Tag Archives: theatre

THE WORLD IS (ROUND) WIDE ENOUGH

 

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Honestly if I hadn’t seen Hamilton last night there possibly could have been an unconscious cloud-shaped vapor lingering over me the rest of my life. Honestly as a person-of-the-theatre or even just as a New York pedestrian I was starting to feel like something was gravely wrong – and it was – I was totally missing out.

 

Good news is that this little New York ant (me) is now one of the many masses who rounded onto West 46th street in order to SEE HAMILTON! When I was in line I really felt like part of a super-organism or something…

 

First thing you should know about this rendition of events is that I am a lottery cynic. Know that this arises from a history of lottery losses. The last time I was enlisted to buy lotto tickets, on behalf of a brother, I reported back that I’d self-checked them at the convenience store machine. Instead of ‘success!’ I’d regurgitated the “You Are Not A Winner” that had streamed through my consciousness 15 times. Needless to say I don’t like revisiting that sensation – yoga mantras are more highly recommended!

 

So as I was mulling over some new headshots and planning a night of reading plays and potential monologue finding/learning and maybe even some non-dairy ice cream devouring… I got a text from a, now proven loyal, friend named D’ariel Barnard

 

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Dear D’ariel had played the online Hamilton lottery a steady 6 weeks before finally arriving at the 2 tickets that got us in the door yesterday evening.

 

As I tracked the leader’s footsteps towards our seats I was in a bit of eerily silent shock due to the marching to Broadway on such short notice having not expected to be ‘in the room where it happens’. As soon as I breathed in the space, however, I began to realize what a pleasure this was going to be. The set is simple, yet intricate with its warm brick walls, strong wooden beams, connecting ropes and mysterious entranceways along its parameters. “Such a large, mobile cast must require this,” I thought before seeing any action.

 

I turned off my cell phone… YES to turning off cell phones in theatres people…

 

The action began and what struck me most, apart from the obvious talent on stage, was the revealing of these historical figures as flesh and blood before my very eyes. The strength of the relationships the Hamilton cast creates on stage is really astounding. Each human interaction stands on it’s own very specific terms. In that sense I began to see what might have been in the hearts and imaginings of the daunting faces that I might normally only glance at when forking over United States’ minted paper for some groceries at my local bodega…

 

What unexpectedly touched me most, I think, in this well-oiled musical has to be the vulnerability of the antagonist Aaron Burr (Sydney James Harcourt). In the intermission I found myself confessing that Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) was so easy to root for. I was with him every step of the way as he climbed the ladder and got Washington in his pocket. I rooted for his relationships to resolve themselves peacefully. I empathized with his conflicting emotions at every turn in his life. It is odd, however, that the character whose actions I couldn’t forgive (he antagonizes Alexander Hamilton the most) turned out to be the character I felt the most compassion for – Aaron Burr. Isn’t that odd?

 

I thought about why and I now know that it has to do with what Burr discovered through his grave mistakes. It’s interesting. Burr discovers something Hamilton inherently knew, something the other characters grappled with but overcame… that the world is wide enough. Any actor in an audition room shuffles through it, any young professional intern in a boardroom meeting seethes through it, any little New York ant waiting in the box office line knows it – it’s an oh so familiar competition with people placed in a similar position and often striving for a similar widget…

 

The play reminded me to strive for what Burr longed for in his ‘private moments made public’… to choose love more. I’m sure it’s hiding within those uniquely competitive relationships where I least expected it. It got me wondering along with Burr – what if he’d thrived on harnessing those competitive relationships?

 

Hamilton’s got me feeling small, or rather, unexpanded. New York theatre and acting teachers have harnessed my ability to live in curiosity about the people around me – to take in all of it and carve out windows for the shoes and souls of others. In my voice class today with Julia Lenardon I had a fellow actor’s hands supporting my back so I could experience the expansion of my ribs when I breathe. What if I thought of the world more like that – good and bad resistance & healthy competition – all of it is something to push against, or release into?

 

THE WORLD IS (ROUND) WIDE ENOUGH.

 

Maybe I can incorporate that?

 

At the very least I did touch the gold paint on the wall of the Richard Rodgers Theatre before I left the front row of House Left to ground myself in reality – I was there – with a fellow little New York ant (THANKS D’ARIEL)!

 

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LOVE THY NEIGHBOR?

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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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EXAMINING GRACE a.k.a. elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action.

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Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

Questions to risk posing include when does the ‘sweet sound’ of grace become necessary… useful… inevitable… and why? How can it be ‘heard’ or ‘herded’ by people? When is it rejected… and how… and why? Where does grace come from? How is it generated? Who possesses it and can it be transferred to another? Does grace have the capacity to ‘find’, ‘unblind’ or ‘save’ another? Can grace inspire social change? These questions arise and are outlined by the famous Amazing Grace song, which is funnelled into Christopher Smith and Arthur Giron’s new musical, Amazing Grace, on Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

One manner in which grace seems to be transferred to another is through sound. I first experienced, was teased, with Chuck Cooper’s musical gifts in snippets of him singing to demonstrate a sound, an experience or a manner of singing when he taught me in my conservatory. Chuck helped me to realize (although he doesn’t know it) that singing is a valuable thing. A thing that can release and express my true voice and can connect me for better or worse to others. The problem with having been in a class with Chuck is that you don’t get to hear him sing nearly as much as one might hope for. At the risk of being biased he is the reason that I was inspired to buy a [rush!] ticket, to tell a friend, and make my way to this musical. In my pursuit I was not let down – not only is his singing superb – his storytelling is on another level – graceful – the kind that brings forth the belief that people are equal regardless of the color of their skin. Enough about Chuck – what about his character (a highlight of the musical for me)?

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It is not just sound that inspires grace in this musical… it is what the sound carries within it. It can carry unconditional love – which in the context of this musical about slavery and the subjugation of one race under another is very difficult to allow. Chuck’s character is introduced as Thomas, a slave charged with looking after the every need of John Newton (Josh Young), a rebellious, young slave trader who regularly disappoints his father Captain Newton (Tom Hewitt) and childhood love Mary Catlett (Erin Mackey).

It is not Thomas, or John’s father or Mary’s love that inspires him to use his resources and privilege to correct societal wrongs on behalf of other people. It is when he is challenged to grow beyond his own difficulties and prejudices and to face his own actions that he decides to free slaves and to look at equality among races. A true understanding of love enlightens John when Thomas forces him to confront the fact that John’s spinelessness allowed him to betray one of the only people that showed him unconditional love – to torture Thomas and abandon him. It is Pakuteh who demands John’s respect and finds it in himself to forgive John despite all odds.

What struck me most was the efficiency of resource that Pakuteh, and the other slaves, possess throughout the play as compared to the more privileged characters learning how to utilize their resources more efficiently – especially in the arena of social change. Even in the face of his own daily survival and in the face of utter cruelty Pakuteh chooses to protect, to love, to keep safe, to have dignity, to educate, to see a larger picture at every turn. Simultaneously I witnessed Mary’s Nanna (Laiona Michelle) discover that she could help the willing Mary advocate racial equality despite all fear. The stakes are so high (life or death).

Pakuteh and Nanna, when backed into a corner, choose to allow and wield their meager resources towards a long road of racial equality. It spurred the utilization of John Newton’s abundant resources and influence to begin affecting racial equality and social change. In real life John eventually joined with others in campaigning to abolish the slave trade leading towards the Slave Trade Act 1807. He also wrote the song Amazing Grace, which has been tied to anti-slavery sentiments ever since. It seemed that somewhere along the line he began to believe that grace saved a wretch like him.

It still makes me pretty upset – to trace the mistreatment of people, to glimpse at both sides of prejudice, to understand what a tool forgiveness might be in the face of ignorance – but studying the evolution of social change while enjoying a musical on Broadway is definitely my cup of tea. I was educated and enlightened too.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home…

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

This famed song, this musical, all demand a belief in a higher power. At the very least an interest in examining where grace comes from – be that a Creator (God) or a confronting of prejudices and classes. What sort of resources are actually necessary to achieve joy and peace? Who gets to judge whose misery (be it physical, mental, emotional or spiritual) is more worthy to counter a ‘life of joy and peace’?

We’ve all got our takes on what that looks like post-mortality? Watch Pakuteh and he’s got a convincing point of view towards the belief in eternal life and light. A belief that may have been transferred to John Newton – a ‘resource’/ a young person that Pakuteh chose to protect and to forgive. He forces him to remove the ‘brand’ of Thomas the slave and, not only to look at him as a human being, but also to reciprocate his consistent and powerful love.

This musical is an example of the culmination of many experiences and influences that led to the conversion of one man, John Newton, towards the belief that redeeming his wrongs on earth will lead him towards an eternal resting place, a ‘home’. The cold hard facts are that this belief led him towards action, to a feeling of grace… to affecting social change leading towards the abolition of slavery and racial equality within a system that he happened to hold privilege in. It became irrelevant that he had been convinced for a certain period of time that he had more of a right to be considered a human being than the other people surrounding him.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

Some people, and some music, just has that way about them/it that lets one unknowingly shift the light on different areas of one’s life and others’ lives – regardless of how one’s belief system or socio-economic class causes one to interact with the world.

How relevant indeed…

Oh and this was the line… OY!

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O, THE TRAGEDY!

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It is intimidating to talk about Hamlet, let alone play it, so I almost didn’t write this post. I wouldn’t have missed the Off-Broadway production though, directed by Austin Pendleton, a person I respect after having taken just a few scene study sessions with him last year. It seems, however, that I see his picture and name around town a lot in some way with almost every theatre I’ve treaded into in New York. It makes me feel that I’m walking in his footsteps along the carpets and studio floors and like he’s possibly thought all the thoughts I’m thinking now (also I know he does because he rambles about the ups and downs of his life in the theatre to make his students laugh and relate to him in class). That is partly why I wouldn’t have missed a production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet yesterday at the Classic Stage Company that involved Pendleton.

As I walked into the theatre to sit down I noticed that the set was modernized and the ceiling was draped with white flowers accented by purple light.  The play starts within a void, a ghostly father, and yet the remnants of the premature celebration of Gertrude & Claudius’ wedding remained throughout every scene distracting from the very invisible but apparent void. The flowers seem to foreshadow that by the end of the play Ophelia, played by Lisa Joyce, will remain hovering over the rest of the players at her funeral.

I was moved by this production – very moved. Perhaps I’m getting older or something (I inevitably am) but everything – all the thoughts of death lingering underneath the white wedding flowers, the beauty and frailty of every relationship in the play plagued by an underlying mistrust or ignorance of human nature… its tragedy was much more unfortunate to me this time round. In this play most of the characters are fighting for something other than love (except Ophelia) – even if their actions might be born of love and loss – it’s difficult to watch. It’s not that Claudius, or Hamlet, or Polonius or Gertrude seem to start out as bad people but eventually a series of sinister actions, revelations and inability to correct bad circumstances cloud their complex characters.

It was odd to hear Good Ol’ Bill‘s language fragmented at times. Hamlet would pause and point somewhere and think and then say something else. It’s daring to experiment with Shakespeare’s natural rhythm and many would scorn at it. I can admire an experiment with heightened text, however, only if I still understand everything that is being said and every event that is happening on stage. I was able to follow and the story was still clear to me despite the departure from a use of Shakespeare’s rhythm that generally helps me when I’m running it over myself. The language was still able to move me with metaphor and to reveal truths about the characters so I was not opposed by the experiment in this particular production.

Hamlet, played by Peter Sarsgaard, surprised me because he was the first character to bring me to tears. (I’m a sucker for grief so that immediately got me… his father dying… but there was some unsentimental, invisible thing that clutched at me too). Within the opening scene of the play I noticed that his Hamlet did not feel like a victim – or if he did he hid it. Instead, his victimhood simply resonated inside as he lashed out at the people around him. His vulnerability surfaced through cracks in his bad behavior and I pitied him – but not because I wanted to. I wanted to be angry at him for getting stuck, for not choosing love over thoughts of revenge, and for crushing Ophelia. Instead I just stared at him from the audience completely crumpled and unraveled by default. By observing Hamlet sitting like an eggshell that no one dares crack I understood Ophelia’s pain better.

I didn’t expect to like Polonius, played by Stephen Spinella, but when a character always thinks he is going to win if he does this, or does that, or reasons a little better this time, or is a little cleverer next time it starts to become humorous. I saw the frailty of a flawed character that in plotting and looking towards the best interests of his family committed actions that actually did not tend to his daughter’s real emotional needs. I couldn’t fault him for his efforts – even though they were faulty. Polonius seemed to pull the wool over his own eyes and the unintentional consequence of losing not only his daughter’s mind, but her person, seemed too great in proportion.

In relation to the ensemble I can say that they were all living in the same world, although they all had their own very different intentions, and this I enjoyed. It is the invisible work of the director to achieve this coordination! At times in the Second Act I felt the need for focus to shift more appropriately from one character to another to reveal plot points, but that goes more to timing and theatre is a live interchange where things can change from night to night – and should.

I got the sense, and this is true of most accounts of most performances, the characters will deepen during the run of the show and become more and more specific and personal. I am left with a deeply personal sense of a group of frail human beings suspended underneath the actions of the play. Even though it was Ophelia whose mind left her body before she left a world that was written to be too dark to accept her love… I craved for the petals of the flowers on the ceiling to shower down on the rest of the characters to relieve them from their own blind misfortune.

O, the tragedy!

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THE MAIDS – WIELDING SPIT INTO DIAMONDS

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DISCLAIMER: I have self-diagnosed Cate-Blanchett-ology!

FACT: I attended Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Jean Genet’s, The Maids. First in the balcony right on August 9th and next in the Orchestra left on August 12th, 2014 located at the New York City Center as part of the Lincoln Center Festival.

BONUS: During Q&A sessions I spoke with The Director of the Sydney Theatre Company, Andrew Upton, the Director, Benedict Andrews, and the cast of the play Elizabeth Debicki, Isabelle Huppert and Cate Blanchett.

Happy to report that I AM INSPIRED!

Why attend a play about murder, sex and death? Despite those themes being quite dramatic and drawing crowds through the ages, I really couldn’t resist an opportunity to watch Blanchett, an acting HERO of mine, at work!

Both Blanchett and Huppert have quite a bit of experience (and award collection) for delving into challenging material. In fact, when I prompted Andrews about what he respects most in a creative collaboration he described casting the entire ensemble because of their, “willingness to go all the way, to not be lazy, to ask big questions [and] to make big offers”.

First steps of developing the play involved the chic set design by Alice Babidge and the employing of 10 cameras to monitor it. I was intrigued, but not sold on the cameras at first. The cameras captured close ups of objects on stage, unattractive facial expressions of the actresses in moments of distress, and even the mistress’ toilet use. Debicki described the cameras as being “surveillance-ish” and that she “started to enjoy how ugly and horrible it can be to get your face really close to the mirror”.  Andrews provided a “construction on the stage” for the actresses to work around. He mentioned their effort to use the theatre to turn reality inside out and as “an interrogation of the performance… and what the piece is about”.  Once I realized how relevant the hunting out of these character’s flaws is to the society we live in, where people’s lives can be sought at the touch of a button, I warmed to the multimedia aspect of this performance.

On its surface the piece is about two sisters (Solange/Huppert and Claire/Blanchett) who work as maids for a very wealthy, and younger, Mistress/Debicki. The sisters have developed a habit of reaching a state of euphoria by role-playing the mistress and mimicking her gestures and lifestyle. They ritualistically wear her expensive clothes, make-up and jewels without her knowledge and even plot to murder her.  The mistress’ flowers became the maid’s whips to play with power when no one is looking.  By clowning around with each other in places where an onlooker might initially feel fear, disgust, anger or sadness in response to the criminal nature of the sisters’ actions the humor managed to make a theatre of over 2000 people continuously laugh!

As the characters delved deeper into the play I experienced more serious comments on society begin to unfold.  I started to care for the characters being portrayed on stage. They made me laugh so that in a moment where Claire collapses out of her role-playing game and calls for her older sister out of shame and sheer exhaustion my molecules were changed.  I felt her pain.  As an audience member I was inadvertently asked to look past the danger of empathizing with a person committing crime and to look at her human condition of suffering instead.

Andrews reminded me that, “something concrete is actually happening… these two women, these two sisters, live in insufferable conditions and are the lowest of the low. From that position… objection… humiliation and shame… from that terrible necessity, that powerlessness, they invent this ritual… this hatred for the woman that oppresses them”.

Blanchett found it important to search out truth in, not only her character’s smaller gestures, but her grand gestures as well. An example she offered is people on reality television shows, “they believe it… they’re very aware of being watched and I think that’s what we harness is that sometimes we become excessive when we think someone’s watching us”.

Naturally there was a lot of curiosity into Blanchett’s process of preparation for this role.  I’m sure I was grinning when Blanchett said she loves rehearsal because so do I!  She said, “the material and the people in the room dictate what you have to do. I don’t have any one process, it’s sort of a bastard process really, theater is a bastard form, it’s a bit of dance…musical… tragedy… comedy… pop-culture… high art, and I think it depends on the piece you’re working on what you have to do”.

It can be refreshing to know, and exciting to accept that challenge, that an actor has multiple ways into a character.  Each new character might demand something new to be discovered and exploded during the rehearsal process and then shared with the world.

In terms of the physical and emotional demands placed on an actor Blanchett assured that “actors usually do 8 shows a week and you get ‘show fit’ during the course of rehearsing, not like you’re going from a standing start”.  The actresses in this play spent 18 weeks in rehearsal in order to fully use the stage to carry out complicated and detailed physical choreography.  They run, crawl, jump, roll, spit, punch each other and have severe emotional breakdowns for a 1 hour and 45 minute show with no intermission.

“I love the way Beno [as Blanchett calls Andrews] works because as a director he’s got a very clear framework, but as he always says … if you leave the room with your first idea you’ve sort of screwed up in a way, so he’s willing for actors to throw everything at him to see what sticks”.

Andrews reflected that, “theater is the place where we can dangerously think about questions like… what is society? What is culture? What is class? What are the values?”

In a world where I am witnessing technology having the ability to remove us from human contact and emotional accountability to each other I really do appreciate a mounting of Genet’s play.  It is worth a shot at examining why Solange and Claire do what they do- whether that be what they do when no one is looking or how they change when submitting to the powers-that-be in their life.  It is interesting and requires that the actors reserve all judgment of the characters being played.  A challenge that I witnessed this ensemble meet in The Maids.

 

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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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