21 December 2009
A little while back, I found myself -- rather through the invention of necessity -- exploring the surreal in a clown performance I created and performed. Lately I've been wondering if that experience might have opened up a new avenue or two in my creativity, as I fantasize about more and more bizarre images on the stage of my mind. This is new-found. You could always describe me as a bit weird, but outright "surreality" has never been a thing I've been interested in creating, much less for the sake of itself. I love the absurd, the sublime, and am just as psyched for the opening of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus as the next guy, but using it in theatre is a terribly delicate balance. And I have been burned, many, many times before, my friends.
And yet. Yet I find myself dreaming of some particular world that's more a dreamscape than anything specific to history or the here-and-now. It's influenced by a lot of things, and may prove easily categorical, but for now it seems to me to be unique. This is not my idiom, and so I feel a little at-sea. Delighted, too, of course; otherwise why would I be returning to it again and again? I'm challenged by it. I keep looking for a story in its midst, something on which to hang my hat. Surreal or no, I can't bring myself to stick with something creatively unless I'm somehow meeting an audience halfway. So, you know: no worries there, O my vasty Audience.
The surreal or fantastic really is just an idiom, not a goal or even a path. It's become a bit elusive in recent years, as fiction in every genre has accepted everything from "science fiction" to "magical realism" into its official ranks. Things that used to be sublime are given categories and named. And I love those domesticated notions, don't get me wrong. It just makes it a bit trickier to make something to a surreal effect.
The trick, I think to making a successful yet surreal bit of art is to aim not for the "surreality." Rather, aim for a pure connection with the audience. Maybe there are glowing eyeballs replacing your old ones (to take an example from my little piece) and maybe that is really interesting to think about in an allegorical way, but what the audience is there for is a connection that allows them to identify with you and be reminded of themselves. So it's not about how cool glowing eyes are, but how they make you feel and function, and what then you do with them. Actually, more immediately and most importantly, it's about your instinctive response to them. This I think might be my favorite part of Terry Gilliam's movies -- amidst all this strange, inexplicable stuff is a continuum of watching people respond in specific ways, emotionally, instinctively. That's the scalpel of the sublime, after all. There's little-to-nothing of a cultural commonality, so you damn well better have a human one there.
How shocking that a born-and-raised U.U. like myself would find that situation appealing.
This is part of why the silent comedians were so successful within the idiom of the surreal. (And if you disagree with me about that, shut up, you're stupid.) The formula -- if you can call it that with all the pioneering they were so busy doing -- is of a low-status, accessible character getting into big trouble and struggling to win out over it all whilst incident after incident happens to her, and she has to react. We have to react, instinctively, no matter how little sense may apply to what we perceive. Heck: How much sense could it make to be watching projected shadow and light and be having a hysterical response to it? (Just as much sense as it did to have the same reaction to performers on a stage, or Plato's cave shadows, to answer my own rhetoric.) The supposedly surreal surrounds, and it's a fool's game to try and create it from nothingness. All it takes is a little nudge of people's perspective.
I may be nudging soon. We'll see. It's what my brain wants, anyway. Come along?
20 December 2009
One of the things I find interesting about the silly season is how miraculously it makes me multi-task to the point of forgetting really basic priorities. It's a little bit like how I remember skiing to be, back in my gilded youth when I skied somewhat regularly. I would get going on the up-and-down of it all, five o'clock would roll around and I'd begin to wonder why I felt dizzy and my eyes had dried up in my head. I don't forget to eat and drink around Christmas, but it's close. I was fortunate enough last week, however, to have a nice, centering ACTion Collective event to anchor me in spot for a bit. Just long enough to plant a cream pie in my merry face.
10 December 2009
Comedy is profitable. It's true. Everyone wants something different from their entertainment, and everyone's sense of humor is uniquely calibrated to some extent, but I think we can all agree that everyone feels better after a good laugh, and few people actively seek to avoid a situation in which they might be tempted toward laughter. It is possibly the most socially acceptable form of catharsis, ranking right up there with the sneeze as a fairly uncontrollable expression of release. Sure, there are "inappropriate" laughs galore, but we're generally pretty forgiving even of these . . . especially in situations in which social pressure to be moral is at a minimum. As a result, comedy is very bankable.
07 December 2009
Traditionally, we know what our Zuppa del Giorno show is going to be at least a year in advance, if not more. That seems funny to write, especially with how much I write about the process starting from nothing at the beginning of the rehearsal process. Yet both are true. We never start out with a show, and we always end up with a show, yet at least a year in advance we know what the show is going to be "about." The first would be about updated commedia traditions, the second about the Marx brothers, the third about silent film comedians, etc. One needs to know that much in advance so one can research, and plan, and gather materials for the horrifying moment when one finds oneself in an empty space without a single indication of where to go next, surrounded by folk who have as little clue (and at least as much anxiety) as you do.
- Mummer's (or guiser's) Play: adaptable to public spaces, most characters performed in disguise or with mask - Wikipedia link. They usually have to do with good versus evil, and involve some element of resurrection. Prepare an original show utilizing style elements; perform in a different space every time. If at ETC, in ballroom, second stage, shop, lobby, abandoned rooms, etc. Scranton, all over, including weirdness like bowling alleys. In Italy, piazzas, but also tourist spots and museums.
- Show set in a circus. I've resisted this for some time, but we really should attempt it some time. Doesn't have to be circus intensive, but can include stilt-walking and other street-theatre conducive elements.
- The Great Zuppa Murder Mystery. Classic isolated scenario, names after Scranton locales and exit signs (Lord Dunmore Throop). Either played straight, or played a la coarse theatre -- more a play about players trying to put on a murder-mystery play, but not having their act together. OR, totally meta-: a real murder is supposed to have happened during a performance of a murder-mystery play that is being put on by coarse actors who are incapable of getting anything right.
- A play about religion. I don't know -- religion is funny. Maybe a play about mythos and superstition, as well, or instead of. Zuppa's vampire play.
- Another silent show, but based in something besides silent movies. This isn't really an idea. Sorry.
- Collaborations with mixed media: visual artists, musicians, writers, dancers. The idea being that we highlight the ways in which everyone uses improvisation by performing alongside folks, united by some storytelling commonality.
- Oh and also: A really real vaudeville show (There were some plans to incorporate a significant vaudeville presence into Prohibitive Standards, but they never crystallized. - ed.). With guest artists.
01 December 2009
Dear God, do I ever hope I've written that title right.
There is something about teaching workshops that really fulfills me, and I often wonder if I would lose some of that feeling if the occasions to teach were more frequent, less special. Certainly there's a lot about regular teaching that a workshop instructor gets to be exempted from: long-term lesson plans, getting to know the students well (by which I mean, by name) and dealing with any amount of administrative concerns. The consequences, too, are mitigated by the brevity, which can also cast a bit of a glow on a workshop teacher as something new and fleeting, to be valued somehow more intensely than the teacher one sees day after day. Yeah, jeez: there's a lot of liberty in being a workshop leader. Yet the thing that gives me a sense of fulfillment more than any tricks I figure out or insights I have has more to do with the students than the class.
What's really amazing about sharing the commedia dell'arte perspective with people is watching them take it in their own way, at their own individual paces, and then suddenly run with it. That's got little to nothing to do with me, or even the material, and everything in the world to do with an individual person finding through the process a spark that lights them up. Maybe it's a moment of "I get it!", or perhaps it's one of "I give myself permission...", but whatever it may be for a given person, you can watch it happen around the classroom like popcorn. Here's where the commedia workshops and the acrobalance ones converge, in this infectious energy that spreads around in different patterns every time, but always results in more trust and bravery, and somehow, a new sense of community. It's really inspiring.
I've had a lot of experiences in the past year that have been seeming to say to me something literal and specific: Make community. That's it. There's a whole lot of different ways to do that, and I'm actively involved in a few of them, from starting up The ACTion Collective with Friend Andrew to working to stay better connected with all my friends, far and wide. Soon there'll be directing a show to add to the community-building pile, with a little luck. From the rehearsal studio to the Internet to visiting home (and other homes) it's a bit of ground to cover. I'm grateful that the small space of a couple of hours in a classroom can be part of that, too.
25 November 2009
Teenagers are not dumb.
The movie adaptation of Interview with the Vampire came out in theaters in late 1994, plopping it right into my senior year of high school, and bringing Friend Davey and I to Springfield Mall one fine day to see it. Malls, at the time, were one of the few social milieu available to us in our particular environment -- not that we ever talked to anyone there, but that was more us than the environment, I think. At any rate, Springfield was well-waned in popularity at the time, making room for the cleaner, generally fancier Fairfax Mall, so it was strange that as we were leaving the movie I thought I saw someone I knew. Thought, that is, only for a moment. Where at one moment I thought I had seen a familiar pair of eyes and a flash of radiant hair, there was nothing when I checked back. Well, that wasn't so odd. I had just spent a couple of hours in the company of some rather charismatic vampires, after all.
These kids today, with their so-called vampires, glimmering and psychic and whatnot . . .
I have zero insight into what social conditions exist for the teenagers of today. They have ten thousand methods of communicating, but who knows how well that works, unless you're one of those who is newly double-digited in age? What I do know is that it's in our teenage years that it grows imperative that we become social creatures, and that a lot of our energy is spent solely on figuring that out. Not all that long ago, a teenager wouldn't be allowed out to a movie without a guardian or chaperon of some kind, terrified as we were of the assignations that might occur. Apart from serving as a rather absolute method of birth control, I can't see that there'd be much point to such restrictions anymore -- they'll only go and render 3D avatars of themselves on 2nd Life and get on with getting to know one another as well as any teenagers could ever hope to.
"Social networking media" has changed a lot of things about our methods of communicating, though it remains to be seen if the content and intention of that communication has changed dramatically. Truth be told, it is in many ways returning us to older forms. Facebook, for example, seems like a kind of oddly tiered public forum until one considers that for years upon years the borders of social circles were similarly enforced, only by money and class instead of who you know (as though the concepts were so extricable). MySpace felt like a sort of coliseum of kill-or-be-killed customization and lecherous advertising by comparison, and Twitter is . . . uh . . . man, I still don't know what Twitter is supposed to be. It feels a bit to me like the one-liner exchanges detectives on a stake-out have, or hunters gathered around a fire, except every single person everywhere is there.
They are all public forums, and there's a mistake in supposing this is something new. An easy mistake, really, because for a long time we've all been pretty focused on privacy. There's nothing wrong with that, obviously. I like my privacy too, but all things in moderation. Time was, being entertained was a social occasion. (I'm about to blow your mind.) A theatre was the place that one would do all this stuff we're now excited to do through computers. Performers and audience alike would have all kinds of dialogue, assignations and accidental encounters. They'd chat, they'd collaborate; I'm sure some of them even occasionally tweeted. That was part of the point -- not to hollow out our private space and be polite to those around us and avoid physical contact, but to engage. We all want to engage. That's what theatre is for.
Now, I'm not going to turn this car around if you all don't start using theatre for what it's for (but give your brother back his shoe, or I will). However, I like the world much more when we're all more engaged. Going to the movies to be alone is ridiculous, in other words, and one cannot live by Netflix alone. By God, yes, please: 'blog & tweet & Xbox & make that avatar dance. It's great stuff. But also, every so often, do something to see and be seen in the flesh, because when we just seek to entertain ourselves in isolation we are little more than soulless bloodsuckers, feeding from our own veins.
I should end it there, and the girl I glimpsed outside of the movie way back in 1994 might remain a figment of our collective imaginations.
On Sunday night that girl and I did some very out-of-character things. First among these was that we were out on a Sunday night; second was that we were seeing a movie; and third was that we were seeing a hopelessly, shamelessly (and I do emphasize here the utter lack of shame) popular movie on its opening weekend. These things are bad enough anywhere, but particularly redolent with practical difficulty in New York City, so I bought tickets in advance and cased the joint to find out where the inevitable line might form, and we spared just enough time to get a little oxygen out of our bloodstreams before joining said line well in advance of the opening of the doors. It was kind of nice, actually. Everyone knew why they were there, and some of us seemed more embarrassed by it than others, but no one could judge; not really. As happens with this sort of meme, this zeitgeist, casual conversations formed amongst strangers. Is this the line for tickets, or a seat? Did they say when the doors would open? I got here just in time, I guess. Look: No one's under 25 here, and there are guys! Lots of guys!
Oh, they try hard to give us plenty of material with which to accuse, but it's true: Teenagers, they are not dumb.
19 November 2009
Theatre used to do this, you know. Theatre used to do it all, even with equivalents to the glorious orangey fireballs and computer-rendered creatures. It did it all, because it had to. It was all we had, and then just as now we liked being scared, made sad, laughing, and all the good junk in between. Somewhere up the line there started to come these other vicarious, verisimilitudinous experiences, and somewhere not too far beyond that theatre started to place a priority on distinguishing itself. By and large, I think this was good for theatre; I love exploration and a pursuit of specificity, and one of my favorite admonishments I received in college was to, damn it, find what theatre can do that no other medium can. That has served me well, and I'm still making discoveries in that vein. However, it irks me somewhat when specificity leans its way into limitation, and anyway movies do not have exclusive domain over anything having to do with entertainment, with the possible exception of having made and spent astronomical figures on it.
So: Fear. It makes for some pretty powerful catharsis. That's what all the scary movies are about, after all -- inciting some kind of visceral, emotional response from us that we somehow find comfort in (or at least afterward). As with any play or movie, the catharsis needs a good story on which to hang its hat, even if it's a very simple one (such as, mildly troubled family stays in hotel, gets stranded and violently disintegrates) and Pierce achieves that with a variety of contextual details such as slavery and impending secession, government and politics, and the strange evolution of the idea of "the media." Perhaps most satisfying, absolutely every character is changed by the events that unfold. In that sense, horror could be called a curious combination of comedy and tragedy (perhaps the eleven-fingered love child). It progresses with a comic rhythm of set-ups and deliveries, yet results in a tragic change, a horrible finality.
Then again, my favorite horror movies have that coda in which it is implied that the horror, the undeniable lack of control, is inescapable and cyclical and bound to repeat itself. Human behavior, at its most horrible. Now who wouldn't cast politicians in such a story?
18 November 2009
Now Andrew and I are feverishly collaborating to come up with a best-of-both-worlds event for December, and I am excited by the prospects. It's a somewhat dodgy time, what with being between holidays and during prime party season, so attendance may be a problem. No work is ever wasted, however. Especially when you're having a good time doing it.
11 November 2009
The ACTion Collective certainly has me thinking in some different directions these days. "What?" you ask, cautiously curious. "What? What is this 'the ACTion Collective' of which you speak?" Oh, Gentle Reader, how can I explain it? I could direct you here, here or here for mentions of the good ol' AC on this here 'blog, of course, but why do that when I can just as easily send you to...
One of the primary concerns Andrew and I were discussing that led to forming the ACTion Collective was the way in which actors end up paying for their craft. True, the more dedicated ones often get paid for practicing it, and would never consider literally paying for the privilege; would they? The sad fact is, we do. Even working professionals pay for classes (either to study, stay in practice or network), pay for memberships and pay for the various expenses related to being one's own business, always looking for new work. In fact, even when we are paid for work, many of us (certainly a majority) are taking a generous cut out from some more profitable thing we maintain between acting jobs. Thus the overall effect: we are losing money. It can be hard to enjoy your work under these conditions, much less thrive in it.
In a short five days, we will have our second event, and Andrew and I are hoping to keep a growing momentum with these events. Ultimately, we want the thing to be a bit more self-sufficient so we can have events more frequently, open it up to members to take initiative and generally get the "action" part fulfilled. To that end, we've begun discussing the possibilities for non-profit business models, as well as methods of presenting and marketing the ACTion Collective to people. And amongst those people we effectively have to "sell": actors.
This seems odd at first, but the more I think about it the more sense it makes to me. At a first glance at our fledgling organization, an actor might think, "What's the catch?" And that's at best; at worst, s/he might think, "Poppycock (or other expletive - ed.). I'll not waste my time and energy on something other than getting that part in that play / movie / commercial / showcase." We're used to being used in some way, frankly, and so focused on getting paid for something, anything we do that free stuff doesn't make much sense to us. Sometimes, we don't even value it. Because it's free. This is human behavior stuff, and actors are a really stubbornly human bunch, we are.
So, at least until we gather ourselves in the comfortable folds of some kind of reputation, for now we are examining the incentives and potential products of our homespun organization. One of the things that I really like about it (dangerous that - liking things only leads to misery when things have to change, as they inevitably do) is the intention of combining play with craft, and the balance of those two elements is something we spend a lot of time discussing. Because we can always hang out a banner that reads, "Free wine!" We'd probably get half of New York's actors to every event. Similarly, we could make that banner simply say "art," and get a tremendously interesting influx of crafts-folk. But we want it all. (We're actors.)
How do we put games into the craft, so that both combine to create synergy? How do we invite the social aspect to foster real connections between people, so that we're getting somewhere substantial with our fun? What will draw people in, both to participate and invest? What do we produce, ultimately? Fortunately, there's no shortage of ideas for events. We've also gotten a very positive verbal response from almost every person we've invited to join in on the community, and many of them have submitted ideas and requests. The great thing is, that's my main incentive. Just making some kind of contact with great people is motivating; actually getting to be involved in their work is a uniquely rewarding form of payment.
07 November 2009
26 October 2009
- It's called a "play" for a reason. (This is paraphrased from somewhere - Dario Fo, perhaps?)
- Actors need to be empowered, because much of the audition and rehearsal processes can and do (intentionally or non-) relegate the actor's craft to a low priority.
- Unlike other creative artists, actors need other people in order to act, because without them the equation isn't balanced, and the work is incomplete.
- As actors, we can instinctively be in competition with one another, but this sabotages what we want to achieve in myriad ways -- see above.
- The typical model of work-flow for a working actor largely puts him or her in the position of relying on others' decision-making for when they work and what they work on.
- An actors' work is always, always better when s/he can combine the relaxation of game-play and experimentation with the desire to work toward the most effective expression of a script, which one doesn't always have the time or permission to achieve in a necessarily short rehearsal period.
- Acting takes practice; good acting takes regular practice.
- It's fun.
- Most actors are willing to work for the sake of the work, but we must resist it in the interests of a sustainable career; being free to focus on the craft on a regular basis, without such worries, empowers us to make sure we value the rest of our efforts as we should.
- Networking is not enough; we need a community.
- Action begets action.
It's exciting work in an exciting time. At first, I was going to describe a bit of what happened, the little challenges and victories that came about, the laughs, and of course the pumpkin fudge, which doesn't sound natural but is an amazing and delightful adventure of the taste buds. But the fact is, it loses something in translation. Words will not suffice. It's not enough to hear about it, or even witness it.
To know it, you have to do it.
21 October 2009
Right here and now I can officially state that I am beginning to feel overwhelmed with theatre work. Not acting work, mind you. It is looking increasingly as though October's posts to the Aviary will not escape the single digits (again; we haven't done that since May) and though the primary culprit for that remains el jobbo del day, lots and lots of theatre work has officially chimed in on the effort to rid me of free time, with a cheery "hihowareya?!" The change is a result of a combination of factors, everything from the new phone to the approaching holidays. Not that I'm complaining, mind you, but it feels a like a drastic switch of mental state, which is generally how I've come to expect these things to occur.
12 October 2009
Since May, I have grown very accustomed to "rug burn." Although, really, in the case of silk work it is more accurately referred to as "really insidious synthetic-fiber abrasions that you don't feel at first but then, later, after the endorphins have had their say, burn-baby-burns." Imagine someone giving you an "Indian burn" with an elastic fabric, over and over again, in really creative locations on your body, and you'll have some idea. I've had to resort to the standard outfit for this work, in fact, which (it is my humble opinion) looks much better on the lady folk. And even with my elastic-coated frame, the occasional burn gets by, and this spandex-type stuff does nothing for the drops in which one's thigh is forcefully jerked away from one's pelvis by an eight-foot fall. (Batman must have bionic shoulders.) As Instructor Cody quotes and quips, "If you don't want to get hurt, take up knitting."
I love it, though, and not just for all the climbing involved (see 8/17/09). One thing that's very cool about silks is that it requires a certain understanding of manipulation that can be almost magic-like in its effect. Though it involves more conditioning and less trickery than basic acrobalance, they have in common a priority placed on technique. With acrobalance, it's about learning to draw lines of gravity straight into the ground, and pitch weights against one another into balance. In silks, it's about learning the various methods by which one can wrap oneself up and unravel, quickly, thrillingly, beautifully and safely. (Beautifully is the one I rather need work on; seems I'm genetically predisposed to NOT pointing my toes.) It's very challenging to memorize the different manipulations -- largely because they are as much manipulations of your person as of the fabric -- and my progress is slow. If I could take class with more regularity it would be going faster, but for now it's two steps forward, one step back.
Last Saturday I attended my first class without Wife Megan for company. She is deep into her yoga-certification training now, and that means every other weekend I am once again a swinging bachelor, between the hours of 9 and 5. I am, it must be admitted, the only male I have ever seen at this silks class. This is not all that surprising. Silks are graceful equipment (at least in visual effect) that require a great deal of flexibility. That and, well . . . a significant portion of the wraps and binds concern themselves with one's center of gravity. IF you know where I mean. I could be accused of pulling a high-school Home Ec. move here . . . and, okay, I'm not going to try to complain about being surrounded by athletic women. Okay? I credit us both with more intelligence than that. (Of course, I'm the one who puts his wedding tackle at risk every silks class, so...) But that's not what brought me to silks.There is something really incomparable about facing a physical and mental challenge, simultaneously. One's emotions can't help but get involved in it, yet one's emotions are often not incredibly helpful in such circumstances. One often thinks to oneself, You are some kind of *^%$(*@ idiot, you crazy stupid...where's your hand? Do you even know where your hand is right now? Not that one, the other one! whilst suspended ten feet in the air, with blood pooling within one's skull. It's great. It's great because it's just you, and you are all you've got to go on when it comes right down to it, where the rubber meets the road. Or, I suppose, where the silk meets the skin. You get scared, you get angry, you get confused -- all those things you generally try to avoid feeling. And then, quite unexpectedly, you save yourself. Maybe it was an accident. Maybe you couldn't recreate it on purpose, and you go three more classes before anything like it happens again. But eventually, you're falling, and exactly the way you're supposed to.
But you'll still get crazy rug burns.
07 October 2009
Perhaps it's all a bit misguided -- an unfortunate cycle that comes as a result of having to prove we are, in fact, actors. It can be difficult to justify oneself as an "actor," and have the average person regard that classification as something more than a description of one's favorite hobby. Even if you went to school for it, perform internationally, get paid for it on a (semi-)regular basis, there are two qualifications people look for when you make the claim of being actor. 1) Have they seen you in anything? 2) Are you working on anything right now? So yes, there's a certain compulsion there, which is awful for everyone: for you, for the work itself, and yes, even for the people you end up talking to at parties. Ever wonder why you meet so many actors who can't help but tell stories in any given conversational context, stories that invariably lead back to their life and work? This is why. It's called (by me, anyway) résumé-ing. It is obnoxious and ingrained, and a lot of the work of that ingraining is done by the very people who end up resenting it.
Ironically enough, I'm pretty sure that this technique is a terrible way of actually getting work. When it comes to getting people to think of you for projects, a much better conversational tactic for all involved is asking questions and making your side of things predominantly about responses, rather than volunteering stories. It generally makes the person one's talking to feel interesting, and encourages excitement about their interests, and as far as the conversation goes allows one to learn a thing or two to boot. This has interesting parallels to the techniques of good, interesting acting as well, in which the emphasis is on listening, reacting intuitively and making the other look good. It just adds up. It makes sense, it builds things and leads to usually pleasant surprises.
However, we all go a little mad sometimes. (For some reason madness is particularly poignant when set against the backdrop of a tea party, or other social setting.) Personally, the only way I could imagine having more regular trouble with this most basic of social concepts would be if I were genuinely socio- or psychopathic. (Commentators, please leave thy opinions on this last at the door....) Is it a troubled mental pattern on my part? Nature, or nurture? Could it simply be that I'm in the wrong damn business? Do other actors start thinking to themselves, "I'm getting to old for this crap," at age 25? And just what is it that keeps me comin' back, a'comin' comin' back?
Well, as far as character flaws go, I have a few. I'll man up to that. I'd like to think that if I was perfect, I'd be pretty boring. One such flaw is a tendency to take everything seriously (even comedy) and feel feelings very deeply. (I may have to rename the 'blog; Feeling Feelings Very Deeply has a nice sort of quasi-ironic ring to it.) I'm not saying that I am a feat of human emotion or anything like that -- I state this as a flaw. It is the bit of me that responds to arguments being had by total and complete strangers by shrinking into a speck on the spot, or the bit that could unabashedly cry over seeing an overweight person unable to sit on the subway. And, as evidenced on March 12, 2009, this little personality quirk comes out in full force when it comes to anything related to casting. In that instance, it didn't even occur to me to hold my ground in responding to RunningGirl. From start to end, I was ruled by emotion.
There's a commonality here. The typical actor neurosis and my personal neurosis both stem from continual feelings of inadequacy. Now, sure, many people would never admit this as a cause of their résumé-ing behavior, if in fact they could even recognize the résumé-ing (it's a turn of phrase that will sweep the nation). How can we have such awesome stories if we're inadequate? Plus, where do we lay the blame of causation? Our feelings, or the social aspects and stigmas that encourage those feelings? The very questions involved are enough to make anyone feel a bit inadequate, if over nothing else than over our ability to understand ourselves.
I've gone a bit mad just contemplating it.
28 September 2009
Those of you who follow me like hawks on Twitter (the many, many people who are all up in my @AcroRaven junk) know that I found a convenient excuse to make the plunge into so-called smart-phone territory. I coyly tweeted from the purchase, "no, not THAT smartphone," thereby piquing the curiosity of the entire nation. Well, Nation (I will someday be Colbert's body double), peek at this. That's what I done and got myself. And so far, I'm pretty happy about it.
Ironically enough, it's actually a much better phone-phone than the last I had. The sound quality's better, the overall ergonomics: entirely better. So I feel non-silly about that. And I have to admit that the purchase has me on some much better habits of communication so far. Something about being alerted to incoming emails keeps me vigilant about sending them back out, and that leads to better communication and more things getting done. It also lends itself to more things being on my plate at a time, of course, but that's rather what I was asking for when I joined this technological demographic, idn't it? That and, naturally, endless Sudoku puzzles.
Friend Sarah and I have occasionally exchanged emails about a collaborative theatre project that addresses information and communication technologies and what effects they've had on our behavior. The irony of this is that Sarah lives in San Diego, and frankly the only reason we can begin to contemplate such a collaboration is because of the devices that have developed in the past five years for exactly this type of communication. I have a rather love/hate relationship with the new forms, particularly with regard to how they've influenced theatre, but there's no escaping their relevance. We can outright deny them, sure, and there's value in that approach, but frankly I'm enamored of them all. The prospects of Google Wave are exciting to me, I must confess. Would I rather sit in the same room as people, read their faces and experience their energy (or be aware of a lack of it) first hand? Yes, a thousand times. Yet I also get a charge out of being connected to friends and collaborators in Pennsylvania, California and the United Kingdom.
Now I am a giant leap closer to being entirely plugged in to the "ambient awareness" of which so many write. I can let anyone who may be listening know where I am and what I'm doing in great detail at the very moment of my existence. I've done a bit of this, but frankly, I can;t keep up the way others do. If I tweeted and Facebooked-it as much as others, I'm not sure I'd actually be accomplishing anything else. Yet many do, and I suppose I envy them a bit. perhaps I'll get better at this whole thing with time, but I'm not certain that I want to get better at it. I rather like having this many choices about how I communicate with folks, but the choice itself is defeated if it gets to the point at which I'm serving the mode, rather than the mode serving me. So in spite of my recent acquisition, people will still be hearing from me in person quite a bit. In fact, I rather miss the days when it was a little more socially acceptable to show up at a friend's door. Now such a surprise would be considered rather creepy by all sorts of otherwise friendly and open people.
I know someone who had this advice for his child upon her moving to New York: YCNYDLNYCY. That translates into, "You change New York; don't let New York change you." (I wonder if he ever sent this advice via text?) It's a fairly inspiring bit of caring wisdom, and can easily be applied to all sorts of information-technology applications. (I'm tempted to type YCHTMLDLHTMLCY [and so I have] but I don't really know what I'd be saying with it.) It's impossible to deny, however, that the relationships in any case are utterly reciprocal, if not nigh symbiotic. We can't change anything without it changing us right back, and we're not adrift in a world that is rapidly dehumanizing us, nor one that is creating splendid multi-cultural interconnectedness, either. As thinking, feeling, viscerally connected creatures, we are engaged in this dialogue and responsible for every aspect of it. I embrace that, to my modest capability, and with a little luck it will help me to create with a little more truth, a little more connection.
K thx bai.
25 September 2009
21 September 2009
This weekend past I had the opportunity to see two shows, which inevitably invites comparison. One was rather modest in scale, the other a hugely financed Broadway play, transplanted from London. Now, these are not forces I consider to be in any sort of opposition to one another. Are Broadway shows a threat to regional theatre? God, no. Does regional theatre stand for some kind of principle against big-budget shows? Nope. So why am I writing about them together? What on earth could the Electric Theatre Company's production of The Dining Room have to do with Donmar Warehouse's of Hamlet?
Apart from both plays dealing with the passing of a way of life in some larger sense, very little. My comparison comes from a feeling of renewed appreciation for more intimate theatrical settings. It's very convenient, of course, for me to favor smaller theatres. ETC is where I do most of my work, after all, with its 99ish seats and relatively low-ceilinged performance space. Amor fati, as they say. Yet my appreciation of the venue in general goes beyond that, to much more objective criteria. I have to admit that the budgets are paper thin, the productions can be rocky and unrewarding as often as they are surprisingly professional and transportive -- this is the smaller theatre. Nothing is tried and true, not even the occasional Neil Simon imperative. I even love circus, and would like nothing more than to rig up ETC with trapezes and silks and slides, and it ain't gonna happen any time soon. Broadway can do that. I've seen it. Broadway can spend thousands of dollars on textured paint alone.
I am not saying that a theatre being small in scale or structure is a virtue unto itself. The theatre created there still needs to be and do good for its community, and certainly Broadway has to power to influence a far greater (in size, that is) community than any regional outfit. However, comparing these close experiences have allowed me to formulate a theory of which I'm fond. It's widely proposed that live theatre is dead or dying, and I can see many an example to support this belief. I don't believe it, personally, because I believe live theatre will always exist for humanity in some form or other as a part of what defines it. (That, and because I remain unmoved by the argument that "fiscally nonviable" equates to death.) However, there's little use in denying that theatre is rather unappreciated by the majority, at least as compared to its former glories. It is sad, for those of us who love and respect it, to see that our love is rare, but rare it is. We'll always be engaged in some degree of uphill battle to let theatre live. I acknowledge that struggle, the Sisyphean CPR, if you will.
Here is my theory: In this state of affairs -- and I doubt very much this is the first time theatre has had to widely fight for its right to party -- what matters most, what makes the most difference and does the best things for people, is so-called small theatre. There is where you'll feel your life changed. There is where a show fulfills its full potential, and where the dialogue really matters to all involved. Yes, there's every possibility that you'll be bored out of your mind or not believe in a moment of it, and that horrible risk is not levied at all by spectacular effects or the relative proximity of movie stars. But if you remember what it feels like to be opened up by a story, if you weigh the risk against the possibility, small theatre is the best bet. The possibilities in a space of a hundred or so are thousands of times greater than in a space of thousands. There is no small act of theatre, only small responses to it. In short (har har), small theatre is really, really damn important.
I'm thrilled to realize that.
14 September 2009
The industrial involved trekking out to Trenton and lingering in a parking lot behind a strip mall for most of the day. There Lancer had constructed a bus accident, hired on a couple of other actors, plus a group of their own employees to play passengers. I was fortunate enough to recommend one of the actors, Jason Carden, and so I had something really cool to do with the inevitably ample down time: chew the fat with a friend from college. To my great surprise, the other actor there was one Jason Griffin -- with whom I had worked on a completely other industrial, gained through completely other means, with no discernible connection. (To my even greater surprise, I actually recognized him.) The shoot involved a long period of waiting, followed by a short period of very brisk, camera-in-hand shooting. As I mulled over my position as an insurance adjuster, I thought how similar a position he's in at such a scene. He arrives at something that's a really big deal for others, where the stakes are high, yet is expected to make rational decisions and, ultimately, it's just another day's work for him.
It shouldn't be all that difficult, bringing together the work we do out of love and that we do out of necessity. I'm inclined to believe, in fact, that the separation is not only artificial, but of our own making. Subconsciously, perhaps, I like having the two separate, because it makes me inner world simpler to imagine acting as more pure, money-making as more virtuous by merit of it involving discipline. If you asked me, of course I'd say immediately that I'd like the two together, please. But just maybe some part of me has an interest in preserving that dichotomy. My hope is that acknowledging that possibility is a help in learning to overcome it a bit more.
Because buses or the colonization of Australia, gratis or paid, I really do love this work.
11 September 2009
Of course I can't say for certain, but I'd wager that any artist living in and around New York City on September 11, 2001, has lingering effects in his or her work thereafter. You wouldn't have to actively explore the issues or circumstances, or even the relevant emotions, to exhibit this influence. No, I see it coming out in myriad little ways too, without our even trying. Of course, many do try. Friend Kate often did in her work with Kirkos, but particularly in the last full-length piece she created with them/us, Requiem. Directly or indirectly, we all had a profound personal experience, and we all keep returning to it in the hopes of making a little more sense of it . . . or at least of ourselves, afterward.
I have never quite tackled it head-on in my work. I did some agit-prop theatre that referenced the following war in Iraq, and I wrote a bit on it, even going so far as to start a play all about three people's personal lives leading up to the big day. (I still plan to return to that someday; feel it was a bit too big for me at the time.) I even fantasized a little choreography for a dance about it, and I am in no way a choreographer of dance. In fact, it's interesting to me that I took my creativity over the tragedy into dance, if but in my mind. I think there's a reason for that. I'm not sure, but it may say something about how abstract it felt at the time, unknowable -- just a series of visceral experiences that couldn't be ordered into anything particularly narrative or thematic. It felt, and I suppose it still feels rather, like an experience not meant to be understood.