Tag Archives: storytelling

THE LITTLE FOXES

Over the past few months I’ve learned a few things about an American playwright named Lillian Hellman:

 

hellman

“I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions” – L. Hellman.

 

When I read those words I ponder… who says something like that? Or, more importantly, when she looked out through her own lenses at the world around her, based on what she saw, heard, tasted, felt, smelled and sensed… why did she make a statement like that?

 

I traced Austin Pendleton to a scene study class at HB Studio this spring to study a concentrated workshop called Lillian Hellman Scene Study. I can say through my experience of narrowing in on the tragedy of Martha Dobie in her first play called The Children’s Hour that Hellman plays are little mysteries; the best kind – there are little truths hidden like Easter eggs waiting to be discovered by a group of relaxed and present actors. For example… how do you cut a conscience? Why would you need to? Hellman’s autobiographies tend to give a little insight – but also tend to have a significantly controversial history attached to them. I borrowed my copies of her autobiographies as they sit on a shelf at the New York Library for Performing Arts .

 

Fun fact: I’m sitting on my sofa in New York right now listening to a YouTube recording of Ocean Waves wondering if any of the same insight that Hellman thought will run through the tide of my consciousness in this blog post.

 

That’s the thing about plays though – when brought to life they can’t but help to carry you through the playwright’s reflection of her time. You can’t (or maybe you can) imagine how nerding out with her plays on down time at my day job while New Yorkers stroll in and out to say hello all morning has inspired me. I’ve been looking up to find faces and voices talking to me with her plays fresh on the tip of my tongue. I can’t be quite sure if I’ve been grasping at a little something of what she saw – but residually – an undercurrent of life.

 

The best part about studying acting in New York – the very plays I’m reading and studying find their ways to Broadway stages! And sometimes they inspire groundbreaking endeavors; two talented female actresses alternating roles. The Little Foxes is playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on 47th Street and is directed by Daniel Sullivan.

 

foxes

 

The Manhattan Theatre Club production has Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon alternating the lead of power-hungry REGINA HUBBARD GIDDENS and her careful sister-in-law BIRDIE HUBBARD given the “blue” or “green” nights listed on their website. My imagination is mulling over what it might be like to do that – alternate roles within the same production. I just might attempt to one day after seeing these ladies lead the cast through the switch.

 

floating troubles

atop my

sea of hopes

stack full

pressure

against

my chest’s

rise and fall…

 

The emotional rises of REGINA and the emotional falls of BIRDIE are fascinating to witness. In this play, set in the South, the Hubbard family schemes and quarrels over pieces of their pie i.e. the distribution of money among each other. Regina likes to join in on the competitive schemes with her brothers; while Birdie escapes from any pain as much as she can. There doesn’t seem to be a medium among the two; they are either slowly lurking in charge, as Regina does, or lightly asking power to please step away, as in Birdie’s case.

 

…I feel

the barge

passing

parting

liquid thoughts

again…

 
What struck me the most in this play was an examination of getting more. There is raw, gritty desire for more shares, more information, more time with a loved one, or more opportunity to banter about any of the above desires. Some desires seem to overshadow others when in competition – and some desires conveniently find symbiosis when necessary. An example being the scheme to arrange a marriage between Regina’s daughter ALEXANDRA GIDDENS and her gullable cousin LEO HUBBARD in order to ‘keep money in the family”. What a thought – who needs to sell shares when you can marry them? Or something along those lines.

 

…soft landings

brim my eyes

closing

to feel the waves

opening

to feel the waves

roll under…

 

Over time – as the play progresses into the Act III I started to see undercurrents that carried the characters along. There are colorful, hand-painted Easter eggs hidden underneath each character’s learned and necessary ability to cut a larger piece of a whole. These mysteries were tugged along and pushed to the surface every so often – memories of Birdie’s kind mother, Birdie’s ability to hide abuse, Alexandra’s piano duets with Birdie, Regina’s revelations of her true feelings to her husband even when they’re ugly, Birdie and HORACE GIDDENS’ opposition to his daughter Alexandra’s marriage, Leo’s subtle wishes to gain approval from his father and grandfather, and the final moments of the play which open up Alexandra’s mourning of her father. These mysteries, to name a few, seem foreign when they peak because they are only allowed every so often when the characters can’t help but notice a competing humanity.

 

…foreign mechanics

tug my mind

through the

natural rhythm…

 “Sea Of Hopes” in A Collection of Thoughts: Poems By Carrie Robinson.

 

WHAT IF Birdie and Regina were literally foxes? My wager is below. Respectively:

 

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THE TEMPEST in the PARK – Such Stuff As [My] Dreams Are Made On

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“[T]he sky it seemed would pour down”, not “stinking pitch”, but rather light rain on a New York Thursday evening at Shakespeare in the Park. The production was The Tempest and the rain was very fitting to an evening among Prospero’s conjuring schemes. Especially since this is a play that opens on a rather extraordinary day involving, not just a storm, but a tempest; a.k.a. a violent commotion, uproar, or disturbance.

Years spent banished on an island, and will to create an enchanted life for his daughter, have afforded the usurped Duke, Prospero (Sam Waterston), time and motivation to master a new set of laws. The sorcerous power that he has acquired allows him to manipulate an airy spirit Ariel (Chris Perfetti) to create the tempest. I found the intelligence and gentleness that Perfetti afforded the spirit to be interesting – hard not to love – like breathing air – taken for granted most of the time until there is a realization of the need to breathe.

Actual fireflies lit up here and there unexpectedly setting an appropriate otherworldly ambiance as Prospero made his way across the stage. The personalization and belief in what he was saying made Waterston’s Prospero clear and heart-felt in his words and sentiments. However, in this day and age it is difficult not to question whether his manipulations are fair and paternalism appropriate?

As Prospero’s shipwrecked royal relatives and crew make their way onto the island we get a sense that their jewelled crowns, ornamented coats and imperial protocols are out of place. Ariel’s soft music, the shifting winds and Prospero’s influence trump the swords & treasures from afar setting their bearers into induced sleeping states.

The more fitting presence on the island is Caliban’s (Louis Cancelmi). Cancelmi’s Caliban was very light on his feet, yet grounded and it was fun to watch how responsive he was to the people around him. The physical mangling of his body gave him an obvious obstacle to battle as he peered out of his ‘otherness’ at the beings around him testing and discovering how they fit into his life.

Prince Ferdinand (Rodney Richardson) finds that he is wandering alone (as a young prince rarely does) and is compelled to set his eyes upon the “peerless” Miranda (Francesca Carpanini). At the same time, Miranda, a youth who is used to being alone and has ignorantly learned to find joy without friendship discovers the first male peer that she’s ever seen… and been attracted to! Supervising this union is a happy father, Prospero, who knows their marriage will also tie his daughter back to her homeland and provide for her when he’s gone. Early on in the play he explains to Miranda,

O, a cherubim

Thou wast that did preserve me. Thou didst smile.

Infused with a fortitude from heaven,

When I have deck’d the sea with drops full salt,

Under my burthen groan’d; which raised in me

An undergoing stomach, to bear up

Against what should ensue.

Good ‘Ol Bill and the power of his language. I found myself getting emotional listening to Prospero’s reasons as to why he’s wielded every type of power he could – mastering the slave Caliban, conjuring spirits, and manipulating people. Being a female in my twenties – I can’t say I can speak for men in their later years… but I am human, I have received parental love and have felt protective over younger family members and children. It was in his parental sentiments towards his ‘cherubim’ that I heard the justification for his actions. I could feel him playing the love. If he could find a way to have his daughter taken care of – then he would forgive his brother, set slaves free, give up his own mysterious powers.

So are Prospero’s manipulations fair – NO – but maybe that is not the point of this story. History shows us life has been unfair for many. The Tempest magnifies the distribution of light and shade in Prospero’s character. It is compelling to watch a story about what people do when life has been unfair, how they perceive their power, how they interact with others around them and to wonder about why? The justification for Prospero’s wielding powers is the restoration of peace amongst his homeland by the uniting of his daughter, Miranda, and Prince Ferdinand. After all – it is a Shakespeare comedy. By the time Prospero offers his epilogue the storm was struck down making way for the stage lights to meet trees as a backdrop.

The actors in this production set an example for me to be inspired by:

Work from the self.

Find the obstacles.

Play the love.

Mine for the truth.

Personalize the text.

Connect to what the other players have to offer.

Tell the story.

Witnessing a story unfold about universal powers and themes (love & family) unfold in Central Park surrounded by earthly elements definitely is “such stuff as [my] dreams are made on”.

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THE DREAM IS THE WORK

meatmet 

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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ANN ROTH


photo 1

 

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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RICK HARRY

Artist (Sculpture, Painting, Engraving, Drawing)

http://www.xwalacktun.ca/

I had the pleasure of meeting Rick (Xwalacktun) Harry when I was ten years old. He was collaborating with my mother to produce a carving that sits in the library of Guilford Park Secondary School in Surrey, B.C., Canada.

As a kid, I was struck by Rick’s ability to be kind to every student, every teacher and every person he seemed to be collaborating with.

I recently visited Rick at his house/ studio in Vancouver, B.C. to speak to him about making art and being an artist. I am very confident that his perspectives and work can inspire others as well.

Videography by Claire Robinson

 

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EMILY KINNEY

Actor, Singer, Writer

To preview or purchase Emily’s CD “Blue Toothbrush” visit:

www.emilykinneymusic.com

To check out Emily’s blog visit:

http://unscripted.backstage.com/emily_kinney/

I truly felt like I was waiting for a pen pal. A mutual friend connects you up with a person you might have something in common with, and then you end up sharing your intimate thoughts over long distances… without ever meeting.

By the time I received Emily’s personally mailed CD, “Blue Toothbrush”, from New York City (and read her friendly little sticky note message to me), I’d already been directed to her biography.

Definitely an inspiring young woman… shortly after moving to New York Emily was cast in Off-Broadway plays and popular television shows such as The Good Wife and Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Her Broadway debut was as Anna in the Tony Award Winning musical “Spring Awakening” before she appeared as ‘Emily’ on The Big C (Showtime). You can also see Emily playing ‘Beth Greene’ in the second season of The Walking Dead (AMC).

While living in New York City, in between acting gigs, Emily wrote poems and short stories based on her own experiences and self-discovery. While on The First National Tour of “August: Osage County”, she found time by herself in hotel rooms and turned her notebooks into melodies about love, hope and sex.

Sex is dealt with daringly without losing, what I sense is a fun, sweet and sensitive girl, behind catchy and quirky tracks. Best yet, as an artist and a female I related to her genuine sentiments, questions about life and relationships. Listening to Emily’s voice felt like getting coffee or working on a bottle of nice wine with a girlfriend as we indulged in the details of our latest news and relationships; yet ironically managing to have a delightful time while covering things like heartbreak.

Another pleasant surprise that I found while listening to Emily’s album and realizing her commitment to honesty… I became excited to discover more of Emily’s work as an actor too!

I also asked her a few questions:

 

  1. What made you start making songs?

 I’ve always written little poems since I was little and I’ve always been so into music.  I would spend hours all by myself in my room listening to music and singing.  I played around with writing songs a bit in high school/junior high, but I was very judge-mental of myself and I quickly threw away the practice.  I felt the songs I was making up were silly.   However, I never really threw out the practice of writing poems and short stories.  I met Conrad Korsch doing a show called “Spring Awakening”.  We became good friends and when I went on tour with another show called “August: Osage County”, I decided to buy a guitar and teach myself a little.  Then, I started writing songs.  I started singing them to Conrad over the phone and he told me that they were good and was just so encouraging.  I started writing songs all the time on that tour.  I would say Conrad’s encouragement and friendship was a huge inspiration to me to start writing songs and really take it seriously.  Also, I saw a creative drive in him that I recognized in myself and I just wanted to tap into that.

Some of my best friends are also musicians and actors.  I go to shows alot, and watching my friends sing and perform at places like Rockwood, Living Room, Mercury Lounge in NYC has always been so inspiring.  Their boldness inspires me!

 

  1. As an actor, singer and writer how do you feel these different modes of expression are all linked?

 There was a time when I decided I really, really wanted to be in the theatre as much as possible.  I was just obsessed with rehearsing and plays and doing a show every night.  I thought to myself that I was first actor, and I sort of threw away a bit of my drive to train as a musician, but music was really my first link to performing and telling stories… and now writing my own material, I have enjoyed having the creative control in expressing an emotion and telling a story of my own.  So now I guess I think of myself as simply a storyteller, and if it’s through a musical or tv show, or through a song that I write and then perform, doesn’t matter to me as much as the quality and honesty of the work, and then finding which mode suits telling the story best.  Not all poems should be songs.

 

  1. Why the commitment to honesty in your work?

 I just think the best jokes, and the best plays and the best songs are the ones where you think to yourself,  “Wow that’s soo funny because it’s true, or that character is just soo much like my mom, boyfriend, etc……”  I write and perform and sing not only to express myself, but to connect with other people and their experiences and I just think the only way to do that is to be as honest as possible in your work.  Plus, in real life you don’t always get to say how you feel, you don’t get always get to have that moment where you freak out or explore another side of yourself.  Finally, i get to do that a bit in my work.

 

  1. What do you respect in a creative collaboration?

 What is so great about collaborating is that everyone has different talents.  Working with Conrad was awesome because he is a trained musician with sooo much experience and he’s really good with recording and computers.  I’m really not the best with computers!  He would have ideas about instruments to use or the tempo of the song that I would have never heard or thought of, but when we added a musical line or changed the tempo that song became this new thing that was so perfect.  It’s so fun to have someone to bounce ideas off of and it’s so fun to have someone to share in the joy of making a song.  I also trust Conrad and his ear and his judgment.  I think trust is important.  He’s not going to lie to me if he doesn’t like a lyric or doesn’t think something sounds right.  In theatre, If I’m on stage working with a director i need to know that the director is going to be honest about what is coming across to the audience and not just say, “that was great!”

 

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