Don’t bring candy to the theatre wrapped in fucking cellophane, assholes!

Catchy title, eh?

Script analysis is moving toward a terms exam in which we write about what we have learned. I like that Professor Russ does not cotton to matching and pick-an-answer. I used to like matching and pick-an-answer, mostly when I was younger, but really you just don’t present a sense of learning and absorbing much as you do when you have to write things down on paper in your own words. I missed 25% of the lecture because I had to run out and re-park my car. As you’ll see in the post, the bus is a far more viable and reliable option for getting on to UF’s campus. So here are the blogs, and in addition, a review I wrote about a play I recently attended at the Santa Fe Fine Arts Hall called, Vivien. Cheers!

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ACTING II:

9/25/2013

 

Today’s lesson was in preparation and making sure you have all your ducks in a row BEFORE you need to begin any challenge. And what I am saying here is that I missed class because I failed to appreciate the complexities of the Goddamn parking garage at the University of Florida. Having said that, it remains an acting lesson. Be prepared and plan ahead. I heard from peers that we continued work shopping monologues, and I did manage to catch our Professor in the hall and present a method-acting conveyance of the sadness I felt about missing the class. It wasn’t a performance…I was really IN the character of Tom Miller. The feeling was not a put-on, it was genuine. I shall strive for more of this genuine approach.

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ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE:

9/25/2013

 

Class today was pretty illuminating. It began sort of heavy—one of the students suggested they would like to do another monologue because the one currently was too personal/emotional for them to feel comfortable to deliver. This started the direction of the class as the Professor explained that the whole idea is to tap into something personal. I found it fascinating when she commented that although no specific direction as to the tone/temperament of the monologue is provided, students often choose something dark, deep, and something they’re close to. I took that to mean in other words, that we don’t see many of the ‘I know’ monologues about having a terrific sun-shiny day, or how to be happy, or why their puppy is their best friend, etc. Professor further stated that the ‘process’ allows for students to write what they ‘need’ to write. She strongly urged the student to stick with what she had written and emphasized that we are working in a safe space. As for me, I wanted to go dark and I wanted things personal. It’s my choice, but I’m all for coming to terms with truth and committing to sharing personal emotions and thoughts. I just think if one doesn’t allow oneself to go there, one is closing off the doorways to portraying the deepest realities of flawed characters and by flawed, I mean every character ever written. For the flawless character—that they are flawless would be the flaw.

 

We did some constructive rest, some development work, and we added the exploration of vowel sounds as we moved—ie. How does this sound feel in the mouth? Can you feel it in your arm, your foot, your chest, and your head? What does changing the vowel sound do to your emotions? Can you evolve a character organically from a sound? The neatest part was that when we had found a comfortable vowel sound and grown a state-of-mind characterization with the sound, we approached our monologues with this character, this attitude. In my case, I have this dark piece which I have rehearsed many times. But now I was in a kind of innocent happy wonder state with my vowel choice and character, so how to marry a happy go-lucky state with a monologue that’s basically calling an ex-lover a ‘fucking snake?’ What I noticed were a myriad of possibilities for interpreting the text that I had not considered before. In other words, I had locked myself into this tiny box (do the dark monologue dark and angry) and it never occurred to me that maybe in getting this off my chest, I’d be in a happy place instead of a sad or angry one. WHOLE DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE.

 

My thoughts drifted back to that student who had so attached to the darkness of their monologue to the extent they did not wish to share it, perform it, and put it out there. And this idea popped into my head: If you want to be an actor, you have to get yourself out of your way. This does not mean you are not there, because once you’re out of your own way, it’s you that steps up to the plate. It means: There’s you, and then there’s YOU. That big, capital-letter self-important YOU is the one that thinks too much, that doesn’t trust, that is absorbed with its own tiny box. It’s the YOU that forgot how to play. We talked about how when children play, they don’t self-analyze, they just go. I remember my best friend and I used to play Wild Wild West (a television show from the mid-60s.) I’d be the main character, James West (the hero) and he’d always want to play the villain (Dr. Loveless). We didn’t have a script, a setting, a plot, we just said, “We’re playing Wild Wild West!” And then I’d start talking and I became James West. He’d start talking and he was Dr. Loveless. And we found out where we were through our own spontaneous exposition, and the plot occurred as it happened…I bet we made four-hour on-the-fly Hollywood movies on a daily basis. It was play, it was theatre, it was drama, it was organic, all the great things. So between eight or nine years old and now, we don’t play anymore. What if someone’s watching and thinks we’re silly? What if we say the wrong things? We judge ourselves. We take ourselves too seriously. We overthink, overanalyze…we become afraid. Why? We get in our own way.

 

Actor Tip-of-the-Day: Get your SELF out of the way, so you can show up and play.

 

How do you do that? I think, commit. Find comfort in being uncomfortable (there’s learning happening at the most profound levels when one is uncomfortable). Trust. Some days I notice I and my peers are focused and committed to the work we are exploring in Alexander class. Sometimes, I might notice someone in the constructive rest work doing more dozing than working (which probably means I wasn’t as focused on my own work as I should be at the time.) Sometimes, my thoughts wander. You can listen to the Professor’s guidance and try to visualize, feel, experience, explore, or you can simply snore. And I think in a course like this, you get out what you put in. So therefore, if a student approaches the work ready to experiment, explore, ready to take risks and confront our deeper darker badder selves, the doors will open and the rewards will be exponential. So I am committing to trust, and trusting myself to commit. It’s a good bunch of people to work with, here. I am really enjoying the process of getting to know my fellow students, their talents, quirks, fears…fun watching everybody learn and grow together. Starting to feel that sense of ‘play’ again.

 

9/26/2013

 

Our journals are due today, so this last entry is about this morning. I read through the textbooks on Alexander as it relates to voice and direction. In particular, I like the idea of Alexander (who was very much addressing his voice as he developed the Technique) relates his body-map of speaking to movement. As profound as it was to simply be made aware of the fact that the top of the spine is in the middle of the head (just knowing begins the journey), so it is with the idea of voice being movement. It’s a real paradigm shift, and especially in the context of the analog that was made in the chapter–that of the proverbial pebble in the pond causing ripples (movement of air). The distinction being made of the demands of a director when he cannot hear the voice: “PROJECT!”—this being all wrong. The awareness of the true meaning of articulate, not just the formation of the sounds with the mouth and tongue, but the sense of the movement of sound in the body and mouth. As we know, most ideas of projecting the voice result in a strained shrillness as a result of tightening the body instead of preparing to move the voice by better movement within the mind/body before the sounds of words ever even escape to tickle the air resulting in a richer deeper clearer dance.

 

My questions were: 1.) What are some tips for thinking about and imagining the ‘body-mapping’ in terms of the speaking voice? 2.) As so many people seem to suffer back and neck problem, is this the natural reason why Alexander’s Technique begins at the head/neck/spine relationship?

 

Looking forward to continuing work on our monologues in relationship with the Alexander Technique. We’re in for some developmental work, contact, and exploration. Hmm…sounds like something NASA might be interested in.

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ACTING FOR DIRECTORS:

9/25/2013

 

Two more scenes were performed for evaluation. During Professor Young’s critiques, we learned about the importance of ‘zip’, pacing, chemistry, and blocking as it relates to power. This class is a bit chatty, I notice. So did Professor Young, as he addressed the group near me about paying attention when in class. Maybe I’m a middle-age codger, but I apply this same thought to contemporary audiences of all kinds in general: people are losing their ability to focus. In my world, I do not accept compromise here because the end result of a lack of focus, respect, attention, awareness results in a more violent world where it is easier to disregard our fellow human beings. So within the context of theatre, story-telling, entertainment in general, I do not wish to dumb down nor pander to a fragmented-multi-tasking future. I believe an artist’s job now includes a prerequisite to teach and share the importance of focus and respect. I have found great art in which no active participation is required of the viewer: ie. Hollywood Tent-Pole Movies with explosions and visceral MTV-style action and editing, most popular radio music, and trashy toss-off novels. However, I have always found that the most profound experience of art is ‘getting from it by giving to it’. Plays or cinema in which it takes a while to absorb the complexities of a character or a complex plot, or even a plot in which an unfamiliar world-logic is in place, this should be something we contemplate and analyze such that we learn something about ourselves and our world. In short, I cannot stand the use of fucking cell phones in the theatre, televisions in restaurants and taverns, and if someone could ever explain to me why the person seated directly behind me in the movie or play theatre always has a piece of candy with a loud cellophane wrapper that takes over a minute to unwrap, we will have solved the mysteries of the Universe…but I rant.

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Critique – Vivien, by Rick Forster – Starring Judith Chapman

By Tom Miller

 

            On Saturday, September 14, I had the opportunity to witness the talents of soap opera star and Actor’s Studio member, Judith Chapman at the Santa Fe Fine Arts Hall. Chapman was there in part for the start of the Santa Fe College Master Arts Series (in which students and faculty can interact with various master artists of theatre, dance, performance, etc.) and coincidentally, this was also two months before what would have been the 100th birthday of actor Vivien Leigh on whose life the play is based. Vivien Leigh, a British stage and film actress won both her Oscars ironically playing U.S. Southern Belles [Gone With The Wind, A Streetcar Named Desire.] She had a torrid marriage to Sir Laurence Olivier, suffered from bi-polar disorder, and ultimately lost her life to tuberculosis. To portray Vivien in such varied states of affair, and to portray other characters in her life in a one woman production, an actor of great skill, subtlety, power, and mastery of theatre craft is required. Judith Chapman is that actor.

            From the moment Judith Chapman took the stage, the audience was enraptured. In person, Chapman is a rather short woman who belies the devil of her age. She looks to be no more than forty, if that. On stage, she somehow looks even younger, and tall and striking. It goes to the power of theatre that when Mrs. Chapman [61 years old] walked into the reception following the performance, she was literally unrecognizable. We were all waiting for Vivien Leigh.

            The stage was sparsely adorned with an ambiguous backdrop of hanging white gauze drapery. The few set pieces were an ornate chair, a desk (doubling as a luxury bedroom vanity), a two-person lounge sofa, and a center theatre ghost-light which served symbolically as a signpost for those ghosts-of-the-theatre past—one of whom was welcoming us to relive and re-experience her life. It was very much the job of Chapman herself to evoke the details of those scenes in the audience’s minds with the power of her body, voice, and uncanny portrayal. She did so with stylized movements of her expressive hands, controlled delineations of her swagger and poise; crescendos and dimuendos of her voice like the tones of a winding river. In this performance, one could see that Judith Chapman is in love with Vivien Leigh’s magmatic persona. This performance was a labor of that love. And how effortless was her portrayal! Not once was there a question of watching a performance—Chapman inhabits the character so thoroughly, we wonder if she is channeling Vivien Leigh through occult powers. Chapman was able to articulate so many levels, from the soft and sublime to the out-right episodes of frenetic disjointed powerful outbursts. I overheard during the reception one young gentleman who grew up with a bi-polar family member and he was almost in tears when he touched Chapman’s hand and expressed, “You didn’t make a ‘show’ out of the bi-polar disorder and depression, you nailed it. You really got it right. Thank you.” Directed by Thomas Rollapp, great use was made with the space of the stage and properties in the blocking. At times, it was like watching a dance, each movement propelled by authentic motivation. Never was there a feeling of an actor going through the motions. Chapman was alive in every moment of this performance.

Costumes were period-authentic and, according to one sharp-eyed aficionado of Vivien Leigh, right down to the knee-length black skirt. Too high on the length, he said, and it would be simply wrong. The devil is in the details. Lighting was suitably noir, atmospheric, fever dream-like, hazy. If lighting can be described as hazy, this was it. Perhaps the only flaw in an otherwise perfect production was in the sound-design.

This is a work better suited to intimacy. In a six-hundred-plus seats hall, some of the more nuanced passage and the low-toned stage whispers were lost on those seated toward the back. It was evident there was sound-reinforcement miking to the left and the right of the stage, presumably hidden in the set pieces—obvious because there was a noticeable rise in volumes when she moved to either side. The middle of the stage was an acoustic dead-zone. A body mike (Lavalier or similar mike) would have been a poor choice, for then her voice would sound exactly that; miked. We need the ambience of reinforcement miking. They might have positioned a directional mike just below the lip of the proscenium, center, to fill in that acoustic flatland. This is entirely a nit-pick and a technical matter, and not anything with which to fault the other perfect aspects of an astonishing and passionate production.

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