27 April 2007

Life Goes Easy on Me

Most of the time.

O, Damien Rice! How you go with a rainy day! I suppose the weather in Ireland is often thus. There's something about the persistence of this rain of late that actually makes me uplifted, rather than downtrodden, which I take to be the typical reaction to such gray pitter and patter. Perhaps I'm enjoying the feeling of self-contained intimacy it produces just now. Or maybe it's just that it's a Friday.

Last night some friends came from (way) out of town to see Todd and I in the show, and it was great to have them there. They had to book it back to the sticks (read: Scranton), so it was mostly the cast for an after-show snack and drink. We returned to La Lanterna, which I dreaded (love the place, hate its popularity) but it was surprisingly vacant and we got a table with space around it, out in their sheltered garden. I was taking it easy after the night previous--when I had three friends I rarely see and dearly love to go out with and people got happy about treating others to libation (Mr. Schoffler, I'm looking in your direction)--and somehow was quite relaxed for the first time in such a post-ALotM scenario.

And it was commented upon. Not directly, mind you. Them what had something to say about it didn't really understand what they were seeing. Their comments were along the lines of, "You look different somehow, Jeff." "I really like that sweater." "Could you do me, right here and now?"

Okay, okay. I made that last one up. My point, however, is not to self-aggrandize. Well, only a little. The main thrust of my bragging is to say it helped me realize what a fool I've been. Not that I necessarily could have helped it. But still. My fellow castmates had no idea who I was under normal circumstances, because I never once relaxed around them in this whole process. Moreover, the two of them I worked with the year prior probably had very little idea either. My tension, self-conflict, whatever it is, isn't particular to this show. It's been around for quite a while. On the rare occasion when I can release myself from it, it makes me more relaxed and everyone around me generally happier.

So wherefore the persistence of this trait? Well, that may take a while for yours truly to truly figure out. I am reminded, however, of a comment left on this very 'blog (see 2/5/07) regarding my life-long admiration of a certain black-clad vigilante. I can't say I'll cease to worship angst-ridden comicbook characters with an unhealthy devotion, but maybe I could ease off on the inner-conflict quotient in my real life. Just a little.

Just as soon as it stops raining.

26 April 2007

Strum and Dang

Is this a hangnail bugging me, and
if that's the case
in which case will the frumious
blundersnatch hide his self?
This is not my beautiful house. How did I get here?

Am I writing poetry?

And if so,
what's the equation I would balance?
Is all I have questions?
My intonation can't always escalate,
Can it? You'd read this and know my mind.
I'll write it with time out of mind
and knowledge will be a whisper never breathed.

"I grow old, I grow old,
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled."

Nonsense and broken quotations flock about my brain,
a parliament of rooks,
an unkindness of ravens,
a murder of crows,
flapping and cawing for my leavened attention.
I'm walking silent halls with a noisy mind
and all I can find on the two endless walls
are the stenciled words of others.
Is this the way the world ends? Not with a harangue,
But a simper?

"I beg of you, have patience with all that remains unresolved in your heart..."
Prose, now, too? Enough! Enow! E'en now!

Some days a little nonsense is all that can be said about one's life. To paraphrase Fight Club: We're a generation of children raised on Dr. Seuss. I'm beginning to wonder if another poet is really the answer.

25 April 2007

Critical Mass

"I have of late, though wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth. Foregone all custom of exercises, and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame the earth seems to me a sterile promontory. This most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave, o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire . . . why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours!"

Any errors in quotation are my fault, done from memory.

I wonder what kind of reviews Hamlet got in the days of its first revival. "Something's rotten in the state of Denmark, and mostly it has to do with the direction by Forsythe B. Fmythe . . .." A Lie of the Mind closes this week, and we got several reviews, but none by major players as far as I know. In fact, we had two from theatre websites, and three from weblogs. None from printed publications, as far as I've heard. And, of course, countless reviews from friends and enemies alike. On the whole, very positive reviews. The best of us got some excellent praise, and most of the harsher critique came of Shepard's script or staging and budget issues difficult to change.

However. How. Ever. I have never counted myself amongst "the best of us" in this show, and in fact had some trepidation early on that I may have been the weakest link--goodbye! The entire group is among the most supportive I have ever had the pleasure of working with, so I got by with my uncertainty and frustrations. Then came my reviews. "...vibrant, but relatively unadventurous..." "difficult time tapping into the vulnerability" "overdone frustration" "seems as though this cast often does all it can to ignore these cues and idle until a scene change frees them from their stasis" And of course a good deal of my friends had nothing but good things to say, and I thank them profoundly. I should thank the ones who have had more critical things to say, too . . . and I do. But these critical reviews have culminated for me, and I am left with questions I need answers to. At first I simply hated myself, and it showed in my performances, I'm ashamed to admit. So questions are welcome, even if doubt inspires them more than curiosity.

If I had to sum up the critical response to my work in this show, I suppose it would have something to do with being too mannered (a common blight of practicing so much physical theatre) yet at once a bit mild, or incapable of accessing that spark of passion so essential to Shepard. To put it bluntly, unbelievable and dull.


Okay, so . . . I'm going to assume from the get-go that I'm not the world's worst actor. That's a good place to start, as it circumvents the otherwise requisite removal of my own eyes with this letter opener, Oedipus-like. So: not the worst. I mean, I've been at this for some time now. Someone would have told me . . . and even if they wouldn't, I know I've worked with worse than me. That having been established, I have to tackle some cause-and-effect. This is tricky territory, as it is essentially excuse hunting. I need to be sure to slay all that what might delude me, and capture that reason most true.

Maybe I just don't relate to the play/Shepard in any kind of helpful way.
Tempting, but no. That excuses having to work extra hard to do a good job, not doing an actual bad one.
Maybe I'm sabotaged by my physical theatre practice.
Less tempting; and maybe I'm just kidding myself here, but it seems to me they should feed one another nicely, and it's not like I'm never in naturalistic plays. In the past year I've done two contemporary plays, dramatic and comic.
Maybe getting older is draining some of my capacity for creativity.
Some people are going to be up in arms over this one, I know already. Nevertheless, I find validity in it. It goes at different rates for different people, but wonder is generally a more precious commodity in older ages, and it takes wonder to be creative. Then again, I invented a whole routine out of getting out the backseat of Heather's car last weekend, so perhaps not.
Maybe being an actor is not what I need right now.

Huh. Could be something to that. At the risk of sounding fairly self-defeating, perhaps the reason I lack luster is that my needs are not being altogether met. I don't mean that in a blame-shifting sort of way; rather, I mean to take responsibility for diagnosing and then fulfilling my own needs. It is not something for which I am historically famous, this actor-heal-thyself behavior. All the more reason to take the idea seriously.

Of course, there is also the possibility that my work in A Lie of the Mind has been very good indeed, and simply lacked good, expressed opinion. It's possible. It's probable that I should just work to please myself--not to the deficit of the audience, but to a high personal standard of constant improvement. I try to do this. It's hard to adhere to, particularly in such a spectator/commentator sport, and especially when you've seen so many examples of actors who seem so blissfully ignorant of just how terrible their work is. The temptation there is to believe your negative feedback to be absolute in its truth, to accept the verdict that you are one of the failed and undeserving. Yet I continue to try to do good work. Why? The show must go on.

Also: The readiness is all.

24 April 2007

Holler if you Hear Me

I just want to give a shout-out to my peeps.

Actually, I hate Peeps(TM). They're just glorified puffed sugar, like diabetes-inducing rice cakes. But I know some people who love the Peeps(r), and I love the people who love the Peeps(patent pending) so, ergo, ipso facto, I love the Peeps(k) too, and must shout it out unto them. This entry, thus, is for ma' Peeps.

Some of y'all (most of my peeps hail from Virginia [though Northern {which was going to secede just like West, until they realized they had no natural resources}]) may have wondered where the Aviary went for the past three days. Some, in fact, may have panicked, and I offer my most profound apologies to just those panicky some. It's all right. It's okay. You can cry without shame, and I will hold you just as long as you need to be held. Maybe a little longer. Why not? No one's looking. And maybe, if that's too warm for you, you can just go ahead and take your shirt off. That's cool. We're just friends hugging here. And if that hug gets a little rubby, you know, if the, fingers get curious and the breathing gets throaty, hey--

Whoa. Where was I going with that? Oh right: Jail. For lewd 'blogostomy.

Where have I been? Well, I was ill. Again. Yeah. Thas' right. Because I rule so bad. There are aspects of my reputation as a performer that I quite enjoy, such as being unerringly punctual (unless I miss rehearsal altogether, eh, TPers?) and always having some outlandishly overwrought physical choice to contribute. The one I'd just as soon not have continue, however, is my proclivity for infection during the course of a show. I was wicked good at that in college (starring in The Three Musketeers with a swollen throat and fever of 102) and thought I had whipped it (whipped it good) in the early years of my adulthood, but the past year+ now has brought the return of the leprous liturgist. This time it was a head cold that fell into my throat, which created the intriguing aspect of never knowing if my voice would go out in the middle of A Lie of the Mind last weekend.

Owing to how we've staged the show, with cross-fades in lieu of blackouts, after the act break I end up lying mostly motionless on my side on a box for about twenty minutes at the top of our Act II (Shepard's Act III) before being suddenly woken to proclaim a somewhat lengthy monologue. Well, last weekend it was always a crap-shoot whether or not I'd have any voice whatsoever after my little silent nap. The worst was Friday night. I sat up and started talking, and it was like trying to rattle a piece of papyrus, my larynx had gone so brittle. I made it, thankfully. In fact, I got some compliments on how effectively I played the character's fever. Which I took. What? That's valid.

The other thing is, I plowed through my congestion to take yet another trip out to the sticks. Or, as it is more commonly known to those what live there, Scranton, Pennsylvania--home to all things Northeast-Theatre-like. I was there to go on a sort of first date. Zuppa del Giorno is beginning to collaborate with a few community groups for our upcoming projects, among them Marywood University and the Scranton State School for the Deaf. We were to attend a rehearsal for the latter's production of Grease, and while there show them a little something of what we do, too.

Yes: Grease. Yes: School for the deaf. I recognize that this smacks of a really poor set-up for some even worse punchlines. Such is not my intention, however, as the high schoolers we met that day probably have gone right out and found every single website associated with us they could. Gang, if you're reading, I can only hope I half rocked your world like you rocked mine.

As it was going to be just Heather Stuart and I to perform our half of the bargain, we planned to do our clown piece, "Death + a Maiden," and had to allot time to refresh it before unveiling its silly splendor for what we imagined to be culturally jaded teenagers. We had the theatre to ourselves, and that is a fairly big space. Well, huge from a struggling New York actor standpoint. I was reminded, between gasping for air without the use of my nose and chugging Alka-Seltzer Cold concoctions, of the sacredness of space for a performer. As Heather and I struggled to feel our roles again, to polish our beats 'til they shined like the top of the Chrysler Building, I thought of how it would be yet four more months until Zuppa rode out our new debut, and wondered what work lay before us.

Heather, as I have mentioned previously, has moved out to Scranton, and before we took to the stage of the deaf I got my first look at her new place. It's really nice; idyllic, in a Benny and Joon kind of way. The entire time I was there, she and David Zarko cracked jokes about how long I was going to wait before caving and moving out there myself. It's hard to say if they had any idea how much I'd thought about it in recent months. Still, their jokes peppered my appetite for New York adventures in a very appetizing way. Just tonight I was out past my bedtime, catching a mixed bag of short plays. How I would miss that sort of thing.

Before we even met the students at the Scranton School I felt simultaneously like I was dreaming and like I had returned to Italy. Obviously, all the faculty there use sign language. Not so obvious is who amongst them can speak as well. As in Italy, I found myself having to remind myself to look to the person being translated, rather than the translator, and as in a dream I began to sense the sense of a language and culture I had virtually no exposure to prior to the moment. It was a matter of only seconds before my mind began making connections and understanding the tone of some of what was being "said," if none of the words or symbols used. That would have been fascinating enough, but we were there to the meet actors who were native to that country.

In a gymnasium with a stage built into one end we met about twenty young actors and technicians who couldn't hear a word we said. Our introductions and conversation all flowed through the hands and lips of a translator or, often, several, as others "mirrored" what was being said in order for everyone to get what was being said. There were still kids more interested in what they had to say at the moment than what the class was discussing (one I think I even caught making something of a dirty joke with his pals) but in this context such side conversations were easy to let be . . . one just kept his eyes on the ball. Like all first dates, it was awkward at first. It was funny, actually. No one was quite sure what he or she was doing there, or what the other wanted from them. Eventually we determined that the home team would show their stuff first, so they brought us chairs as we sat back to see a scene from Grease.

Five girls played the sleepover scene, and broke into gesticulated song with "Frankie my Darling." ("Frankie my Love"? I don't know. I don't know Grease. Or sign language, for that matter.) There was no music--they were still working on getting their speakers rigged to vibrate the stage so the actors could feel the beat--but somehow the actors kept in perfect sync with one another. As they signed, a translator spoke, always about a beat or two behind their delivery. By the end of the scene, we weren't laughing at the translated lines, but at the delivery, silent and as literally inexplicable as could be, simply because we understood the characters and their feelings based on the acting and, somehow, the tone of the signing. Actually, it was some of the most naturalistic acting I have seen from high schoolers, and I wonder how much of that has to do with their living first and foremost in a physical language.

When they finished the scene, we applauded. There was an awkward silence. I mean, even hands were silent. We didn't know what was to come next; but I asked a question. Did they begin with a table reading, as we usually do? From this the actress playing Sandy launched into an explanation about how English is a kind of second language to them, signing being the first, and that there's no direct translation between the two. After all, it isn't like sign language evolved from a romantic or Latin-based language. It is its own entity, and so any time a script is performed in it, the whole thing doesn't just have to be translated, but transliterated. The interpretation an actor must perform begins at the level of the very language they choose, and thus there's an added dimension of reaching agreement between everyone in their understanding of the script. We asked them if they ever improvised, and had to spend some time explaining the very concept to them, so Zuppa may end up really giving them something different.

Finally, we took the stage with our little clown piece, and I was nervous as can be. Would they get it? Would they be insulted by the noses, or the style? Would the piece hang together without their hearing the music, getting the auditory jokes? At first it was silent. My entrance as a red-nosed Death usually elicits a healthy chuckle, but not this time, and I suddenly wondered how laughter came out of people unaccustomed to using sounds to communicate. Would I recognize it?

I did. Shortly after my entrance, I took an illustrative swing with my plastic scythe and the handle bent, hinging the blade back on itself cartoonishly for an instant before straightening out again. The laughter was some of the sweetest I've ever heard. From there in we were all set. They laughed at our courtship--an interesting parallel, the first-date scenario realized within a first date--and oo-ed at the acrobalance. When we finished, they clapped and we took our bows. There was a very brief question-and-answer session, akin to those following matinée performances at the theatre, in which one gets the impression everyone there is much more interested in lunch than information. But then class was dismissed, and every student came forward to shake our hands. When they saw we were not in a rush to go, they flooded us (in a necessarily one-at-a-time fashion) with questions. One boy said he loved "this clown stuff" and wanted to know if we'd teach him. One wanted to know if we'd be back the next day. One wanted to know if my character knew his kiss would kill the girl before he did it.

I can't wait to work with these kids again. Zuppa's becoming a sort of incorporation of different communities, and it's an exciting prospect. We speak of commedia dell'arte being a living tradition in our shows and workshops, and now it seems we're paying the tradition back a little for all the life it's given us. So let this entry be a shout-out to all the people who've supported Zuppa del Giorno along the way. And to our new friends at the Scranton State School, I raise the roof. You guys can teach me a cooler gesture when we work together in the fall.


Can work be so tense

That there is no time for 'blog?

The pencil tip snaps.

21 April 2007

Candid Lies

Yesterday I completed a New York Magazine crossword puzzle in a single subway ride home, a total of 45 minutes. Theatre artists are not stupid. Then I saw the gallery of our photoshoot and had to reevaluate that position...

18 April 2007

I Kicked a Boy

And I may do it again!

Many of you who are regular perusers of my 'blogination also occasionally jaunt over to my friends' (yes--I have more than one) journals, just to mix things up a bit, or see if I only hang out with people who use equally pretentious vocabulary. In case you don't generally do this, I refer you to Friend Nat's latest 'blog entry for a little context. Nat, take it away: Everybody do the Wilhelm Scream.

Didja read it? Huh? Didja didja didja? 'Cause if you didn't, the rest of this will make less sense to you.

I have to own up to the fact that I get excited when I hang out with people with whom I feel I can really be myself. This excitement, more often than not, comes out in physical expression. (Minds: There's a ladder out of this gutter, I swear.) Now. I'm accustomed these days to channeling that particular enthusiasm into circus work. That's just what I get up to, physically speaking, most often, and it turns out I feel very free amongst circus freaks (by which I mean people freakishly into circus, not so much flipper babies and Siamese twins). It has also become increasingly apparent that I am losing some distinction between circus folk and ordinary Joes. Oftentimes in rehearsal for one thing or another, I'll just stop myself from leaping onto someone's back, hearing that voice in my head just in the nick of tick that chimes reasonably in to say, "Hey there, Sparky . . . that 90-pound girl might not necessarily be capable of sustaining your weight. She might, in fact, be a little surprised by having her ribcage summarily flattened for no apparent reason. And anyway, you're rehearsing A Doll's House. 'Smatter whitchoo?"

Similarly, I really didn't get enough time hanging with males when I was growing up. Somewhere around age eight or nine I kind of gave up on it as a lost cause, not understanding the priorities of sports and derision, and being as I was (am?)--admittedly--an insecure little bugger. I've been making up for lost time in that regard, and that translates to violence. Well, it does! I can't help it! All guys do this, to some extent. Here's your movie quote: "Why is it that when men play, they always play at killing each other?" Fight Club (not the source of that quote) was actually quite vindicating for me, expressing this need in a very sincere, albeit ultimately sociopathic, manner. Hell, Friend Mark and I spent a couple of seasons prescribing to the Fight Club ethos a bit, because we appreciated it so much. Sometimes to this day, one of us will spontaneously punch the other--really, really hard--and say matter-of-fact-ly: "Conditioning."

Add to that a little greasing by America's oldest brewery, and, uh, well . . .

So the moral of the story is, nobody male should hang out with me without wearing protective gear. And if you have to rehearse with me, do some push-ups, for God's sake, because I might decide Masha really ought to carry Dmitri to Moscow herself. And I'm not saying I kick ass here, at all. It's not anything to do with pride in my skills, rather with shame over my irrepressible urge to kill everyone. That's nothing to celebrate.

Still and all. I did kick a six-foot-something guy in the head.

I'm just saying.

17 April 2007

Tittering over the Taxing Toil

Dewds, oh my dewds: The taxes are done. Let there be much rejoicing.

That is to say, my taxes are finally done, and without the standard, combined period of days spent fretting over how they could possibly be so much, or how my computer could break down in the middle of them, or anything. Which makes me highly suspicious. Does this bode ill farther down the line? Can such ease of filing and abundance (HA!) of funds to pay city, state and country be merely indicative of some fatal error that will summon unto me the Gods of Audit some time in July? My suspicions, however, are at present overwhelmed by relief.

Not that the rest of the world has relaxed yet. In fact, there will be scattered days of panic, as though ripples through an otherwise still pool of fiscal calm, owing to the fact that the recent "nor'easter" has allowed for some (not all) an extension of time to file. This affects me, believe it or not, because my boss' clients (at il dayjobo) will have a few more days of manic question-asking. But I am done, and it is sweet.

We (I'm presuming a lot here [for a change] to include absolutely every human being) spend a lot of our time too busy to find comedy in life. I don't know if it's the relief of getting my taxes done (and laundry--simultaneously--and for my next trick...), the recent demise of Kurt Vonnegut ("Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.") or simply gearing up for more work with Zuppa del Giorno, but this seems like a really awful crime to inflict upon oneself, this refutation of laughter for the sake of efficiency or accomplishment.

And lo, in one fell swoop he simultaneously achieves hypocrisy, condescension and over stating the obvious! I am such the multi-tasker this week.

I mean it, nevertheless. Sometimes I get a little fed up with performing comedy, and begin to listen to those who claim (literally or suggestively) that comedy is fun, sure, but hardly important. Au contraire, you bastards. I argue it's one of the most necessary and noble of pursuits, both in terms of creating it and experiencing it. Further (you bastards), it's just as much a talent to be able to live in humor as it is to create it. I am blown away by people who can laugh at almost anything, and really feel it. I mean, given the wrong circumstances, sure: I want to eat their jugular vein without chewing; but more often than not such circumstances have more to do with my inability to laugh than with laughter really being inappropriate.

Because almost everything that is of a daily nature is funny. Historical events, geopolitical movements, cosmic uncertainties . . . not necessarily rich with chuckles, I'll admit. But even in these arenas there hides the secret giggle, and when it comes to just getting your key into the lock of your front door . . . well, you could spend days mining such comic richness. It's exciting to me, this limitless comedy, because I equate it with an interconnectedness (unleashing U.U. philosophy now...). "It's funny because it's true," comes of identification, and if we're open enough we can identify with just about any scenario or creature.

Not that comedy is easy to craft, by any stretch of the imagination. Good comedy is of a precise, yet instinctive nature, and how many can claim that? Whether it's the latest block-busting Will Ferrell behemoth, or Friend Adam working on his latest stand-up material, the comedy is difficult to build, and it takes someone rather obsessed with it to spend a good deal of time trying, someone prepared to fail just as much as he or she succeeds. Such a person also probably experiences on a visceral level an appetite for others' laughter, and to know that and accept defeat on a regular basis is no small task. Then again, there are also those who are funny in spite of themselves. The worst of these are those who never learned to embrace--in some fashion--their own lovable foolery. I long ago prescribed to a philosophy of defining life by my stumbles.

As with income, though, we face a trade-off between what we do and what we owe. Must we give to Caesar his due? Alas, we must. But we can do it smiling. No one can take that particular pleasure away from us.

Bleary-Eyed from Tax Software...

I whole-heartedly recommend to you Friend Kira's review of A Lie of the Mind on her 'blog:
She really emphasizes the important aspects of any show. You ma' girl, Kira! You ma' girl . . .

15 April 2007

A Love of the (Neo) Classics

After Easter they suffered a huge nor'easter.

I'm really digging the rain these past couple of days, actually. Sometimes one is simply in the mood to have their city look like something out of a noir flick, all sheeting greys and visible light beams. I'm prowling about in my grey trench coat . . . but with an umbrella. Which is not terribly noir, but I had to concede defeat years ago on the umbrella issue. In the right hands, umbrellas are a force for good, and for a lack of mildew-y smells.

The weekend was a strange blend of circumstance for yours truly, overlapping past and present, business and pleasure. My sister and her boyfriend Adam finally saw A Lie of the Mind Friday night, and it didn't scare Adam too badly, which I consider an accomplishment. Chris Kipiniak, of Torture Project and Spider-Man fame (see 3/8/07) attended the same night, which was especially rewarding to me, having the respect I do for his work and knowing how busy he keeps his schedule. Saturday night Friend Kira made it all the way out from New Jersey, though she couldn't hang around afterwards owing to bus schedules. Perhaps the most surprising appearance, however, involved the return of Friend Christina and her fella' J.C. I reunited with Christina at Rachel's wedding (see 3/21/07), and they both attended the opening weekend of ALotM. This weekend past they brought friends and family with them, and one other.

As I took my final bow Saturday night, I glimpsed a face in the crowd smiling with satisfaction, one that I recognized. I immediately, however, thought to myself, "Dang. I'm so Method. Frankie's delirium is bleeding over into the curtain call." Sure enough, though, when I had scrubbed my face and removed my bullet holes, I ventured out into the lobby and was ambushed by none other than Mrs. Rachel Lee herself. Which was the weirdest thing that has happened to me in years. She was up seeing friends, and Christina invited her along to see my show. A group of eight, we all went out afterwards, first to La Lanterna, then Puck Faire, and I had the opportunity to actually catch up with Rachel a bit, something that was impossible at the wedding and which in actuality we hadn't done in years. Mostly I was curious how things were for a person who came to the city with as ardent a passion as I for professional achievement, and who had since returned home and, shall we say, modified her own personal The Third Life(r). It sounds like she misses the more unique aspects of city living, but not the struggle to achieve. It sounds like she's very happy with her life now, which it was good to have confirmed. Most of all, it's wonderful to see in person that she's on her good path, and that I'm on mine. An unexpected fortune.

The next day I was up and out to attend the closing of Friend Nat's appearance in Moliere's The Learned Ladies, at The Gallery Players, just thirteen short blocks from my apartment. Acquaintance Alisha Spielmann was also in the production, whom I know from Nat's readings of The Exiled. Nat does quite a bit of classical work; I think I can say with some safety that it is his forte. He's tall, with a wiry, energetic frame and a deep voice, and he put it all to wonderful use in TLL. He played the villain of the piece, and I'm here to tell you: Nat does a delicious villain, especially when its one that can be as flamboyant as Trissotin. I met him on a show in which he was playing an undercover demon. His enthusiasm for mischief would make the role of Trissotin type cast, were it not that Nat is genuinely intelligent where Trissotin is merely conniving.

This is the second production of Moliere I've seen in the past few months (see 12/25/06), and the prior experience was in a theatre of very similar dimensions and budget (apart from paying Manhattan rent, that is). I took issue with certain of the aspects of The Gallery Players production, the which may be a result of too close a comparison with the show I saw in the winter. There were little choices (among them, the decision to incorporate contemporary clothing into relatively period costumes to varying degrees--the young hero [played admirable by Marc Halsey] wore a belt on his jeans whose buckle distracted) that I can be free of with a little time to forget, but my biggest gripe was how the actors seemed to have, at certain points, been instructed to make choices of delivery that emphasized the rhyme scheme. It's hard to say if such a thing is the fault of a director, or a failing of certain actors, but in my opinion it is a big no-no. Moliere wrote specific ending couplets when he wanted the rhyme to take precedence, and his commedia dell'arte inspired characters deserve to spew their dialogue with more ease. In balance, and to the credit of Neal J. Freeman and actress Candice Goodman, her Martine--the only consistent servant character in this particular show--spoke with a great candor befitting her character and an amusing translation of her dialogue.

My overall favorite moment of the show, however, was a very naughty one, theatrically speaking. It should serve to take my criticism down a peg or two. At one point in the show, Trissotin and Henriette (played by Alisha) are left to their own devices whilst the other characters in scene wax poetic about Trissotin's, er, poetics. For this sequence, the two characters actually took seats at opposite corners of the stage (I have to imagine that in most productions this time is used to further illustrate Trissotin's intentions toward Henriette), she utterly bored and he arrogantly unlistening to his own praise. What ensued was a kind of ridiculous silent war of entertaining gesture. Nat had developed some business involving inspecting his teeth and snorting snuff, and Alisha was reaching new heights of boredom which led her to sprawling against the wall and vacantly inflating spit bubbles, all the while the three scholarly women energetically stroked one another's egos, oblivious to the unspoken commentary. It was hysterical, if possibly gratuitous. But in my world, what gets the laugh stays in the comedy.

I've written here before about the effects of past lives on the present, and it's a theme in my theatrical work. I seem to constantly be finding myself in memory plays, and Zuppa del Giorno is itself a tradition of finding the ancient roots of contemporary entertainment. Our next show, Prohibitive Standards (the which I also set up the collaboration 'blog for this weekend), is to be set in prohibition-era Scranton, and is likely to be influenced by characters from that era and centuries earlier. Perhaps it's a theme in theatre in general, as classic characters like Richard III or Trissotin continue to inform us about choices we're making on a daily basis. Part of the key to living and creating effectively is in learning from the past, honoring it as it deserves, but also being realistic about it and recognizing it is, indeed, passed. Similar to being alive in the moment on stage, one can't always base his or her decisions on what he or she has done (or regretted doing) before.

Sometimes the only answer is to improvise.

I'm Sorry, but I'm Pimping this out on You:

This may be the greatest website ever. My only complaint is that the video does not load smoothly or buffer in advance. Remember "Hot-or-Not"? This makes it into an origami swan, swear to God:
Funny or Die

14 April 2007

RIP K. Vonnegut, and ALotM Pics

"Still and all, why bother? Here's my answer. Many people need desperately to receive this message: I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone."

12 April 2007

Dang. It. Dang it!

It's raining today. I mean to say, it is RAINING toDAY. I woke at 7:00, struggling to avoid over-indulgence in my snooze alarm, struggling in fact to remind myself to start jogging again today, when I heard outside my window the pitter-patter of raindrops--the most coma-inducing sound ever. I don't know why the raindrops sounded so pittery and patteresque, though, because when I stepped out into it on my way to the day job, it was a steady downpour, with just enough wind to keep it in your eyes. And I lent my sublettor my umbrella, because she's a girl and will apparently melt if she gets wet. It's science. By the time I got to work, I wanted to kill everyone. Violently. With a broad-bladed bastard sword.

See (ye non-New-Yorkers, ye princes of providences), when the weather does something this disastrous during a commute time, there's an interesting phenomenon that occurs in The Frickin' Huge Golden Delicious. The first symptom is a mass decision--akin to Jungian archetype--by every New Yorker who drives or walks into work to forego that, fearing that the rain is a sign of God's vengeance, and take the train. Side effects of this perception include a voracious increase in aptitude for careless acts, such as forgetting to say "excuse me" when the situation invites, or intentionally shoving disabled octogenarians into the tracks because they might contribute to oxygen consumption in the train car. The second symptom of the phenomenon is that everyone's intelligence quotient drops by at least twenty points. At least. People in suits, people accustomed to making decisions dependent on long-term thinking and strategy, become multi-pronged ballistic missiles when they have to carry an umbrella (inevitably right at eye-level [I am not in the upper half of height quotient in this city] leading me to believe that if I ever have to compete in illegal bloodsport in Canada, I'm taking my umbrella) and giant men who work with their hands all day long act like debutantes when faced with a curbside puddle. "I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!"

My bitterness may have preceded (hence colored) these gripes. I may have awoken in this frame, as last night's A Lie of the Mind wasn't quite up to snuff for me. (Terrible phrase: "Up to snuff." What does it refer to? Nasal inhalants? Illegal movies?) It was awkward being back in the penny loafers o' Frankie, and I had a strange time trying to balance a jittery nervousness and a rather tired energy level. The scene with Beth went fairly well, I thought. But I blew that damn final moment again.

That's not quite accurate. I didn't blow it. I managed to serve my function in it (whatever that may be), but the feeling behind it was not as intense as I would have liked, and as I had discovered last weekend. I'm not sure what went wrong there, being off my game in general, but I suspect it had something to do with nerves and forcing it. Have you ever tried not to think about something? I mean really tried? You tell yourself, "Don't think of an elephant," and for the rest of the day your thoughts are ambushed by elephants. This is what it is to try to avoid self-analysis on stage. The best tactic I've found is to focus on something immediate, and urgent. (Such as the action at hand.) But our body's defenses are strong, our minds labyrinthine and there's a minotaur named Disbelief that is hunting us at every moment.

"Was that over the top? I can never tell!" <-A hum-ding-er of a movie quote, if you ask me.


Well, the rain has stopped, and the world is a quiet, cool place. Once again I performed the show, and once again I experienced emotionus interruptus. It was baffling, just a frustrating shock to the system. I'm open as all hell! What's wrong with me now? I was contemplating it all the way to the subway, where I ran into fellow actor in the show, Todd d'Amour. He asked the obligatory "How was your show?" and I somehow managed to be both honest and brief (as the parentheticals may suggest, I have been having the greatest difficulty of late explaining myself in twenty-five words or less) and voiced my frustration with that last moment, actually referring to it as "my last moment." When I had said what I had to I could look in Todd's eyes again, and there I saw total recognition. Identification, even. He went on to say that he has struggled with that moment for himself, and felt, as I had, that he had broken through last weekend. Now it was gone again.

How much better that made me feel, and how much sense that makes. It's our moment, his, mine and Laura's, and we're each of us going to feel it in his or her own way if something's off. Now we just have to unite again, somehow, and lift each other up.

I wonder what the weather will bring tomorrow.

11 April 2007

Cry Me a River, Emo Boy

You think Rivers Cuomo "broke up" Weezer because the unflattering tag of "Emo" was applied to the band, which started as a sort of garage-band flavored pop sensation in the latter era of alterna-rock? That Emo crap bugs me. Not the supposed lifestyle--which, really, has had many different names through the ages, including "angst"--but the way the label seems to be applied to any kind of vaguely depressive or introspective subculture. Like being thought of as "Goth" in high school because I was creepy and wore black all the time. Which is . . . well, Goth. It's Goth as f%#k, actually, but let's understand the artist's intention before we rip him a new one with labels, shall we?

Speaking of which, A Lie of the Mind has been reviewed. Yes it has. (Friend Nat passed it along.) And it is a goodly review, as far as the show is concerned. You must believe me when I say that I feel the slander of my performance is deserved for the job I did last Wednesday night, though inaccurate in specifics. I claim it, and so my next claim should hold more water: The review reads like it was written by a twelve-year-old. Think I'm exaggerating? Lie thy judgments yon.

Having a bad review is a burden, but in this case one easily shaken off by a variety of factors:
  1. Feeling I deserved no praise for all the mistakes I made in that particular performance.
  2. The critic obviously devoting about ten minutes to the writing of it (at least it's spell-checked).
  3. Friends.

Oui: Friends. In my days off from the show (glad to be getting back to it tonight, though slightly anxious about having sufficient audience to justify the effort), I have spent time with a number of friends, the which it can be hard to find time with even when I'm not embroiled in a rehearsal process. Sunday I met with Friend Adam for catching up on "Heroes" episodes and talking about superheroes(TM) and comedy, then adjourned to Harlem for dinner with Friend Patrick. Monday brought me to dinner with Friend Dessida (of Friend Kate fame), and last night I saw Friends Geoff and Melissa.

Each friend brought me something I needed without knowing it. Adam brought me indulgent joy by creating a space in which geeking out is not only allowed, it's encouraged. Patrick brought me so many, many things, not the least of which were several excellent books to read now that I'm (pretty much) line-perfect for the show. (Incidentally, if you ever get curious about what it's like to be an actor in the process of interpreting a great character, read Antony Sher's account of portraying Richard III: Year of the King. The only bad thing is how envious you may get about how one man can contain so many well-developed talents.) Dessida brought me new insights into art and life. Melissa brought me unrestrained joy and some time to meditate upon life paths (plus a little more information on what she expects of me in my joining the ranks of Kinesis for a project this summer, which was a relief and terror all rolled in one). And Geoff, as always, brought me beer(s). And questions. Which are always good.

I can only hope I brought each of these people something they needed half as much as I've needed them.

09 April 2007

Projecting Torture

I can't recall whether or not I've written about this previously, but I have had a disturbing tendency of late to choose movies to attend at the theatre that contain torture sequences. Surely a lot of this is owing to a certain renewed relevance torture has come to attain in contemporary American media, but part of it feels almost comically fated to me. I mean, I went to a freaking James Bond movie, and the torture was there, and grisly, and . . . ugh. I should have known better when it came to Syriana, but James Bond? Couldn't you guys just lay a titles sequence over that jonx so I could choose to look at the pretty silhouettes instead?

The answer is, of course, no, they couldn't. Because that movie (Casino Royale) ruled, being all character-driven and fantastical at the same time. Torture should not be made part of a montage, or music video. It's irresponsible representation. It makes it sexy, or conjures memories of Ralph Macchio doing switch kicks on harbor posts. (Oh Macchio...you truly are The Best Around.) Torture is the most vile of human behaviors, if it can indeed be called a behavior. The word covers so many actions, referring more to the intention than the deed, that it is probably better described as an attitude than as a behavior.

Last Thursday Joint Stock Theatre Alliance held a meeting to discuss changes to our ongoing work on The Torture Project. How significant are these changes? Well, significant enough to warrant the change of the name of the producing company (though I don't know if that was motivated one by the other). Goodbye, JSTA; hello Uncommon Cause. As I've mentioned previously (see 4/7/07), one such change is that they may be dropping me from the roles as an actor, in need as they are of someone who looks the correct age (19) for my character. But there were many more changes already made, and I suspect dozens more to come.

In the first place, there was a lot of serious talk about making decisions about exactly what kind of show we are trying to make. Historical account? (Most likely not.) Dramatic re-enactment? (Closer, methinks, but perhaps too close to what Tectonic did with the ever-famous Laramie Project.) Fiction inspired by true events? (That's what it's mostly been until now, and I suspect is going to change.) The director even presented us with a brand, spanking new "organizing principle" (Thank you, Moises.), which . . . I really wish I had written down at the time. Because it was too long for me to memorize. This is all for the best, as far as I'm concerned. I've been craving a sort of ruthless focus in this process for a little while now, so it is at least dramatically apt that such a change in direction might mean the end of what I came into it for in the first place: to collaboratively create a world and perform in it. Some part of me is crushed, sure, but it is rapidly over-ridden by the excitement for the TP becoming its butterfly. Its war-inflicted, quasi-grieving butterfly.

But the family of our inspiration, real-life soldier Keith "Matt" Maupin, does not grieve. They believe. We (dare I say we [hell, I dare say it a second time]) We will get a big second-hand dose of just how everything progresses in his hometown of Batavia, Ohio when Producer/Director Laurie Sales and Producer/Actor Kelly Van Zile return from there. They have spent the weekend--and today, the third anniversary of Matt's capture--in his hometown. One has to presume such an experience would be revelatory anyway, but already we've gotten hints at just how affective and effective a dose of reality can be. A couple of days ago Kelly wrote to inform us (amongst other things) that the town they live in isn't actually Batavia. It's something else, skirting Batavia. She did not go in to detail. Presumably an explicit explanation of that will be included in whatever information they return with.

And this, as far as I know, is how the rest of us stand: poised for intensive listening upon our heroes' return. I would be surprised if any of us had any expectation less than that our worlds, theatrically and personally, are about to be rocked. Imagine imagining a world for two years. Then imagine arriving there suddenly, and not recognizing it at all. That's what I imagined, anyway. Kelly also wrote to us about some amazing sympathetic coincidences between what we created and what was really there, which only goes to show that the only thing one can count on in life is being surprised.

Amongst such surprises arising (phoenix-like) from the Indian food and conversation in Faith Catlin's apartment on Thursday, was one that makes my tenuous position in the company seem downright comfy. Namely, one of the characters we've spent a lot of time and interest on in our process had been cut, meaning in addition that the actress playing her was cut. I'm sure many factors contributed to this decision, but the primary cause was that the character (the "girlfriend" left at home) was decided to be tangential to the story we were trying to tell. A rough call. We all knew, I think, that things would eventually play out this way. We even signed contracts about a year ago solidifying our rights to back-pay and creation credit. Still. Good work hurts.

Many of these tough decisions were the result of a meeting held between our producers and the good people at The Public, following our last presentation. The feeling at our meeting (and I may not be well-tuned to this, leaving early as I had to for that night's call for A Lie of the Mind) was that we were collectively interested in advancing the project. Not just finishing it and getting it produced anywhere, but doing what had to be done to make it a valid bid for a place like The Public, or New York Theatre Workshop, etc. It's an important topic for us, and obviously very important work, and we want it seen.

For those of you who think context unimportant in comparison to good work, who believe a project of any kind will be appreciated in its turn no matter what kind of exposure it gets, I beg you to read this article I was led to by Anonymous: Pearls Before Breakfast. One could argue of this article that it only solidifies the value of the artistic struggle within a generally unappreciative environment. Such a one, however, would be both stupid and wrong.

What does it all mean? Nothing yet, silly. It's a work in progress. But it's all dreadfully exciting, and I mean that expression very specifically. I was reviewing my entries up until this point that addressed The Torture Project, for fear that in my 'blog-enhanced sense of self-righteousness I had somehow cast it in a negative light. Whether I have or not, it's clear that I've been frustrated and uncertain about where we were headed, and how much longer it might take to get there. Now there's a charge to the work that's almost threatening, and I have the experience of both being very excited for it, and dreadfully concerned about whether I will continue to be involved in it.

I want to be. It's when it gets scary, the stakes raised, that things like this get really good.

07 April 2007

Omega, meet Alpha

Over the past week I've had a couple of difficult bits of news concerning my artistic endeavors. The first was that, indeed, we did not achieve enough enrollment in In Bocca al Lupo to make the trip happen. That was the sort of news one receives with little surprise, though it still saddens and disappoints. In many ways, I was counting on going back to Italy this year, as an actor, teacher and just me. That was my fault, but . . . COME ON! WE'RE TALKING ITALY, HERE!

In other difficult news, one of the outcomes of Thursday's update meeting for The Torture Project was that . . . well . . . I'm maybe probably not performing in the show. And the reason? The character should be nineteen years old. And I, believe it or no, do not look nineteen. (Having that fact confirmed is, in some ways, a relief. I'm ready to play men these days.) There was a lot more to that meeting, the which I will address anon, but just that part was the difficult bit.

Meanwhile, A Lie of the Mind continues to receive a very positive reception, and I feel better and better about the work I'm doing in it. Last night Friends Patrick and Melissa (1/2 of The Exploding Yurts) were there, and we had some discussion of the merits and foibles of Sam Shepard's plays. It was nerve-wracking to perform for my colleagues, but I should have known better. They were the best audience members that night, laughing unabashedly when they found something funny instead of pausing to wonder, "Oh my--should I be laughing at this?"

So what does an actor do when work falls through, or a project hangs in precarious balance for him or her? I don't know what other actors do, but I've always found it helpful to curl up in the corner of my closet, sucking my thumb and squeezing my eyes shut until I can see purple and orange explosions behind my eyelids.

I'm sure I'm not alone.

In all seriousness though (a first for this 'blog), it can be really rough to lose work when all you really want to do is work, and it often feels as though such moments of loss pile up on a guy. "When sorrows come, they come not in single spies, but in battalions." Word, Hamlet. Word. This kind of situation can also be inspiration for a fellow to throw in the towel on the whole thing. I mean, nobody's clamoring for your work, for your presence on the stage, and now it feels as though not only are they not shouting your name, they're actively discouraging your aspiration. I would be lying if I said these moments don't have me contemplating a life of nine-to-five employment, in which I have the money to support the little entertainments easily found and purchased in most of the shopping malls of this great nation. I mean, that actually sounds really nice to me sometimes, no foolin'. An uncomplicated life, which I am somewhat more in control of, and that no one will outwardly question. Just leave me alone. I'm normal.

Whatever normal is, I'm pretty sure most people wouldn't consider repeated crying jags in public places to be it. (Which may simply be an indication of how screwed up people's perception of "normal" is.) Those of you who've seen the show already, or have been reading recent entries here, know that in the eleventh hour (being really honest, more like one A.M.) I had a breakthrough regarding the last moment of the thing. Since then, and thanks in ginormous part to fellow actors Todd d'Amour and Laura Schwenninger, I have consistently achieved that emotional sincerity necessary for my character's final moment on stage. Last night I even got it to the point of strength and relaxation that I could afford to really try to fight through the tears to say what needed to be said, which is what the moment should truly be.

But a switch was flipped, in some ways, and the damn thing was stuck last night. On my way home, I kept weeping unexpectedly. It was really pretty comic, with a little distance. (My fellow passengers on the grand ol' Metropolitan Transit Authority must have thought that it was a really sad crossword puzzle I was solving.) Maybe it was a simple case of sort of programming a "crying trigger," (in the show I have to make sure I don't breathe too rapidly, in order to let the emotion happen) and not having a handle on letting go of it yet. Maybe I've tapped some well of emotion I've had a plug on for some time now (that's a nasty habit of mine I'll own right up to). Maybe it really WAS an emotional crossword puzzle. I mean, Maura Jacobson knows her stuff, I'm telling you.

The point is not to wonder at the why of my behavior. Rather, I find value in an earnest acknowledgment of the behavior--neither judging it nor letting it go unnoticed--and moving through it. Whether I was sad for Frankie, Jake, myself, the ending of hopes and beginning of dreams, or for a five-letter word that means "narrowly prevent," I was experiencing grief. Grief's important. I'm not going to go seeking grief (apart from when a script calls for it) but it's there for a reason, and avoiding it is really only saying, "Grief, yeah. I remember you, but look, I uh, I'll have to catch up with you later, 'cause, I got some things . . . to do . . . . LOOK! A SEAGULL!"

[sound of hurried footsteps rushing away]

You'll meet grief again. He's there to help, ultimately. No sense in delaying it, much less ignoring it indefinitely. Every ending is a beginning of something new, and grief is part of how we get from A to B. And "B" is always a good place to be.

PS - This is how the alphabet would look without Q & R.

PPS - Avert.

06 April 2007

The Revealing Curtain

When I was thirteen years of age, life started to be pretty difficult for me. That's a pretty universal statement, I believe. I don't believe I've ever met anyone who said, "Thirteen? Oh man, that's just when things started to get GOOD! Everything came so easy, and there was no confusion--not like at five. Man, at five, things were ROUGH...." It has different flavors, but they all relate to puberty, and moving on, and beginning to get a sense that someday (possibly today) you will have to fend for yourself in a much more real sense than you ever imagined before. So I don't believe my experience was unique, per se, but perhaps a little more out-there than some.

One aspect of those difficulties was that one day, in the middle of a math class, I took a big ol' streeeeeeeeetch // en I woke on my side on the floor to discover my tongue was bleeding. I had bitten through it, you see, when I passed out.

A very involved story follows, with a lot of doctor visits, tests, etc., the which pretty much filled up my summer before starting high school. I was ultimately diagnosed with a condition called "reflexive epilepsy," (a diagnosis I have had some reason to doubt) which, in sum and substance, is identified by the tendency to short-circuit one's brain with a specific series of physical cues, such as stretching a particular series of muscles in conjunction. I was put on a drug called Tegratol, which I hated. It made me phenomenally sleepy around the afternoon and--so I diagnosed it--rather depressed, lacking in spark. Being thirteen and imaginative, I also came to convince myself that what I had glimpsed the few times I had the seizure was a kind of peek behind the curtain of reality. To sum it up--and at the risk of sounding even more pretentious than I already may--I thought I was catching glimpses of actuality beyond the world that we had created for ourselves, to occupy our senses and keep us sane. That actuality, was nothingness.

Which was a little depressing.

The seizures are (yes, I still have them from time-to-time) like this: Usually they result from a standing, full-body stretch--after I have been still for some time--with my arms raised above my head. As I'm coming out of the stretch, I feel a tingling numbness that begins somewhere between my back and neck, and rapidly races through my arms and legs. My head gets, well, warm and loud. But the loudness has no noise (bear with me here), it's just a silent over-powering of any sounds in the room. The last thing that happens is that an oddly cobweb-like curtain sort of envelopes my vision, and does so rather slowly, given the drastic nature of what seems to be happening to the rest of my body. I've always thought of it as a curtain, but maybe a cocoon is more apt imagery, because it seems gray, chaotically woven, and it comes in around the edges of my vision, narrowing into a point until rapidly fading to black in which time seems to stop until I open my eyes, a few seconds later and usually looking up at a ceiling.

This story, she does have a happy ending. Somehow, in the course of grappling with high school and all it tides, I learned how to stave off the seizures when I felt them coming on. (My parents always claim the Tegratol helped in that; I always want all the credit for myself.) It was strange to discover, and took what I believe to be a lot of the resources the Tegratol robbed me of: determination, focus and a little fire. The trick is rather simple, actually. When I feel the tingling, and the curtain begins to descend, I simply focus my will on whatever I can still see in the center of my vision and sort of fight the curtain back. (Don't ask me to describe "fight" in this context. Sorry. Couldn't say.) The only thing that happens then is that, occasionally, people around me will wonder why I've just stopped and stared for a few seconds all of the sudden. It it happens less and less, and gets easier to stave off, as I get older.

Which is pretty sweet.

As was last night's performance of A Lie of the Mind. (HA! Thought I'd left the show behind, did you? Don't worry; I won't analyze every performance for a month. Next week we'll be back to fart jokes.) That may seem like a lame transition, but it is intentionally obfuscational. (Is SO a word!) Because you have to understand what coming out of my seizures is like to get the association I'm about to make.

Where Wednesday's performance was taught and tense, last night's was more a fiery calm. It was still an explosive, passionate show, but we had all relaxed a notch . . . just enough to be a little more in the moment, a little less concerned with making an impression. I don't know how everyone else felt (no cast hangage after the second show), but for me it was magnificent. I felt in charge of my game (apart from going up COMPLETELY on a line in my first scene), and much more loving toward my own character. None of the whine came through. His fight was strong enough to stand up against all those obstacles (see 4/5/07). Great, great stuff. I was so relieved, and yet still timorous over that last line and its delivery. I had to tell myself not to think about it prior to the scene. I was afraid I would psych myself out.

The scene arrived, I opened my eyes, and there was Todd, playing my brother, barely holding it together. My character feels relief to see him in that moment, and I felt a relief at how there he was. His tears got through to me, and I knew if I could keep those feelings alive, blow on their embers, I'd be okay for that last line. But the audience is literally two feet away to my left, and I have to say that damn penultimate line expressing confusion over Jake's actions, and I know Laura is actually the director's girlfriend, not Todd's wife, and why can't I have a wife already anyway and what if I go up on my last line, too . . . . But then Laura, as Beth, says her line: "I remember you now." She's not weeping as she has before, but she sounds so fragile, so very very certain, yet scared, and I'm back. All I have to do is . . . not. Not do, anything. Be there. Just be there. If that's a difficult thing to do, I don't know about it right then, because I can't, because if I do I'll lose this . . . I've got to let it flow through me, I can't just hang on to it, but I've got to trust it'll still be there. Don't let it go. Don't hold on to it. Be. Be.

It was as though I could feel that curtain again, not around my eyes, but around my heart. (We're speaking metaphorical heart here.) And it's woven together out of all the experiences I've had that have taught me to have perspective, and protect myself, and to equate that rationale/ity with self-worth. It's me, this curtain. It's a part of me, and there's no abolishing it, but last night I held the cords and I had the strength. And the line came through the tears, and I saw and was seen clearly.

Gang, I don't know if I've nailed it. I rather believe tonight I'll have another experience of shut-down, sort of a backlash from last night's success. But maybe not. I hope not. I can't antagonize myself over it, because that only decreases the likelihood of being in that moment again. All I can do is my best, and try to learn from the worst of it.

Oh right, right! And as for actuality being nothingness: I decided it's cool to have a choice. I choose somethingness.

05 April 2007

We Will Consolidate Your Obstacles! Sign On to MendingTree.com Now!

Dewds, oh my dewds. We did certainly open night the last, and to a packed house (the which, in MTS terms, is something like 45 people), which was intimidating, exciting, moving, fascinating, deeply affecting and a little gassy.

For those of you not in the know (And just what, pray tell, are you doing outside of the know? Don't you know the know is no place to be outside of? It's cold out there! At least put on a jacket!), I am referring to my current actorly occupation, A Lie of the Mind. For more details on my process of bringing my character limping on to the stage (literally) last night, see . . . well . . . just about every entry I've made in the past month. (Discounting those ill-advised forays into the details of my day job. Please.)

I would like to say the show went off without a hitch, but that would be kind of miraculous, given the circumstances. It was our very first run with an audience, which is like having a very overwhelming actor suddenly join your cast, saying, "Hi. I don't know anything about what we're supposed to be doing, so I'm just going to screw with the rhythms you've spent weeks getting used to and react loudly to things you do. Or not. Whichever I feel like in the moment." It's particularly like this at lovely ol' MTS, where their motto of necessity is, "If the audience isn't all up in your grill, you must be in somebody else's theatre." (At least this show is staged relatively "proscenium;" the two prior full-length shows I did there were staged "tennis court," with audience on either side: Gah! Really close audience! [turns other way] Gah! Really close audience!) It was wonderful to finally have the missing character, but also very much an adjustment. Some of the more interesting snafus:

  • People transposing lines. I don't think it was obvious to the audience, but to our fellow actors it was like you could almost hear the erring actor thinking, "No...wait...oh sh*t!"

  • Folks over-extending blocking. This is easy to do in such a small space, and when that audience adrenaline steps in, we get a little larger. The best example of this was a moment when Jake accidentally got too close to a room Beth was in, precipitating their moment of reunion. Apparently Ridley Parson, the actor playing Mike, was moments away from throwing Beth back in the room just to keep things on track.

  • Props getting as excited as we are. I don't really believe in pathetic fallacy in everyday life (as good a novel as "Still-Life with Woodpecker" may be), but I swear to you that there are gremlins that live in stage props, and opening night is when they get most unruly. Last night Jake's cap kept taking a walking tour of our side of the stage as he was trying to manage his psychic breakdown, Baylor's socks missed landing on his knees (prompting the actress playing Meg to say "Jesus Christ!" in his face, which, believe it or not, is not in the script) and when Mike tromped into the house and deposited the deer carcass, one of its antler heads broke off and skittered across the stage.

We all had a good laugh over food and drink afterward, but in the moment, on stage, these things feel like the end of one's carefully crafted world. It will all become lore that lasts for the next month, with each of us coming up with our own antler references to slip into conversation with the others. The show got off to a good start last night. We were charged up, and we learned a lot. Now it's a matter of incorporating those lessons into our work in a fluid enough way that will allow us to adapt to different audiences. Because falling on your proverbial face as a result of anticipated audience reaction is a whole lot worse than antler shrapnel.

As for myself,

(lord God in heaven, must I move on to myself [no] well it is my 'blog [that's right--you make the rules] but who will respect me for creating a double-standard in which I critique everything but my own work [did you start this 'blog to garner respect?] ...can we talk about this later? [Hm? Oh. Yeah. Sure.])

I didn't feel too great about how my scenes went last night, particularly one scene between Frankie and Beth. I was very nervous, which affected my performance, but moreover Frankie just came out too whiny most of the time. God knows he's got plenty of excuse to whine: he's got to clean up his brother's mess, deal with his neurotic family, endure an untreated bullet wound for two-thirds of the play and resist the advances of a woman when he is, in fact, quite lonely. BUT. The audience isn't there to see someone whine, they're there to see people fight, to fight for what they want and need, and overcome expectation at least once.

Frankie is tricky in this regard, and reminds me specifically of playing Nick in Over the River and Through the Woods.... Both are these well-equipped, intelligent young men who spend the bulk of the action accomplishing next-to-nothing, wrestling with the frustration of having to work with other personalities that simply overpower their own. The temptation, the ease, is to play their frustration. I mean, that's what it's all about at first glance: They are frustrated by their inability to move on. It's comic. It's real. However, that frustration is actually an obstacle to what they want to achieve, so whether they recognize it or not in a given moment, these young men need to use more specific tactics to overcome what at first glance seems to be firing them up. That's tricky enough. Now, the difference between Nick and Frankie is that Frankie HAS A BULLET HOLE IN HIS LEG.

That's also an obstacle, but one an actor has to affect. I mean, I could give myself a Charley Horse before I enter (I do punch my leg, but only to try and create a little reminder of the specific area of the wound), but even that would fade within minutes, and doesn't have remotely the same effect a 30-30 bullet through the hamstring would. So now we've got two obstacles inherent in Frankie's journey, plus whatever is thrown at him from the other characters, plus an eventual fever and delirium, plus the simple simple fact that...for some rather unexplained reason...not one of the four family members has any interest in getting him out of their house.

My only point being that it's not an easy role. It often feels like Frankie's more a tool than a character, a device for achieving the brotherly denouement in the final scene. An actor, however, must never concern him/herself with that kind of consideration. It's antithetical to an actor's purpose of really being there, and believing in what he or she is doing. But dag gum it, I'm a thinker, and it's hard to turn that off. That's part of the appeal of acting for me--having good reason to work on letting go of that when it isn't serving me.

The blessing/curse of theatre is that you get chance after chance to redeem yourself. Tonight I will run lines for my scenes with Jake and Beth beforehand, warm-up with more focus on my voice (to avoid throat tightness, which can contribute to unintentional whining), and do something meditative and grounding, with the hope it will help to prepare myself to build a fight from the ground up. We'll see how it goes. The moment of truth will take place on the stage, where it belongs.

04 April 2007

Opening Up to You...

If you haven't yet seen A Lie of the Mind, at Manhattan Theatre Source, go out immediately and buy an industrial strength, gas-powered power generator, jumper cables and two large sponges. Find a menacingly silent, mustachioed man to attach the cables to the generator, and the sponges to the other ends, activate the generator, and force you to remove your clothing and stand in running water. The menacingly silent, mustachioed man should know where to go from there. IT...IS...A DELIGHT!

{Shh, shh.... Don't be scared. I was channeling James Lipton via Will Ferrell, and referencing the infamous torture sequence from Lethal Weapon. Riggs', not Murtough's. I mean, the salt thing might actually have hurt more, but come on. Unless a torture sequence involves a malevolent Asian man, I'm just not sufficiently terrorized.}

In actuality, you can't yet have seen A Lie of the Mind in that particular milieu. Because it opens tonight.

Hold me.

Yesterday was a very good preparation overall. I was at the Source by 3:30 (thanks to the benevolent slackerdom of my day-job boss) to work over my second scene with Todd. It went very well--better than it did in the run later that night--and with the adjustments we made I finally feel as though my character gets the kick start he's been needing. Thereafter, Daryl was working on scenes I am not a part of, so I busied myself with adding more artful gore to the pants I wear after my character gets shot in the leg. I love those surreal moments occasioned by working in the theatre. Anyone who walked in the Source betwixt the hours of 4:30 and 5:00 yesterday probably saw a pair of pale blue jeans stuffed with discarded press releases hanging from the ceiling, dripping blood onto more paper layered on a table beneath them. We got to running the show by 7:00 or so, which is fairly close to the time we had planned to start, which is fairly remarkable.

Tonight we go up with an audience for the first time at 8:00. We're sold out for both tonight and tomorrow night, I hear tell, so chances are good that I'll know a whole hell of a lot more about what I'm doing right and what I'm doing wrong in the next 48 hours. In terms of last-minute revelations, however:

  • I was right about Frankie thinking he was so much smarter than Jake, but wrong about him loving him too much to display it . . . particularly when it comes to discussing Beth's possible murder.

  • My monologue can go south at any moment, and I must be vigilant 'bout that. Also, I tend to go up on lines that involve speaking at length without a period. Too many options. Need to run lines before show every night.

  • That final moment that's been troubling me has everything to do with taking in as much of Beth and Jake's moment just before, and simply being relaxed enough to respond to that.

Opening night is frightening, particularly when you've had no preview audiences. I don't care who you are: Yikes. It's thrilling, though, the fear. It has charged my whole day, and only created one obstacle: that of wanting to leap from a window in order to not be at work. But I get by, because very soon I won't even be in New York. I'll be in Montana, with a bullet hole in my leg.

Wish me luck.

03 April 2007

Repeatable Action

This was a very necessary skill for an actor, according to my dearest college acting teacher, Gary C. Hopper. He was the one who enthusiastically took on all the Freshman classes for their first year of training, like some kind of manic Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, and took a very personal interest in each and every one of we chosen few (seventy-five to start, I believe) forgetting all we thought we knew and undertaking his approach to creating believable, effective moments on stage. It was always with a huge, toothy grin that he would offer scathing criticism of our naive little choices, and with said same grin he gave us his own pearls of wisdom regarding the oldest art. Acting axioms, if you will:

  • "In general" is the enemy of good art. (This one is stolen, I believe.)

  • Would you like some fries with that Big Mac? (Translation: There are no discernible stakes to what you're doing, so why are you even on stage, you douche bag?)

  • Acting! Theatre is my life! (Translation: People must be able to see, at all times, that glint in your eye that tells them you derive your greatest joy from moments spent in rehearsal and on stage.)

  • His intensely formal formula for explicitly stating one's intention in each scene: "Because I feel _______, due to having been _______, I want to _______ [NAME OF CHARACTER], so that s/he will feel _______, resulting in _______."

Apart from these axioms (I know that last one isn't an axiom, and I would ask you to kindly shut the hell up), he would also use these little phrases to recall to our minds earlier lessons. Case in point, his sing-song recitation of the words "Repeatable action!" whenever you failed to fulfill established blocking, or claimed you could juggle and proceed to drop a ball. It's common sense, especially for a theatre actor. That actor must be able not only to produce genuine moments on stage, but do so with consistency every performance.

I am magnificent at this. I won't lie to you (not even in my Mind). At this, I rule. One director, who worked with me on Proof and Over the River and Through the Woods... out at The Northeast Theatre, once wrote me that I was "the most consistent actor" she had worked with. But it is a double-edged betleH, this madness of skill. I mean, who delights in the knowledge that they are non-deviant when it comes to art? Reliability is a good thing in one's fellow actor, I agree, but we'd all rather have a moment on stage be alive than choreographically consistent. And supposing one's consistency is actually a regularity of badness or, worse yet, mediocrity?

My love of the repeatable action has deep roots in this kid's psyche. (By "this kid's," I am of course referring to myself in the third person, thereby cautioning you that a. I'm about to get all psychoanalytical on yo' ass, whilst simultaneously consoling you that b. I appreciate the dramatic irony of self-aggrandizement and how it relates to an actor talking [much less writing] about his or her person.) I was pretty much always a guy who appreciated a good plan. In school, I used to get tense about going into a class without knowing what we were supposed to be doing that day (see 3/8/07 for analysis of my absolute need to know everything about everything ever). One of the main appeals of theatre, in my earlier days of interest, was the presence of a script. When I would get into arguments with my friend Bridget (sorry to put you on the spot, B, but you were the only one I fought with when I was growing peach fuzz) I would actually kind of have to step out of them in order to gather my thoughts. I couldn't just get mad and say irrational things. That would have been, you know . . . irrational.

And the patterns continue into Jeff-the-Present (as opposed to Jeff-the-Past, not Jeff-the-Absent, nor Jeff-the-Only-A-Card). All this circus stuff I've gotten myself into, you think that's solely because I wish I were a vigilante superhero? Predominantly, sure, but solely? And the clowning I've been working on, I suppose I just like the idea of self-imposed humiliation? (Well okay: You have a point there.) No, it's choreography. As is my tendency to take jobs with theatres with which I have previously worked, rather than putting my proverbial testicles on the metaphorical line and playing Rizzo in some West Village cabaret. Not loyalty, oh no: Choreography.

And step-ball-change, step-ball-change!

There's something to be said for choreography. Get not me wrong. Only what good is it without that certain indefinable passion, that razor's edge that makes everyone sit up and feel something? For the past several years I have worked hard at letting go of the need to be choreographically precise in my acting, and allowing that spirit of madness (this is the word a control freak uses to describe spontaneity) into my work. A Lie of the Mind is a pretty classic example of this effort on my part, and I don't write this solely for the purpose of pimping my show on you. (Predominantly, sure.) My performance only lives (I'm talking basic life support, here) when I let go of our decisions in rehearsal and let it all happen for the first time, yet I resist this condition, I suppose because it feels hokey, or irresponsible, to me. Well, to my left brain, anyway. And let me tell you (I'm here to say [even for me, the parentheticals are getting out of hand in this one]), if I'm at one end of the control/chaos spectrum, Friend Todd is at the other. He's brilliant at letting go. In a way, this contrast between us makes for perfect casting of these roles. Still, I feel a need to rise to his level in that ratio of consistency and life. I have a lot to learn from Mr. d'Amour.

Because I feel limited, due to my inhibitions, I want to kick ass in this show, so that the show will feel sufficiently ass-kicked, resulting in my career rocketing to new artistic heights.

Repeatable action is a valuable skill in theatre and film, but talent trumps all. (As to defining talent, someone once said, "Talent is like pornography. You can't define it, but you know it when you see it.") In life, I think the talent is in determining when a repeatable action is really called for. It can be easy to get stuck in a rut, and scary as hell to come bounding out of said rut headfirst. Yet necessary, I believe. We were not made for ruts. I applaud people who stick to their principles, but I shout for them that break the rules in order to learn something new.