the operative word, staying connected while reading with a board blocking each partner's view of the other, use of an imaginary chess/checker board (or rather, use of a real board with a single object that gets used as all the pieces), touching objects in the environment ('full body' checker/chess) on the operative word (or, maybe I should say, "operative impulse,") and more.

Our work in Suzuki, Viewpoints, and doing Aikido rolls--as well as our work with swords in stage combat--has been meant to feed and hardwire in the habits of focusing and committing in the way that cold reading/acting required.

Stage Combat's been interesting. On Friday, I hope to post a video of the thirty-move sword fight we've been doing this week. It's basic, but pretty fast, about 20 seconds. You'll see that there's not a lot of technique in the footwork, because Brian Byrnes has us focusing on targetting precision (which isn't great yet) and believes the feet will more-or-less find themselves doing the right thing, if everything else is working out. Brian's approach is to throw us in the deep end with enough instruction to keep us safe and get us working, but he has said that he does not believe in assuming that we know nothing about stage combat, before we do it, not only because most of us HAVE fought some on stage, but also because we all have pursued other physical disciplines or sports that crossover, and because we simply have human instincts that can be exploited. Brian's 'organic' approach was a bit unnerving, at first, for a couple of ensemble members who exected and wanted more technically precise drilling, but I think they're beginning to feel more comfortable, as they see it working out. I'm comfortable, myself. But, I have the benefit of naivete. I don't know any better.

In voice, we've been doing "tremoring" exercises, used by the Fitzmaurice Technique that our voice coach, Jim Johnson, is trained in (he's done a lot of Linklater work, as well, and is a 'graduate' of the Month-long Intensive at Shakespeare & Company, as I am.) In these exercises, students take yoga-like poses that range from easy to challenging, in which we allow our limbs and torso to tremor with the exersion of holding the position. Part of the idea is to learn how to allow one's breathing to remain supported and easy while the rest of the body is freaking out. It also--and perhaps more importantly--helps one to find--or to permit--resonance to happen throughout the body, rather than getting blocked in the center of the torso. There's more to it than that, but that's what I understand about it, at this point, and I'm not 'reading ahead.' I'm taking the information as it comes; as I can use it.

In the next week, I'm also going over to Communications Disorders for a full evaluation of my voice and vocal instrument, to evaluate properly my vocal qualities and get a firm idea of what may be making my voice "cloudy" (in Jim's word) and mumbly. Jim thinks the problem is mostly my soft palette not rising, with the resultant nasality that comes with air escaping through my nose, unshaped by articulators. The consultant from Communications Disorders, though, listening to me on the phone, thought my soft palette was not at all the problem. The one thing everyone agrees on is that I'm all chest voice right now, with little or no mask. And my pitch range is highly restricted (these days, I'm more of a baritone than ever before, partly a product of working my voice as much as I am now.) The Communication Disorders person mentioned something she called "resonance therapy." We'll see what that means.

All this voice work is important for me not only for the obvious reasons, but also because--and this an observer would not be able to know--the 'defects' in my own voice DISCONNECT me from my work. I hear not so much what my voice does, but what it's FAILING to do. For example, I very, very often hear my own voice unsuccesfully keeping up with the speed of my own thought. As my vocal instrument works slowly, then, my cerebral/imaginative instrument slows down to match it, which is... a f**king heartbreak and nightmare to experience. For instance, when I read for ARCADIA, in which I very much wanted to play Bernard, my voice simply wasn't limber or light enough--and my articulators not fast enough--for me to get up to the necessary tempo.

Okay. That's the gist of where I am in training in week four. I'll try to write more specifically and in depth about interesting aspects of my training as it progresses, though I'm often too tired to do so. Also, I get depressed, and resist processing. If I can process more, though, it'll probably help me not get as depressed.

Okay. I'm on my way now to a meeting with the artistic directors of several Houston theaters. Later.


1 comment:

jason said...

Funny - I have the opposite problem: my vocal instrument is quite speedy, and regularly outpaces my cerebral/imaginative instrument. And before you know it there's all kinds of instruments in all manner of trouble. This, too, sucks.