30 November 2007

Legit Circus, Kicking A.

One doesn't hear that phrase all-too often, even when one is (at least marginally) in the circus-performing world. You hear it about theatre, I think, because everyone and their cousin has committed an act he or she would categorize as "theatre" in the course of his or her life, and those of us who have committed just a bit more time and energy to theatre want to make a distinction between our showcase of "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" and the local community theatre's recent staging of "The Cherry Orchard." Circus, on the other hand, is not necessarily a common community (redundant by root?) activity, and even those of us who have taken some workshops and used the skills in performance are a little loathe to claim the status of "circus performer."

I suppose the closest thing to "legit circus" in the broad American vernacular would be something like Cirque du Soleil, which I (thanks to an extremely thoughtful pre-Christmas Christmas gift from Sister Virginia) saw live for the very first time last night. It was their production Wintuk, ongoing on the WaMu stage at Madison Square Garden. The show itself was rather geared toward children, with plenty of spectacular acts and production values, but also the through-line of a boy just wanting to see it snow, and puppet dogs with their own song. "We know these dogs, we know these dogs..." The lyrics left me wondering if the beautiful vocals of previous Soleil shows aren't simply elongated French words like, "I did my laundry, now buy me some baguette..." By the way, CdS now owes Slava's Snowshow royalties, big time. The level of surprise in the audience when paper "snowflakes" blew out of the vents all over us was perhaps a comment on just how far twenty street-blocks may seem to the typical tourist.
Sorry if I just ruined the ending for you.

And I digress like a nor'easter. Here's what I love about circus (as in, the following -- I'm afraid I can't make it twenty-five words or less [which should come as no surprise to anyone who's been reading this 'blog {hi mom!}]). It is live surreality. Consider that a moment. There's not much of that in the world, in the true sense (of my fictional word). "Surreal" things happen to us, like running into a long-lost friend at the DMV, or finding a hundred dollar bill in a laundromat, but generally speaking and notable exceptions aside no one we know turns into a monkey and starts hopping around in a trashcan. Further, circus creates a sense of disbelief, threat and relief all at once, and it actually happens. Right there, right then. Further still, circus is brilliantly human; admirably physical and, when its good, artistically inspired. Feeling awe about a fellow human being is an incomparable experience.

Here's what I don't like about circus: I'm not better at it and people don't make enough of the kind that tells a story.

Look: We love this stuff. We love watching other humans achieve amazing things, particularly physical feats, and especially when we can appreciate it in the context of a story. If you accept that we love this, why then, oh why, would you settle for a movie that is largely computer-generated cartoons? Or a play in which the actors never use their bodies in their acting?

My frustration comes of personal feelings, I confess. I haven't had a convenient or easy outlet for my circus tendencies for some time, and there's always so much more to worry over, but it's about time I got on that. There's just too little of it in the world. I've found two film genres that fulfill the need vicariously, somewhat. The first is the classic Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd flicks. Perhaps they were working from necessity. The beginnings of film in America was a little like the beginning of the Internet. Anyone who could afford to and was interested had a clear playing field, and these guys (not so much Lloyd; he was second generation) played it hard. Chaplin had a hard-knock life from poverty, Keaton from vaudeville. Lloyd didn't lack for toughness, though, either. He got half of his right hand blown off in a photo shoot, and still made movies. That one you always see where he's hanging off a clock arm? All with just nine fingers and one thumb. So those guys, they were circus performers, plain and simple.

The other, dear Reader, is kung fu movies. Yes. Kung fu movies.

Kung fu movies have a bad rep. True, in recent years folks like Jackie Chan and Ang Lee have made the genre more palatable to the common tongue (interesting image), but it's difficult to get away from the fact that kung fu movies are usually made with a budget of about $10 and are located in the most abundance in the same stores in which one finds films like Saving Ryan's Privates. Add to that the minor detail of the scripts for almost all "action" films seeming to have been written by a heroin-addicted five-year-old, and kung fu hardly has a fighting chance to stand as anything legitimate. And I'll admit it: Most kung fu movies, in terms of story, dialogue, and in many cases production values, demonstrate the worst of what film making has to offer as a medium of artistic expression. Hell, now-a-days you can't even trust the kung fu. Wires can be digitally removed (or not, in some exceptional cases) and skinny ladies are magically endowed with the mass index of the same amount of lead. (To be fair, it appears Kerri Hoskins did indeed work out for the role. Look at those nautilus machines...fly? Well, oscillate mildly, at any rate.)

Ah, but when you get a to watch a real martial artist at work? That's thrilling. That's inspiring. There are so many daily reminders about of the limitations of our existence, physical, mental, even spiritual. It really is a special thing to be able to demonstrate--just for an instant, in some cases--just how wrong all our "nos" and assumptions can be.

26 November 2007

Sense Nativity

Since returning to New York from building and performing Prohibitive Standards, the only theatre I've participated in has been--in one regard or another--through NYU's First Look program. First Look is the name of the acting company (of about 200 actors) NYU's graduate playwriting class has compiled through recommendation to work with on staged readings and in-class development. I was recommended to the program about three years ago by Faith Catlin, auditioned, and have been enjoying the experience ever since. Shortly before I left Pennsylvania I agreed to participate in Friend Avi's in-class reading, which reminded a director I had worked with previously (Janice Goldberg) of me. She asked me to audition for a staged reading, which I did and thereupon joined, and during that rehearsal process she asked me to audition for a performance of the ten-minute play of another student. All this week I have rehearsals for that play, which goes up with others for four nights next week. First Look can be a little bit like a microcosm of that strange, informal system of networking that goes on in the theatre world of New York. When you're everywhere, you're everywhere; when you're not . . . best of luck, pal.

Last week, once I had successfully cooked the turkey for my visiting family (What's that thumping between my shoulder blades? Oh, it seems to be my own palm.), I relaxed into my sister's papasan and promptly dropped into The Dreaming. Since then I've been having regular anxiety (see 11/2/07 for shock and awe) about identity and emotional sensitivity. Most of the time I find it interesting that I have so much trouble remembering my dreams upon waking. I find it frustrating as hell when something clearly very important occurred to me in a dream, and there's little hope outside of hypnosis for my recalling it. So this is the general state in which I began rehearsals in earnest for my latest First Look endeavor.

My fellow actors are named Matt and Foss (forgive me, guys, for the lack of last names--this will be over so quickly I guess contact sheets are not a priority), and both are very professional, sensitive actors. (Incidentally, also a great looking couple, which is great for the piece.) I'm having a good time working with them. Matt hails from UNC-CH, and is doing a sort of study-abroad thing in New York. He's a highly energetic, physical, receptive actor, who gets comedy seemingly naturally. He understands how staged jokes work almost to a fault, to the extent that in rehearsal he can miss some moments of truth or listening for the sake of timing and the beauty of a well-executed gag. This last not-necessarily-a-fault may be something of a projection. To be brief, he reminds me of me.

When I was his age.

I suppose knowing oneself at the present moment of one's life, really understanding yourself as an individual in the here and now, is a challenging prospect for anyone. Consider it. I would bet you find it a lot easier to explain yourself in retrospect--even over a matter of a few days--than you would at this very moment. Perhaps this is a more significant question for an actor than someone who doesn't spend time trying to occupy others' skins. Perhaps not. I do know that it's a lot more comfortable not to ask this sort of question of oneself, but I consider that dangerous. Balance in all things, of course--over-analyzation is as detrimental to mental health as anything--but questions are good, and assumptions about oneself are particularly powerful. So I'm wondering a lot lately: Just who in the hell do I think I am? And how is he different from the am I actually . . . am?

Last week, amidst tech rehearsals for the last First Look staged reading I performed in, I ran into Friend Brie (Briana Sefarian, nee Trautman-Maier), whom I had not seen in almost a year. It had been an eventful year. One 0f the things Brie did in that time was switch her focus from acting to producing. Thankfully she's still acting when called to it, because she's a joy on stage. We discussed life changes at some length, and she helped me clarify some of the feelings I have been having lately concerning a need to take greater control over my work. Is it that she could particularly help me because we were coming from different places after so long, or different times? They may be the same thing. All I know is that, be it coincidence or my own need, she seemed to understand my present better than I do. (My "currency," if you will [And, frankly, even if you won't.].)

So I continue to enjoy rehearsals, and search for the next opportunity to discover something with the most open mind possible. It's funny (ha ha), but I started the Aviary with a lot of personal objectives aside from the declared mission statement. In the general nature of this here entry, and, I suppose, the general nature of yours truly, I was more aware at the time of writing of some of these goals than others. One that occurred to me very clearly, however, a few days after I started my frumious 'blogination, was that the Aviary would stand as a good account of at least a year's worth of the part of my life spent pursuing acting as both career and art form. As I close on the year's anniversary of launching this 'blog, I find myself facing a lot of the same questions I had a year ago, but a lot more information recorded for consideration. So I got that going for me. Which is nice.

But more on that later. There's no question I love the pursuit on some level, the effort at understanding. I'm like the Little Engine over here. I think I am; I think I am; I think I am . . .

20 November 2007

The Complete Urban Guide to Proper Umbrella Usage

The Umbrella: Some have argued its worth beyond even that of fire, or the wheel, or individually package snack foods. Known by many names--bumbershoot (or bumpershoot), parasol, canopy, sunshade--and appreciated by many cultures, the umbrella is an essential tool in humanity's war against the elements. Canes, hats, sock garters, they've all gone the way of the Dodo as far as standard equipment goes, but the umbrella has persevered in the face of fashion, and with good reason. It is versatile and seemingly infinite in variety, it is simple yet effective, and it's nifty.

This is why, dear friends, after enduring yet another day of the perils of a rainy city, I feel obligated to share with you the secrets of that ancient, nigh mystical martial art surrounding the sensitive and affective use of the umbrella in an overcrowded urban en(and "in")vironment. These many secrets of both external and internal practice have been passed down only orally through the centuries, handed from generation to generation of master, all the while cleverly disguised under the nomenclature "common sense." I think you will find, however, when next you visit New York (or Chicago, Washington D.C., Bangor, etc.), that there is nothing at all "common" about this "sense." Let's begin . . .

  • Rule the First: Best Defense for Rain, No Be There.
    I paraphrase Mr. Miyagi, of course. (Pat Morita, it is widely known, was a long-time secret practitioner of The Way of The Not Retarded With An Umbrella In Public.) This rule is pretty simple. If it's raining, don't go out. You won't get wet. Oh sure, you may spill some water on yourself at some point, but come on. Take some responsibility for yourself. While you're at it, call in sick to work. Think about it. Public transportation will be full to the brim with people convinced they're getting to work faster by not driving, all the while slowing down the public transportation with their numbers. In such an environment, it's an act of charity to fore go one's usual strident work ethic, and charity is one of the 99 Virtues of this style.

  • Rule the Second: Second-Best Defense for Rain a Hat.
    It's true. Hats still work. It may seem ridiculous to us, but not so long ago our ancestors (read: grandparents) wore hats out that had a little more style than just a logo and a standing deck on the front. These hats were not just stylish, but practical, with lots of air underneath to separate one's scalp from the elements and, more often than not, a wide brim all the way 'round what prevented elements from getting all elemental in our faces. This simple alternative, when combined with a long coat, will protect all the essentials from said elements.

  • Rule the Third: You Need a Coat
    No, really. You do. I know, I know, but -- you do. It's the city. Water's going to come at you from directions you never dreamed possible, and it doesn't care how good your legs look in those shoes/pants/eccentric ruffles.

  • Rule the Fourth: As With the (Hu)Man, So With the Bumpershoot
    So you are rash, young Padawan, and have chosen the Way of the Umbrella over the Ways of Responsible Delinquency and/or Hat. So be it. First: You still need a coat. I'm not letting go of this one. Coat, cloak, poncho, whatever--deal. Second, you are unique. You are special unto your own self. Your umbrella must reflect this. If you are larger than most, you may need an umbrella of greater radius, with corresponding longer neck. If you are more diminutive, so shall your umbrella be. Play to your strengths! Far more often than you may imagine, someone of insufficient height takes it upon his or her self to wield a Vorpal sword of a parasol, thinking bigger to be better. This is plainly untrue, and further, is contradictory to the virtue of Not Being a Punk-Ass, another of the 99 Virtues of this style. Further still, with an over-large umbrella, you are imperiling not only others, but yourself, owing to still another of the 99 Virtues: Tendency to Kill Umbrella-Punk-Asses.

  • Rule the Fifth: Know Your Place
    What is your "place"? TWoTNRWAUIP is a sophisticated philosophy and way of life, not just a highly effective art-form, and it recognizes that set rules and forms will ultimately limit our ability to adapt to different challenges. For example, a person who's 5'10" in D.C. might think of his or her self as a tall him or her. Odds are, however, that such a one will find themselves in the shorter margin of humans at some point on a visit to N.Y.C. Ergo, one should learn to judge one's opponent(s) on an individual basis. This is harder than it sounds. To practice properly, one must meditate daily on images of reeds in the wind, unconcerned about the battles of ego that might occur in rainy urban conditions. There is no shame in taking the lower stance. Especially if you're a 4'9", slow-moving, grocery-shopping grandmother.

  • Rule the Sixth: Movement is the Key to Successful Movement
    Herein lies all the complexity of the technique--that formless form that only masters of TWoTNRWAUIP may someday achieve. One must move with precision and ease through the myriad bumbershoots, maneuvering smartly whilst maintaining a sufficient velocity of foot travel, rather like a traceur (a practitioner of le Parkour), or those cooks who chop stuff really quickly. There are many movements, most of which only life can be the teacher of, but the key to them is this: It is not enough to avoid impaling yourself; you must avoid impaling others. Also: Understand that your umbrella is, oddly enough, wet, and can moisten others. Additionally: What is WRONG with YOU? STOP BEING RETARDED.

Dang. I think I need to meditate a little more.

16 November 2007

Scito Te Ipsum(am) (o) Dilige Te Ipsum(am)

My Friday entries (when Friday entries there have been) have been characteristically short, and I offer up a similar serving this Friday, but I find this interesting. It's rather my version of a 'blog quiz. (I always did prefer the essay questions.) As I sat in the deli a block from work this morning, drinking my bean juice and trying to finish up Jitterbug Perfume before the bell tolled, a curious question occurred to me: Is it more important to A) Know thyself; or B) Love thyself?

Please feel free to share your opinions. If you write at any length elsewhere on the subject, please give unto us a link.

14 November 2007

Like Soundwave, I've Got Something To Get Off My Chest.

Fellow victims, I caved and rented Transformers (2007). I'm aware of my crime. This is equivalent to buying one of the new VW bugs, or digging that "new song" by Elvis, which is actually an unused, dance-remastered vocal track. I have been sold my own nostalgia back to me, and I bought (in to) it. One moment I was Principled Actor Jeff, and then-- ENH-ENH-ENH-ENH-ENCH --the Deceptacon, Eightiesdork.

The worst part is that I knew, going in, that it was directed by Michael Bay. Now look: Sure, I liked Michael Bay. When I was eighteen. I can admit that. I was young, and I needed the stimulation. I DON'T NEED IT ANYMORE. Somehow, it was easier for me to accept the idea that I was the camera, back then, and capable of that sort of camera kung fu he's made his name with. Now, I prefer the long shot, and the relatively grounded camera that shows me precisely what is going on, so I can appreciate moments more than general motion.

I didn't even go in to the movie with high expectations. There was a reason I was renting it, and didn't catch it in the theaters. In point of fact, the only reason I rented it at all was that I caught The Battle of Shaker Heights on TV the other day, which convinced me that this Shia LaBeouf lad might just have something to him. (Though my jury remains resolutely not-in on his worthiness to wield the Indiana Jones mantle in 2008.) Indeed, Shia made the movie for me, which would be an accomplishment of sorts, considering he was up against two-storey robots (and the gorgeous, not-remotely-in-high-school Megan Fox) most of the time.

"Would be," I say, because said two-storey robots were rendered hopelessly uninteresting by the same aesthetic that directs Bay's camera. They were astoundingly complex and animated, and utterly uninteresting. I see the need to update the dozen motion points found on the first Transformer designs, to spin them into something more conceivably versatile and bad-ass, but I would submit for Hollywood's consideration the idea that part of the fun of a Transformer is being able to appreciate exactly how it changes shape. Also, imagine if those endless man-hours spent designing and rendering the 'bots had been spent, even fractionally, on, oh, I don't know, the script?

Bay makes kids' movies, essentially. Gratuitously violent, often verbally lewd, but kids' movies, all the same, for their attention span and priority on visual stimulation over elements such as story and character.

I begin to question why these things are important to me. They shouldn't be, right? I mean, by all standards, selfish and selfless, I and the world stand to gain nothing from the successful or unsuccessful update of my childhood enthusiasms. Yet somehow it really matters. All this childish stuff from my youth is something I cherish, and I want to see it--if it must be resurrected--done to my current standards.
At least now I can relax. They couldn't possibly rehash any other favorite cartoons into movies.

12 November 2007

Hi. I'm an actor.

It's true. I act. Not just, you know, the way everybody acts. I mean, everyone takes action. I do it differently. See, I do it in front of people.

Oh. Oh, you do too? Well, I'm not making myself clear, obviously. See, I take action that I plan out days or weeks in advance, according to a specific order. Except that, see, when I'm acting well, I usually don't know what I'll do next. I'll do something else instead, and that makes everything go better. More unpredictable, and real. But I have to use lots of planning, too, to make that spontenaity more useful to me.

That sounds familiar too, huh? Okay. All right. Oh! Oh! How about this? I have to learn and memorize all this information that means little-to-nothing to anyone else, and am expected to regurgitate that information on cue. In fact, in terms of job security, I have to keep re-applying to my job. Sometimes my life seems like nothing more than a series of challenges, a sequence of putting out fires or keeping multiple pots from boiling over, so that it's all I can do to keep up with it all and get to the next day.

This really doesn't sound unique to you, does it? I can tell by your silence, and your facial expression.

That's it! I have an extraordinary sense of people's emotions! I am an emotional communicator extraordinaire, to the extant that, when I see people smile, I know I've made them happy, and when their eyes get wet, I know they're sort of overcome by...something...and...and...

Crap. I give up. I don't know distinguishes an actor from a "normal person." I've heard it said before that actors are simply normal people with the volume turned up, or slightly different balances of priorities, but the undefined-ness of those statements bugs the detritus from out of my person (look at the lengths I'll go to just not to repeat "crap" [Crap!] in the same paragraph). What is normal? Who defines that? Is it merely a statistical average? Median? Mean? (That does seem pretty mean, but who am I to judge?) Is it community defined? In which case, is that why so many actors feel more normal living in New York, because everyone's a bit more neurotic than the rest of the country?

I quote The Muppets Take Manhattan: "Peoples is peoples."

09 November 2007

Not quite a fart joke . . .

But you gotta love Steven Wright:
"Boycott shampoo! Demand the REAL poo!"

08 November 2007


Last night, with Friends Kate and Patrick, I went to see, of all things, a production of Moliere's The Misanthrope. ("Of all things," because of my recent entry on eschewing email.) I say "Moliere's," but that not quite where all credit is due when it comes to this production. The play was reinterpreted--as is often New York Theatre Workshop's wont--through Messrs. Tony Harrison (translating playwright) and Ivo van Hove (director). I knew this going in, and feared the worst. "Deconstruction" is one of my least favorite words, and I feel a similar hostility toward the process in most cases. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to discover that the interpretation didn't fudge with the language in any grotesque ways. We still had rhyming couplets. We still had scene partners, and all that good (albeit old-fashioned) stuff.

I loved the show overall. The only moments it really lost me were a couple of scenes in which some of the actors playing supporting characters (Moliere is so great about every character getting a good bit in) seemed to make a choice to alternate suddenly between two volume levels: conversational and very VERY LOUD. These moments, though distinct and perplexing, were few, and for the most part the show was exceedingly interesting and accessible at the same time, which is no mean feat. The set design and choreography were striking, and may have overshadowed the acting, had the leads not been so bold within them. The space was like a minimalist/brutalist architect's waiting room, with fluorescent lighting and grey walls, encased on three sides in smoked glass. Up center were three flat-screen monitors rigged side-by-side and set in the back wall to function as a unit. Throughout the action of the play, the set was gradually (though occasionally also suddenly) besmoot with food stuff and garbage, which was just marvelous. There's nothing like the unconventional use of food products on stage.

There's a bit of an informal axiom bandied about by theatre types regarding Chekhov's full-length plays, particularly The Cherry Orchard. It has to do with everyone loving to inform and remind one another that good ol' Chekhov called it a COMEDY, and that the play is usually taken too seriously. Well, I'm no authority on Chekhov, God knows. God also knows I'm not acredited as a Moliere expert. However. I would like to posit that, in the converse of the Chekhov axiom, Moliere rarely gets taken seriously enough. It seems to me that he wrote with incredible humor and lightness (not to mention rhythm), but that he was writing about very serious things and, in some cases, unanswerable questions of the human condition. So I like my Moliere with plenty of physical humor, yes, and as many dirty jokes as possible, but I also like at least the occasional bitter-sweet moment of truth. Think Charlie Chaplin. Give your clown a moment or two to cry.

This production of The Misanthrope struck what I thought was a wonderful balance between elements of madness and melancholy. If anything, it leaned a little more in the direction of serious theatre than I would have, but I think this is an important part of why it will leave a lasting impression on me. When I saw it last, in college, this play made me feel as though the misanthropic character, Alceste, was completely irrational. In this, though he acts more irrationally, I was convinced of his argument against hypocrisy. The party scene, which Alceste interrupts, was so familiar to me with its group seated around a meal of take-out food, cell phones and laptops flipping in and out, and talk of people not in the room. When he brings it to a halt, laying himself across the table, I thought, "Thank God." And somehow, when his tirade against them erupted into an incredible mess of food, mostly smeared all over himself, I was still with him.

One of the ideas that this interpretation in particular seemed to bring across was that there is no cure for hypocrisy. It's a part of human nature, be it a legitimate survival tool, or absurd self-defense, and a tool for ingratiation. Like hatred or greed, however, it needs to be brought to bear under more virtuous impulses, like love or charity. Or sincerity.

And don't buy an iPhone.

06 November 2007

Notions (Part 3 of ? [SPECIAL BIF!SOCK!POW! EDITION])

My earliest experiences with superheroes(TM) were plenty early. I can't pinpoint it, actually. I just know it was early enough that I started dressing as Superman(r) for Halloween when I was something like two. (No doubt this had something to do with the movie coming out when I was quite young.) Since then, I've had gradually increasing experience with that world. Oddly enough, I came to the origins of all that--comicbooks themselves--rather late in my youth. It wasn't until I was about 11 that I started noticing comicbooks. (Not quite true--I came upon a Conan-the-Barbarian comic when I was something like 8. It scared me.) It wasn't until late high school (and Friend Younce's collection of the Sandman comics) that I started collecting graphic novels for myself. Since then, it's been a pleasure that enjoy with very few side effects. In fact, it can contribute to weight loss. To my wallet.

So my appreciation for comicbooks as a genre is rooted in hero worship, tempered with an education in theatre and eventually realized in my early twenties, when I took my first crack at writing a comicbook script:

  • Freaky Chicks. I wrote approximately the first issue--a self-contained origin story of sorts--which introduced us to the two main heroes. The ideas were many in this little adventure, and I was trying to avoid writing a straight-forward comicbook, but ultimately the "superhero"(TM) conceit was that these girls were put together by fate, had very different personalities and abilities, but abilities that complemented each other perfectly. To wit, one was an abrasive young woman who could survive any external injury, but couldn't heal from any; the other a quiet sort who had the ability to heal, presumably through religious gift. The script was about the abrasive one discovering her ability and the two discovering one another.

This script has a long, sad history. I started it in hopeful, long-distance collaboration with an artist friend, and we never really got going with it. I shopped it around a little thereafter, but didn't really have the contacts with the kind of artist I was looking for. Now, most sadly, the only version of the actual script exists on a defunct hard drive I lug from apartment to apartment. For some reason, all my notes and correspondence on the thing transferred to my latest laptop, but not the script itself. Balls. It may be for the best, because I have to imagine at this point that it could use some reworking.

I have had another idea I could see myself sitting down to flesh out some time, though:

  • Aspirant: Two guys this time, best friends from age five. One is maniacally crazy about building himself into a vigilante a la Batman. The other is incredibly regular about his life, wants very basic things, but also feels compelled to prevent the first guy from killing himself in his foray into vigilantism. What the first guy doesn't know, is that his friend Joe Normal has superpowers. He's a rather-more-vulnerable-Superman sort. Joe just doesn't have any of the drive Guy One does to defend justice. Again, very set in a real-world environment; no capes all over the place, or anything like that. I got pretty upset when I saw this sort of relationship being outlined between Peter and his bro in Heroes, but they have thankfully taken it in a different direction.

This last would actually make a pretty great movie in my mind as well, on the indie level. An independently produced superhero(TM) movie would just be old-school bad-ass in my imagination. In practice, well . . . here again is where my lack of experience in film making makes for a dodgy proposition.

It's interesting posting my ideas on the Aviary here. For a long time I felt it took the steam out of my creativity to share my ideas with people, so I avoided this kind of entry. Now, however, I suppose I have become a more collaborative creature (as frustrating as collaboration can sometimes be), because sharing my ideas here has me more excited about them and thereby more ready to work one or two out for awhile. In the immortal words of Stephen Colbert (character): Thanks, Nation.

05 November 2007

You Never Bring Me Flowers Anymore . . .

No, nor sing you love songs, though that may be to your benefit given my lack of vocal training. Furthermore, I never write. Have not I feelings? Care not I about the individual attentions demanded by the sheer accessibility of all my friends and relations? Should not I, as an actor, be interested in being in constant, continual contact with every person I've ever worked/played with who returns the effort? Doesn't the sheer ease of text messages and email obligate me to at least try myself?

Probably: Yes. Nevertheless, I rebel.

Understand, please, that I'm not making a stand on some moral principle. It would be easy as all hell for me to spin it so. I could claim that the ease of communication creates an environment of a whole lot of words to very little effect, or that the millions of emails and MySpace comments that fly about every day have no social impact on anyone, anywhere. I could even plane that edge a bit, make it less proclamatory and just claim to be nostalgic for the days of yore, when letters were written to be saved, and people had to meet in person to catch up. I shan't, because I'd be fooling myself even more than you. No, the reason I'm rebelling lately is because (in my humble self-assessment) I am just sick of it.

I am. I'm grateful for being able to network with friends from the comfort of my day job. I thrill at the ability to communicate with business associates via text messaging when I otherwise wouldn't be able. I do sincerely dig checking out my peeps on their respective 'blogs, dipping a finger in the batter of their creativity. And, I am sick, sick, sick of writing people.

One of the wonderful, wondrous things about a stage play is that it captures, very simply, the beauty of someone entering a room. We have these hundreds of entrances and exits throughout each day of our lives, and they spin by, for the most part unnoticed. Of particular interest, as entrances go, are the moments when one person joins another in a space. You don't even need to know the first thing about the history of these imaginary two to appreciate the moment they join one another in a given area, do you? In that instant, a story is told. In that moment, a space comes alive, has meaning, and words haven't even entered into it yet. I wish I had a name for that. (The French probably do.)

I'm not saying it's irreplaceable (though I will go so far as to say that it is unique). I can't even properly express all that such a moment means to me. Except, perhaps, to say that I miss it. Sans nostalgia. The longing I have for it is very immediate, in fact. It's strange to feel a longing for something so abstract. It's not for one particular person, but people, but not in a group, and it's also for something more. For time to be still, just for half a moment. That suspension of everything. I'm not saying it needs to be dramatic, romantic, or anything specific. Think of knocking on your parents' door. Time stands still for just a tiny bit. There's no "ping," or "be-deep," or "You've got mail!" Your favorite song doesn't start playing, and nothing vibrates, and a magic window doesn't pop up in front of you, demanding attention, and I find that very, very appealing.

It's entirely hypocritical, this entry. The very medium that allows me to express this thought is what's responsible for all this chiming, thrumming, second-by-second communication I seem to deplore. And God knows, ignoring my email doesn't counteract the syndrome in any way at all. It's a little like fighting fire with fire, in fact. Email is an irrational form of personal communication, and I combat this by behaving irrationally myself? Madness. It certainly hasn't resulted in more visits with friends, or even more instances of substantial phone calls. All it does is further separate me from my homies, in particular those what expect a response to a non-business email sooner than a month later.

It could be a phase. Or, it could be an addiction. But me, I prefer an addiction that keeps me out of my seat, rather than one that ties me to it. So I hope you all understand that I love getting emails from you, keeping abreast (maybe even a thigh or a wing) on all you care to write about. My silence is not rejection, and when I bring you flowers, you'll be able to smell them.

And probably me, from all the entrances and exits I'm trying to make good on.

02 November 2007

Frighted with False Fire?

There's been a change at the Aviary. Can you tell what it is? Go ahead. Have a look.

Seriously. It's cool. Look.

Give up? You didn't even try, did you? Come on. You know I'm way too stupid about web jib to do anything fancy; it's not like I could make the background pattern into an optical illusion or anything. (Man, but I wish I could make the background pattern into an optical illusion. [Sailboat!]) Try. Go ahead already.

That's right: my "Aspects" (the topics list down left) is now sorted by frequency, rather than alphabetically. I MUST REQUEST THAT YOU RETAIN YOUR COMPOSURE. Just breathe. Relax. We're gonna get through this. I can hear, through this magical series of tubes, your angst-ridden pleas for explanation. Allow me to address that: I don't know. Or, rather: Just 'cause. I've been thinking for some time now that once I had a good number of entries, it would be good to see what I'm writing about most and least often, and there you have it. Generally, that is. I think that, as a weblogger, I am a little topic-happy. There are generally 49 topics for each entry. What can I say? I like that feature. So every so often, if you use it, you'll get an entry that has only one sentence about the topic you were searching for. Sorry 'bout that.

I confess, too, that a little bit of pride goes into the resorting. People that I don't know, at all, are reading my 'blog with a certain nonchalant regularity, and now anyone who visits--assuming they're geek enough to scan the topic list--can see if what I concern myself with interests them or not. Theatre-philes will be pleased. People researching pigeons will probably pass me by. Interestingly enough (note I do not say "suprisingly enough"), as of the date of this entry, number 5 under "Aspects" is . . .

Now, this is interesting to me for a variety of reasons:

  1. I kind of thought "anxiety" or "fear" would make the top three. In this sense, it's kind of an accomplishment.

  2. Just last night I had a conversation with Friend Kate that addressed the topic of anxiety, both in general and as it pertains to yours truly, and it was revealed to me that the anxiety with which I approach many things can be a bit upsetting and tiresome. Why this never occurred to me before, I have no idea, but she's right.

  3. Anxiety was an energy that a lot of my acting used to be fueled by, and just lately I've been finding that unhelpful, both in terms of the relative staying power of that energy and the influence it has on my acting choices.

So. Buttons. Where to begin?

Well (to begin,), allow me to say that I believe I have gotten a little better about this whole "anxiety thing." Folks what knew me back in the day (which was a Wednesday; I don't know if you knew that) can tell you, I used to freak out about and be afraid on some level of just about everything. Even things that really had little-to-nothing to do with me personally. Somehow, I found value in taking responsibility for every little thing I could, and I think it had something to do with the idea that I needed to earn love, or something similarly packed with pathos (the bad kind). I'm not saying I've worked that out entirely, but I'm much better now at identifying what is truly my problem, what's my sympathy, and I don't freak out about telephone calls or public places. As often. >wink!<

The issue for me now-a-days has more to do with functioning without anxiety; that is, dropping some anxiety without becoming a total ne'er-do-well. I am addressing this challenge both in terms of life and in terms of acting. I mean, damn, but the way I used to get things done in rehearsal was to rev up the old engine and let it fly, see where it took me. Now, however, things have changed. The acting engine doesn't seem to want to run now unless it's getting proper fuel and recipricol kinetic energy. (Distended metaphor engine: apparently 100%.) That is to say, whereas before my anxious energy translated easily into big, sometimes bad but always boisterous, acting choices, now nothing dramatic happens unless I'm making the right choices and doing so with a scene partner who is right there with me.

In some senses, this makes me a "better" actor. In fact, I would wager that most laymen would analyze this as an obvious improvement, based on the standard that fewer right answers are always better than a multitude of wrong ones. That's not exactly an actor's job, though. In fact, as I have come to understand it, using too much discernment in the moment actually impedes an actor's process, turns him or her into a simultaneous experimentor and critic who constantly self-nullifies. What most people need from an actor is for him or her to come into a rehearsal room and screw up big time, left, right and center, to find the occasional just-right gem of a choice.

It really is a question of fuel. Once, it was sufficient to face the stage (and life) with a heaping helping of anxiety to fuel my ride. It got things done, and it seemed endless in supply. Well, I suppose anything that seems unlikely to change is a thing that will surprise you. That's part of the pleasure of acting, I must admit. It's fascinating work because not only does it never sit still, but one's instruments never do, either. It's like trying to perform surgery on a patient who is engaged in aerobics, and with anthropomorphic tools animated by Disney. (Distended metaphor engine: definitely 100%.) That is to say, the craft of acting sometimes seems to boil down to staying flexible enough to keep up with changes. After all, the only constant in life is change.

And change makes me anxious. >wink!<

01 November 2007

Notions (Part 2 of ?)

Friend Davey responded in some detail to a post of mine from earlier this week:

"When you first mentioned Punch and Judy in your blog, I imagined it as
giant oversize puppets looming over you and Heather. I think I even
so far as to describe it like that to a friend of mine. So when later,
posted about P&J and then about Stilt costuming insects later, I was
confused, b/c in my head you had already mentioned doing Punch as giant
puppets, why split them up! So I had to re-read and
understand that
somehow I had added the giant puppets into the mix. What is
Patrick's Sukeu
mask?I saw your sister this weekend and she told me that her
biggest shock was
seeing you come out playing the Trombone. I can't
believe I missed it. The
clown film is ambitious, and ultimately sounds the
most... you I guess.
The most all around you. You've lived in the city
for the better part of your
adult life. It's about time you made it a
thank you card you ungrateful
bastard :P Seriously though, I think the clown
film would be an amazing
piece. Planning on staying in one clown for
the duration will be
challenging no? Does he go back to boring drab at
the end, or does he find
the rest of his troupe?"
All excellent, thought-provoking responses, Davey (even without the bizarre poetic structure Blogger decided to enact upon it), and I thank you and encourage everyone who's interested to chime in on these things. I've been giving a lot of thought to the subject of collaboration lately. So much so, it may be a good new topic heading. Now, if that isn't momentous, I don't know what is.

And I admit: I probably don't know what is.

The Punch & Judy thing is in such early stages of development that it's hard to say just what it will be. It's entirely possible that it would--at least at some point--involve Heather and I dressing in enormous P&J puppets, like you see in the NYC Halloween Parade. However, I'm more interested in keeping it simple to begin with, and exploring the characters and situations associated not only with the story itself, but the history of its audiences as well. I mean, we were watching Punch and Judy from an early age. It's just that Mister Rogers made them be nice to one another.

Years ago Friend Patrick, who is a brilliant mask maker and actor, made me a mask styled after discussions we'd had and named after the alter ego Friend Davey bestowed upon me in high school. It's very raven-like, with a rather long, stout beak and round eyes and for years now I've only played with it in private, experimenting and trying to allow, rather than force, what that character wants to be.

The clown film (working title: Red Signal) is ambitious indeed, particularly given that I know virtually nothing about film making and have no budget even for my day-to-day life, much less for a film. Still, for a couple of years now I've been mulling over the possibilities for making a sort of digital video demo of the piece, and Davey's questions help to move it along. No, it would not be hard to stay in the same clown the whole time. I'd have to chart out his progress to keep it all organized in my mind while filming non chronologically, but it would be essentially my personal clown character, and that's not hard for me to access or stay in. Now, as for the end: Good bloody question. I never thought he'd go back to drab completely, but it's a possibility. I also never even considered that he might find his "troupe." I got locked into thinking of it as a love story with a girl/city, but maybe it could be different.

Also, a couple of other things tickling my fancy (which is illegal in some states):

  • Directing now, as an adult, a short play I tried to direct toward the end of college: Mimosa Pudica, by Curt Dempster. First step would be rereading the thing, because it's entirely possible that my tastes have changed. Drastically. But this is my first mental in-road to the possibility of directing more.

  • Writing a show called . . . wait for it . . . The Project Project. This may be the stupidest idea I've ever had, but I'm particularly ticklish to it. The idea would be to write a play based on my experiences trying to collaborate to create a play. The idea is a comedy, for now, and would somehow revolve around the action of making a show from scratch, from beginning to end. I recognize this may be a completely Freudian impulse (no, not that kind)--trying to exert control over something inherently uncontrollable (oh...okay: that kind).