Tag Archives: relationships

LOVE THY NEIGHBOR?

crucible

 

I went to see a play about those women… namely the ones that were burned at the stake and/or hung on poles (called witches or sorceresses). Being a pre-Harry-Potter-era play that means that witches and sorcery were associated with the devil (every gradation of evil was bad) in a society where power was held largely in the hands of Christian settlers and land title owners. Any other pre-existing ideologies and people that might challenge the prevailing norms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ were considered lower and incompatible to solving community conflict. Women were not the only sufferers of this community condemnation; yet women were prima facie targets.

 

The play is called THE CRUCIBLE and a very endearing ensemble is bringing Arthur Miller’s challenging work to life over at the Walter Kerr Theatre on 48th. It is being directed by Ivo Van Hove. The set alternates between an eery, charcoal and chalky inspired mix of classroom materials and images that bring up imaginings of institutionalized detention. The alternating rooms are the simple Proctor house and a town hall converted into a trial center. The simple and minimal sets, combined with economical music & sound design that included children and women’s singing in the background, were fitting and aided my imagining of the conflicts in the play.

 

The play’s conflict centers around accusations of a teenage girl, Abigail (the talented Saoirse Ronan), who claims that certain people in her community are targeting her and others with supernatural powers. The conflict unfolds because Abigail’s younger female cousin, Betty, falls ill from their participation in a group of women dancing and an attempt to cast love spells in the woods. In the uncovering of these activities and accusations, most of the community is put to trial, the adultery of John Proctor (Ben Whishaw) with Abigail is found out, and many women are destroyed due to a chain of accusations budding from Abigail’s strong defences.

 

Mainly I’ve got to say this play is thought-provoking. I suppose what this play really does is entreats an audience’s mind towards looking at how a group of women started to be called the negative connotation of ‘witch(es)’; and what series of human (as opposed to supernatural) actions, words, ideologies and accountabilities (or lack thereof) grounded and were interpreted towards a community’s condemnation of women. It also examines what people and systems this community implemented in an attempt to resolve conflict. Being an American play rooted in the struggles of early American settlers the characters and conflict bear relevance today.

 

It becomes pretty clear as the play moves forward that it is not the supernatural that causes the chain of man-made penalties that ensue. A most interesting character for me is actually the, however unlikeable, Deputy Governor Danforth (Ciaran Hinds) who is tasked with getting facts straight in the midst of the community members’ personal ties to each other and accusations towards each other. He asks questions that bring together the common facts of each of the community members’ stories to try to figure out what is a truth and what is not, what accusations are made out of fear of peril and what accusations are founded by criminal action. His character is like a flashlight peering through the spaces in the crowd and begging: where is there room to understand how confusion began and what is the root of it?

 

The root of the confusion turns out to be the adultery of an otherwise humble farmer, John Proctor, and a teenage girl, Abigail, who tells him that she’s in love with him. In a society where adultery is cause for jail-time and even death their lust destroys John’s opinion of himself and Abigail’s ability to trust the people who have condemned her for the feelings she understands to be true and restricted. One of the women Abigail condemns turns out to be Elizabeth Proctor (Sophie Okonedo), John’s wife, and by the end of the play we are made to feel the love and guilt John possesses over the pain his wife is in.

 

The self-inflicted torture John partakes in the face of his forced confession are puzzling. He feels he has already given away his soul and chooses not to publicly tarnish his name. As heart wrenching as his human struggle is to watch (and in that same dilemma with a family at stake I’m not sure what I’d do in his shoes)… it is puzzling because his struggle happens to be in contrast to 39 women in the play who have just publicly perished for supernatural actions they did not commit. It is a given fact that women have often kept their souls and given away their names with no questions asked and no opportunity for rebuttal. I’m sure Miller set this conundrum up on purpose.

 

Like I said, the play is thought-provoking. In the end this play always makes me disturbed and I feel bad for the whole town! I feel it’s a good play to look at though – and the thoughts and feelings it provokes are relevant although complex. Where the individual and community interests intersect can be a dangerous issue – yet we must struggle with this interface every day. In the case of The Crucible the individual/community interface, we learn, is an immensely dangerous issue when there is nothing to prevent individual accusations from causing women (and people in general) to be not just prima facie targets, but convicted ones. In fact an invisible and unexplainable harm can (and did historically) cause women to unjustly and disproportionately perish.

 

The strength of this production lies in the actors playing the love with each other. The decisions and accusations they make are difficult because we get a sense of familiarity off the top with all the members and generations of the small community so that when they find themselves in a confusing and fearful disarray – there is a sense of misaligned duties and choices that are heightened to war-like status against their own people. We understand their motivations are rooted in keeping loved ones from harm. The play is unnerving and hair-raising in it’s turning of ‘love thy neighbor’ on its head.

 

Apart from the production, the Walter Kerr Theatre has a really beautiful roof!

 

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THE WIZARD OF OZ, Margaret Hamilton, 1939

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THE DREAM IS THE WORK

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OPERA IS BIG.  Opera at the Metropolitan Opera (MET) in New York City is GRAND.  As an audience member I walked along its red carpet and slid into its red velvety seats tonight.  The seating had just the right spacing so that I didn’t have to peer over someone else’s head, rather I had the convenient opportunity to peer through the patrons in front of me instead.  My night started with Pablo Heras-Casado conducting a live orchestra carting my suspension of disbelief into the world of George Bizet’s “Carmen” production by Sir Richard Eyre.

 

Why has it taken me so long to wander into the MET for an operatic experience?  I pass it nearly every week to get to the New York Public Library’s Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center.  My opera-singer roommate has only been singing its praises for the past year and enlightening me with scores morning, day and night… and yet I waited and watched straight plays, musicals and experimental theatre instead.  I pleasantly found the elements of a great performance in “Carmen” with the addition of the performers’ extremely gifted vocal abilities impressively grounding and also lifting the performance!

 

Tonight’s production had Brandon Jovanovich passionately playing Don Jose, torn between his duty to his country as a soldier and his mother’s wishes for him to marry his sweet friend Micaela. A playful, fearless and fierce Carmen seducing Don Jose was brought to life by mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili. The lovely soprano Anna Hartig offered up a gracious take on Micaela and moved me to helpless utter tears within fifteen seconds of watching her softly fight for affection from Don Jose.  All three performers held strong, appropriate relationships with each other that were truly humbling to the story.

 

Now I’m left asking myself what I should take from my experience with the opera as an actor? As an artist? I was struck by the thorough attention to detail that a MET production employs.  Not only does sound travel in the space like its melting into you, but the costumes, the set, the delicate syndication of the large ensemble and chorus was impressive and invited me in.  The soft melodic children chorus members balanced the bolder, more experienced singers in the production and created the sense of watching a community unfold on stage.  There were no distractions to take my focus off of the play, which means that the coordination, collaboration, professional vocal, musical and behind-the-stage skills that were employed gave me the sense that years, and years of training (moula) and work goes into a MET production.  I was in awe (first time at the MET obviously).

 

As an actor I connected and was mostly interested in the characters.  The relation to another human being depicted on stage because of universals or truths that the performers discovered and shared with me.  The story was controversial in its time due to the morality issues with a ‘gypsy’ woman, Carmen, seducing a French soldier, Don Jose, away from the more appropriate marriage to a sweet peasant girl, Micaela.  Today this plot could still stir up some intense moral judgments/arguments given the opportunity although I’m sure it will never be as scandalous as it was when it opened in at the Opera Comique in Paris in 1875.

 

I tend to find the witnessing of moral dilemmas on stage as enlightening and it helps me to face fears and controversy in a safe space.  I have opportunity to think about difficulties, about even painful ideas and events and have dialogue about them.  In this particular story I was struck with comparing Micaela’s translation of Don Jose’s motherly love and approval (or lack thereof) as she followed him around to save his soul contrasted with Carmen’s freedom and ability to turn the audience on with a bold use of her body to seduce Don Jose.  I was consistently torn between my heartfelt sympathy for Micaela and my excitement for Carmen’s freedom.  I witnessed the performers shifting the focus on stage to where it needed to be at all times and it allowed me to take in the characters’ points of view quite clearly throughout the performance.

 

Happy to report that I am very inspired by the opera.  I admire the passion that these performers had and it challenged and excited me to work harder on my own craft.  It made me want to listen to Bizet more often too. It also made me think of a quote by the late Marian Seldes in her book The Bright Lights: A Theatre Life:

 

“The dream was the work.”

 

As an audience member it felt good to be the last ingredient for the MET’s creation of the dream of “Carmen” on stage tonight.

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NEW YORK – AN ACTOR’S PLAYGROUND

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Inspiration is possible everywhere I go (and is often free).  Yet, it has been made particularly possible for me to be inspired in New York City.  I really have found it to be a playground for theatre where I find world-famous actors up on fancy, bright stages. I also find extremely talented actors in tiny studio theatres simply sharing experiences to inspire each other.

I tagged along to a talk-back event tonight with Kathleen McNenny, Joanna Adler and Stark Sands for the Tom Todoroff Summer Intensive Program at Shetler Studios.  I realized that it is valuable to take the time to share experiences as actors (whether students, recent conservatory graduates, or experienced stage and film actors).

Why am I inspired? What did I learn?

“My job is to audition” I heard Kathleen say before jetting out of the theatre. We all love this woman. Being the Masks teacher at the Tom Todoroff Conservatory it is easy to forget that this down-to-earth person who gives her heart to her students really does pound the pavement every day as an actor.  It can actually be discouraging to realize that my whole life will be such an active pursuit of work; but Kathleen embodies staying positive and loving what we do as actors WHICH IS TO AUDITION!

Both Stark and Joanna reiterated her statement.  Auditioning is the heart of what we do.  It was notable for me to hear these actors state this in front a quiet, yet strong presence in the corner, Tom Todoroff, who carries on the legacy of Michael Shurtleff’s book The Audition.  Having worked through audition guideposts in Tom’s classes myself (and believe-you-me he is a stickler for them) I know that he’d agree with this statement on auditioning.

In terms of actors fresh out of Conservatory training (like me) part of the struggle is just to get auditions in order to exercise the chops.  I liked hearing Joanna trace back her various jobs and all the times that she said “YES” to an internship with a non-profit arts agency, had tea or lunch with another actor or a director and then noticing that it led to an audition, and even a job.  Hearing her speak I thought, “there is method to the madness of this business!”  Joanna shared that, “this business is uncertain for everyone. I accept that I am a part of this chaos.  I paid my conEdison bill and therefore I can let it go!”

We are all people looking for work and in order to collaborate I am first required to seek out relationship and community and then say YES to opportunities as they come.  Just like every actor that has come before me- and just like Joanna and Stark!

The last time I’d seen Stark was on one of those big fancy stages playing the lead in the musical Kinky Boots. Tonight he mentioned having done 400 performances with that show.  Having gained success so early in his career both in the theatre and in film I was definitely taking down notes from him.  One interesting point he made was that even as an actor who has made New York City his home-base he always has to be open to job opportunities in other cities.

On being prepared for auditions Stark shared that his process involves getting off-book (learning the lines of the script/scene) before the audition. It helps him to have “lived in the skin of the character for a while”.  He makes strong choices for his auditions and then must be malleable to take direction in the room.

In parting I’ll be letting these simple new mantras ring in my head for a while:

MY JOB AS AN ACTOR IS TO AUDITION.

I PREPARE.

I PAY SERVICE TO THE TEXT.

I LOVE WHAT I DO. 

 

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ANN ROTH


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Costume Designer

It’s official and in writing… Ann Roth, Oscar award winning costume designer for stage and film, knows I’m an actress and wishes me the best; I can boast a signed copy of the monograph, The Designs of Anne Roth, by Holly Poe Durbin and Bonnie Kruger; and I can now place a sassy, unapologetic presence to the name I’d previously only been able to read about! Shameless self-promotion aside, I feel the need to share what I learned just by hanging out in the Drama Book Shop on a Thursday night in New York City.

 

As an actor I must ask myself “what do other characters say about my character?” So in getting to know Ann Roth, let me also ask… “what have other people said about Ann Roth?”

 

Meryl Streep described the “inexhaustible curiosity and collaborative spunk” that Roth brings to a project in her introduction at the American Theatre Hall of Fame awards in 2012. Streep claimed Roth as her “friend” and went on to say that Roth,

 

[D]oesn’t just design clothes, she becomes the muse of the project… a video-biographer of characters… she writes a book in her head… on each individual character in the story she can tell you what that person has on their bedside table… how many sugars they take… where their mother was raised and why they comb their hair to the left instead of the right, she has an unstoppable imagination.

 

In asking Roth what it feels like to discover a character with an actor I was given a simple answer. It makes her happy when the actor is happy and the director is happy. I began to sense that this artistic process is quite difficult to describe, however, as Roth (who stated that she is not an intellectual designer) made an effort to share a story instead.

 

One of the routines to find a character with an actor that Roth finds to be a “pleasant and wonderful experience” starts with a vision, meticulous research, searching for and/or crafting costume items and then introducing pieces of the costume to an actor in front of the mirror. Roth might suggest a pair of shoes to start and the actor sees some other vision in the mirror that releases her to go further and try on other items “or a higher heel or maybe this, or maybe that”. Eventually Roth witnesses a character coming into the room and “it’s like stand back everybody and let her breathe”.

 

I quite liked how human Roth was in describing her view of actors – especially considering she’s worked with the cream of the crop. It makes sense that many of these actors also call Ann Roth their friend. “I think of [the actor] as the character he’s playing… an actor has to step up to the moment.” It reminded me that regardless of a person’s role in a film or theatre production, when given a character in a script I have the choice to buy into a humbling and collective understanding that the job is to tell a story together.  I received this reminder from a small conversation with Roth tonight… but people like Mike Nichols who sign up to work with Roth over and over say she is “the invisible hand”.

 

 

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MELISSA JEAN WOODSIDE

BLOGMelissa02

 

www.mjwoodside.com

 

 

1. What kinds of things inspire you, as a Canadian actor living in London, U.K.?

I love the originality of work and the English film scene. I find that like any big city, it’s very metropolitan but at the same time, it doesn’t lose its essence of history and timelessness.

I can’t go a day without discovering something unique or walking past a beautiful old cinema or theatre (that to me is very much like a church). I’m performing next month at the Camden Head and other London theatres with a comedy sketch group “Fans of Comedy”. Just being in the old classical buildings lights me up straight away and I feel alive inside.

I know that the film industry is leading towards greatness in Canada, but there is something insatiable about the English film industry that keeps me here.

2. Where do you train as an actor? What is the importance of training to you?

I’m currently taking a variety of workshops at the Actors Centre. It is incredibly beneficial and I constantly chip away at my craft through their guidance.

I have to admit, however, that I find that I learn mostly “on the job”.

3. You have started up a comedy web series, Bertie & Gerdie, what inspired it? What is the series about? Where do you see this work leading?

Bertie and Gerdie was a satirical web series inspired by a bad breakup. Sounds cliché, but acting really helped me forget about the guy. A friend and I started making fun of failed relationships and I had a problem with Middle Class gold-digging women in particular that do nothing for society. Through this, I was able to create this strange relationship with the male character on screen that represents everything toxic in modern day marriage. It’s great because we take suggestions for writing, so if someone is going through a bad breakup or their spouse said something strange, we will consider it in our scripts!

Bertie and Gerdie was fun and has grown in terms of technical expertise more than anything.
 As you will see, the earlier episodes are on essentially a Sony Handicam. Over time we got the attention of a BBC Studio manager with a decent camera/team and even jingle on board!

In the long term this will die out as Bertie + Gerdie’s marriage is doomed, but there will be a second series and related sitcom style series coming up.

4. Any favorite performances while you’ve been in London?

YES! I love London for performances. I can’t walk around the West End enough!!

Recently I have noticed a surge in North American Historical performances. Last week I saw No One Loves Us Here by Ross Howard, a staged reading black comic portrait about a Native American dealing with love, obsession, the aspiration of youth and a crumbling white-collar class.

Next week I’m going to see a play called The Low Road by Bruce Norris about the slave trade.

Apart from that, I can’t get enough of catching more mainstream stuff with Q + A sessions attached to the end. I saw The Browning Version with Anna Chancellor, as well as a Keira Knightley performance this way.

5. When collaborating in creative endeavors what do you admire in your peers?

I admire actors and creative types with the ability to be down to earth, spaz out, and just have fun. Everyone has a different upbringing, a different story, and filmmaking is all about storytelling.
 There are too many actor types that take things too seriously and as a result I feel alienated.

Whilst it is a very serious industry, it is very much about having fun and doing something you enjoy!

When people let go like this and enjoy what they’re doing the quality and uniqueness of the work is far richer.

As a result I find myself working on multiple projects with writers and actors that I really admire.

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