Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pandemic Deafness

I now see that what I used to think was a local epidemic  of deafnesss in actors on Portland stages is actually a pandemic.  Actors everywhere fail to hear what's going on stage around them.  Myself included (e.g., last class, Jack asks David:  "what did he [scene partner] say:"  David replies:  "what was the line?")  One actor in my ensemble is diligent in preparation, produces an effectively scored script, is on-time to rehearsals, and pushes for rehearsal time, but on stage s/he goes on autopilot so that one feels invisible across from him/her.  Another actor bores holes with his eyes through the scenery in back of your head and never sees your head in the way.  Another actor rehearses poorly, so is busy listening to him/herself invent shit on the fly, at presentation time, giving no time to hear his/her scene partner.  I, myself, drift inward, connecting more vividly with internal objects than external ones.  And all of this is two things:  exasperating and boooooooooring.  I get bored talk'n to myself on stage, not listening to my scene partner, and not having someone listening back.  Crickey.  Enough already.

On the up side:  I just watched an episode of House in which the actors did their jobs with great competence and occasional flare.  And you know what?  I realized I could do that.  I now know what the hell good actors actually DO on screen or on stage.  More often than not, I can identify the tool they're using, at any given point.  Yay for me.  Progress.   Tuition well spent.

Now, er, to do it myself....

About Orphans rehearsals:  early rehearsals have been going well in the sense that 1) they've been efficient--i.e., short--and 2) we're making story discoveries on the fly; discovering the dramatic function of scenes in the midst of rehearsing them.  A little scary to fly on the seat of our pants that way sometimes, but fun, too.


Jon said...

Thanks for posting these thoughts, David. I don't presume to have an actor's experienced eye for what you're talking about, but I think I recognize at least some of the phenomena you describe.

Your mention of House prompts me to go off on a bit of a tangent, because it makes me think of actors who somehow come across better in one medium than another. Robert Sean Leonard is very good on that show, no doubt about it. Yet I don't think his screen work (there, or in movies) gives any hint of what a truly great stage actor he is -- I'm thinking especially of the Stoppard plays (Arcadia, The Invention of Love). I wonder why that is (not that I'm expecting anyone to provide an answer).

Anyway, good thoughts!

David Loftus said...

I'm not sure whether the original problem you pose is something that can be solved or is inherent in the process, David. I've noticed how I and pretty much everyone else I know only really starts to hear/listen to the other folks onstage about midway through a four-week run. There's just too much else to think about and get a hold on until then. Would a longer rehearsal period fix this? Maybe, maybe not: perhaps having more time to rehearse would only load you down with more stuff to think about/pare away before you start to cruise in character. I just finished Barton's _Playing Shakespeare_ yesterday, and in the final pages his veteran actors talked about how they got only three weeks of rehearsal in the first half of the last century, while Shakespeare's troupe had even less. Holy cow.

David Millstone said...

There's no 'problem,' to be solved, of course, but through experience and training we should and usually do hear each other more and faster on stage and in the rehearsal room. Perhaps I'll never listen well enough fast enough, but I hear more faster than I did eighteen months ago. I'm sure the same is true of you, too. It's also true of my current ensemble mates.