29 September 2008

"This is me breathing . . . "

says John Cusack's character, Martin Blank, as he prepares for his ten-year high school reunion by almost unconsciously loading a clip into his handgun and checking the chamber. I love Grosse Point Blank. It's an incredibly irresponsible movie with nothing but reverence for a by-gone era, some violence, and a whole lot of cynically glib dialogue. Love it, love it, love it. Somewhere in the back of my mind I'm constantly searching for open calls for the casting of GPBII: Son of Blank. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.

Movie quotes play through my head with about the same frequency as songs do, so there's nothing unusual about having one take up residence there for a little while, and the more I enjoy a movie, the more I've seen it, and there you go. Still, I try to take notice when one seems particularly stubborn about hanging onto my hippocampus, and this is one that has done just that. I'm not saying that a quote is recalled just for the purpose of trying to communicate something to myself. Rather, I think that when I do recall a quote, or snatch of song, some part of brain is working tirelessly away on some worry or other and recognizes the meaning. The old gray matter can be like a room full of people, and one of them can recognize something in another and say, "Oh man, don't leave yet. So-and-so's just got to meet you." And so, on the three-hundredth and sixty-second internal repetition, a connection is made. This is me breathing . . .

I'm a nail-biter. I don't mean that as a colorful expression of my anxious personality. Rather, I am literally a nail-biter. I try to be better about it. I generally fail. It's called chronic onychophagia, by the way, and only about 10% of men past the age of 30 engage in it. It's a rather complicated little symptom/condition. Lots of theories surround it. It's often coupled with other supposed compulsive behaviors, such as hair removal, skin removal, excessive washing, etc., and so often associated with obsessive/compulsive disorders. But it can also be diagnosed as a simple ingrained behavioral response, or an addiction, or as a kind of sublimated grooming instinct. I don't know quite what to make of it, except to say that I do it when I'm bored and when I'm anxious, occasionally without conscious thought, and that I find it enormously gratifying for some reason. I'd also like to stop. This is me breathing . . .

I have many habits. I have a lot of trouble distinguishing between my habits and possible compulsive behaviors. I'm just not sure where one draws the line. My chronic onychophagia (it's just a fun way to say it) is probably the most physically destructive h/pcb I currently engage in, though my sincere and abiding love of good beer is obviously not a huge benefit to my person. I've had worser ones in the past -- such as smoking -- but really, most of these behaviors are a little more mental than demonstrative. They may occasionally creep out in behavior, like finger-tapping or object-arranging, but as I've matured (ahem: grown older at least in terms of years) these demonstrations have lessened, either by will or accident. Because the h/pcbs can be so inexplicably internal, I often wonder just how unique they are, how many others experience them in the ways I do? I know I'm not alone. I know that. But is it maybe everyone, in their own ways? Is there a norm after all? This is me breathing . . .

They sometimes say (They being rather fond of sweeping generalizations) that life happens in cycles, and not just the easily observable variety, such as birth-life-death, or spring-summer-fall-winter. Coincidence, in the purest meaning of the word, occurs over and over again. When a celebrity dies, we await the next two to follow. Read a book about little people and, though you'd swear it's never happened before, you'll notice nearly a dozen just going about your day. The cause-and-effect is difficult to track here, though plenty of people will chalk it up to simple mental association. The brain does have a habit of seeking out patterns, rhythms and symmetries. Yet I'm inclined to believe that the world outside our minds meets us halfway, more often than not. I'm not proposing anything particularly mystical here; linear logic simply doesn't explain everything. Take, for example, weddings. What is the explanation for my attending four weddings in the next four months, including my own, and the three others that friends of mine are attending during that same period? Incidences align, and it seems to me that attributing such alignments solely to human behavior is at best naive, at worst arrogant. It's just that we're a little obsessed with ourselves, and a little in love with answers. We're also a little in love with mystery, which I admit keeps me returning to a sense of wonder when I'm given the option. This is me breathing . . .

I've been using The Big Show to help motivate me in recent efforts to curb my chronic onychophagia, which is in one sense apt, and in another, ironic. The last time I was particularly successful in ceasing the mania was during rehearsal for The Glass Menagerie, way back in 2002. I was playing a guy bent on self-improvement, who cared a lot about the impression he made on others, and it helped. Wherefore, then, ironic? Because one thing I have figured out about this behavior is that it is provoked by anxiety. When I got my first job, with a moving company, they told us that the two most stressful occasions in a person's life are a moving day and wedding day. Well, I'm here to tell you that the days leading up to said day are no piece of cake, neither. Planning a wedding is rife with reasons to return to old, comforting cycles, from the politics of negotiation to the inner-searching of a person preparing to make the change of his and/or her li(f/v)e/s. God bless. It's enough to make a fella' return to smoking. This is me breathing . . .

Where experience and discovery meet, that's good acting. You want your performance to be informed by all you've seen and done, to be true to your understanding of the world, but also to embody the questions that live in a new, first-time moment. Acting in the theatre can satisfy both my compulsion for repetition and order, and my appetite for surprise and wonder. The ultimate balance between the two is an incredibly fragile thing: It only exists for half moments, most of the time, and most of the time such moments can't be savored, lest one risks destroying them. They must simply be, and then pass. As a younger actor, I became pretty obsessed with rehearsing a role to mechanical perfection, with making good choices and being able to reproduce them exactly. The majority of my adult craft has been a process of learning about the other side of that coin, about the incredible necessity for surprise and improvisation. Hell: You can't possibly see enough possibilities to be effective without inviting forces of chance to have their say. We're at the mercy of chance -- from found money to global financial market crises -- every moment of every day, so it is in some ways natural to value ritual, to seek cycles. This is me breathing . . .

We are not, however, our cycles. (Much as we may sometimes like to be.) We're not even our choices. (Although I imagine most of us would desperately insist that is exactly what we are.) No, we're something altogether else, a synthesis of choice and chance, a combination of forces creating . . . what, exactly? Well, us. I don't know how else to say it. With every inhale, and every exhale, forces are at work, within and without. It's a little frightening to think of things this way, but fear and excitement are a couple of those component forces. When I look at things this way, it seems apparent to me that my habits are in substance simply misdirected energy, force that could be applied to making more choices or, perhaps, appreciating more chances. Then again, maybe they're leading me toward their own chances and choices. The best one can do is to keep breathing, through whatever may come.

25 September 2008

Buzz Buzz

This morning I woke with my usual weekday alarm, at 6:00, but pressed the snooze for a luxuriant nine-minute extension. I think I had a little too much salt in my dinner last night, and it made me especially dehydrated and imbalanced. Once I was up, I dallied in my rituals, adding little preparations for the weekend until I felt capable of safely getting out the free weights and plugging into my headphones. I'm back on a schedule of each morning alternating between upper body and lower, and today was upper. The advantage of a lower-body morning is that I can stretch, check in a little and then just get out and start jogging; my mind will clear eventually in the course of the run. On an upper day, I have to rally my mental facilities in other ways. If I dived straight in to push-ups and curls in a fugue state I would undoubtedly succeed admirably at hurting myself, either by exacerbating old injury(ies) or collecting a new one by dropping a lump of iron onto my person. Either way, it's best to be alert before beginning.

As I shook out, and rallied (with admittedly pitiful momentum) my resources, I had this thought: Life is pretty difficult.

Not my life, mind you: Life. As in, living. It occurred to me this morning that just getting by, living a life that one doesn't hate, is in itself a pretty big accomplishment. I think this is true to varying degrees for everyone. Some obviously have more difficult lives than others. I wouldn't want to compare my struggles to save enough money to move into a bigger apartment to, say, the efforts of any given Sudanese refugee to avoid a death full of indignity and suffering. No contest: New York real estate wins every time. But in the strange and ambiguous state between sleeping and waking this morning I had this kind of clear, unexpected insight. Living is tricky business.

I sometimes think the major reason I continue acting is because otherwise I would feel stifled and bored. I believe that is entirely possible, but I also believe that it's an irrational fear, because life itself, the day-to-day efforts, are endlessly complex and engaging. They ought to be, anyway. Ask yourself, is there any activity in the world that I can't be improving myself in, that can't lead to something more, that won't at any given moment surprise me completely? Cooking, for instance. For the past few evenings, in the interests of banishing Fiancee Megan's lingering cold and using more of our extant groceries, I've been making soup for dinner. The past three times we've had it, I've made it three different ways, according to what was at hand and what I felt might improve the balance of flavors and the health effects. Last night, upon tasting it, I thought I'd nailed it pretty good. It tasted appetizing, strong and rather complex. I congratulated myself. Then, this morning, I was forced into the realization that it didn't work. I could probably work on my basic vegetable-broth soup for the rest of my life and always be surprised and, since I enjoy cooking, I just might. Which, I suppose, is the key: enjoying oneself. It makes for being alert, observant, emotionally invested -- all things that help the appreciation of the complexities of a given activity come far more naturally. At the start of college, my then-girlfriend and I went to dinner with a fellow freshman acting major and he asked us why we were there, studying theatre. I labored over a personal and meaningful answer. She simply said, "I suppose because it's one of the few things in life that makes me genuinely happy."

I try to exercise every morning for two basic reasons; I'm vain and mildly masochistic. No really: I am. No, really, I (try to) exercise every morning because I want to be ready to perform acrobalance and other physical feats whenever they're called for, and because good habits breed themselves. I've learned to enjoy it, at that (though I'd much rather be lifting a flyer than weights). I try to make it a part of my regular ol' life. Even if I gave up acting tomorrow, I'd want to keep it up. It's a choice not just for my Third Life(TM) but for my first life. It makes for a slightly trickier life, of course. Time must be made, bedtimes must be adhered to, diet must be balanced, injury must be courted, etc. But, then again, everything we choose for ourselves makes for a slightly trickier life, doesn't it? It's always one more thing. The simplest life would be about just getting by, and even that life is usually fraught with struggle and surprise.

I have on occasion been accused of taking too much on, especially in the way of theatre work. At such accusations I generally scoff with a scoffing scoffation. I can get spread thinner than is good for me, of course, but I work because it makes me happy. I like work. Of a certain variety. Theatre work most of all. Acting in general next. Wedding planning ... mmm ... somewhere in the middle. Day job, not so much. But in a certain sense, it's all good stuff. I thought that during this time of so much change and planning I would have nothing to report on the acting work front. I've been intentionally avoiding travel and long-term commitments in the interests of keeping things as simple as possible for the next month or so. Yet today I updated Loki's Apiary and noticed that I had more entries for this month than any other yet this year. There are any number of explanations for this, but at least one of them is that life is tricky. And I like tricky.

23 September 2008

Reading Room

I've got to learn not to resent . . . well: anything; basically. Resentment is not a helpful emotion in general and, if you are allowed a little perspective, you often have the double-pleasure of experiencing both the pleasantness of resentment and--later on--the pleasantness of realizing, "Oh God; I was such an ass to resent what I was about two weeks ago resenting."

Yesterday I worked. I worked two smallish jobs, actually: this one & this one. (It's a good day when an actor can be excused from his or her day job for paying acting work, but it's a great day when said actor be similarly gainfully employed and make more money than he or she would at his or her day job.) I had, in brief, a very lovely day indeed. It was only today, after sitting down to consider it, that I had a brief pang of realization that yesterday seems as though it were structured to point up my aforementioned fault. Well, regret is probably an even less useful emotion than resentment, so I shan't linger on it, lest I propagate it. I will, however, stop getting all Charlotte Brontë on my syntax and specify my observation in the hopes that it keeps me from getting stupider (i.e., more [ah regret!] resentful) in the future.

The first gig was a film gig, of sorts: an industrial for a company known as Lancer Insurance. This was, in a sense, a cushy gig. All I had to do was be familiar enough with the script to be able to perform it convincingly off a teleprompter. It was my first experience using a teleprompter, in fact. (Those of you familiar with Anchorman -- it's absolutely true; if it had been on there, I would have read it aloud.) It was essentially an interview, my scene, and a bona fide lawyer was off-screen asking his side of the interview off a paper, while I read my responses off the teleprompter, trying as hard as I could to make it look like I was looking a guy in the face. The screen had a couple of stationary arrows on each side, the which are supposed to be where I was reading at a given moment, though an operator was pacing the scroll specifically according to my the rate of my performance. He did a pretty good job, too, save a couple of times when I thoughtfully paused and had to tamp down terror as I noticed the scroll, in fact, didn't. The hardest part for me was avoiding left-to-right eye movement; I tried to look between the arrows and enforce peripheral perception, a little like looking at one of those hidden-picture stereographs. ("Over there?! That's just a guy in a suit!")

What struck me about the gig was that, in spite of having no lines to learn -- or perhaps, as a direct result of it -- this job ought to have been rather difficult. I mean, acting itself often requires us to accept a huge amount of ridiculous non-reality and to play for truth right along with it, but here was a complete and utter refutation of the actor's need for believable circumstances, environment, or even a scene partner with whom to make eye contact. I was sitting at a table, mic'd up, against a giant green screen, reading from a projection with a backdrop of cameras, lights, technicians and the various tools of the trade to be found in any film or photography studio. My imagination was the only recourse I had, and it served me well, but on top of all that, I was being asked to read and make it alive. Why wasn't this more difficult? Where had I been doing this, getting such good practice that I barely registered the challenges it presented?

My latter gig that day was a return to NYU for the Steinberg Lab, which is a program in which undergraduate playwrights get to workshop their writing, in part by way of casting actors to perform readings for them and a few of their closest colleagues. Most of the work I get through NYU involves some sort of staged reading, live or for film, and as I proceeded to wing it with an especially abstract script on Monday, I realized that this plethora of readings I've been doing of late is exactly what allowed me to be perfectly relaxed in the surreal environment of the teleprompter. In fact, teleprompters are easier than scripts in many respects. The key to a good staged reading is stealing as many moments away from the page as possible to make eye contact, all without losing your place (or, at least, being able to effectively fill moments spent rediscovering your place). Though you're deprived of eye contact with a teleprompter, you're also saved the logistical struggle and potential whiplash of a script-in-hand read. Either way, the unique skill of reading something as though it's just coming to you, motivated by the moments before, is like how one gets to Carnegie Hall.

I do not mean taking the N/R/Q to 57th Street.

So thank you, one and all, you workshopping playwrights, you producers looking for backing, you theatre-philes and patient givers of feedback. Thank you university teachers, new-works encouragers and experimentally inclined venue managers. Thanks everyone, for all the reading work. I knew not what a valuable skill reading could be!

19 September 2008

"3: We are now held within un-, sub- or supernatural forces. Discuss."

The comment thread on my last post (see 9/17/08) has me seriously jonesing for a good Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead quote match. For those of you unfamiliar with the play and/or movie, it's essentially an absurdist retelling of Hamlet from the vantage point of the two minor characters made titular ("of a title," you perverts). It's a fave. It's often the fave, depending on mood, time of day, strength of coffee and relative distance of Saturn from Venus. So, some favorite quotes, checked against Wikiquote, from which even more can be found...


"Out we come, bloodied and squalling, with the knowledge that for all the points of the compass, there's only one direction, and time is its only measure."

"Life in a box is better than no life at all, I expect."

"We'll be all right. I suppose we just go on."

Guildenstern (clearly the part I want)

"I mean, you wouldn't bet on it. I mean, I would, but you wouldn't."

"It must be indicative of something besides the redistribution of wealth."

"What could we possibly have in common except our situation?"

"All your life you live so close to truth it becomes a permanent blur in the corner of your eye. And when something nudges it into outline, it's like being ambushed by a grotesque."

"A man talking sense to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense not to himself."

"Don't you discriminate at all?!"

"If we had a destiny, then so had he, and if this is ours, then that was his, and if there are no explanations for us, then let there be none for him."

"...now you see him, now you don't, that's the only thing that's real..."

"Pragmatism. Is that all you have to offer?"

"No, no, no…death is not. Death isn't. Take my meaning? Death is the ultimate negative. Not-being. You can't not be on a boat."

The Player

"The bad end unhappily, the good unluckily. That is what tragedy means."

"We do on stage things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else."

"We are tied down to a language which makes up in obscurity what it lacks in style."

"Hamlet…in love…with the old man's daughter…the old man…thinks."

Cobbled dialogue

"So there you are...stark, raving sane..."

"I don't believe in it anyway ... What? ... England. ... Just a conspiracy of cartographers, you mean?"

17 September 2008

Wills On Film

Ha-ha; that's Duran Duran stuck in your head all day, sucker!

What? I'm old? Yeah, well . . .

. . . sh'up.

Actually: I've not been recorded on film recently. ("No, no...what you've been is not on boats.") What I've been, is a guest in another of Denny Lawrence's film classes at NYU. This time, it was a sort of introductory directing class for freshmen who had not been there yet three weeks. I and Colleague Christa Kimlicko Jones served as actors at a first read, as Denny demonstrated his communication techniques, and encouraged class discussions. In addition -- the very next day, in fact -- I was cast in an industrial that is filming next week, the details of which are available over at Loki's Apiary. (Loki's motto: Idle hands are the Devil's playground...and besides: busy bees make more money, honey.)

The class was outstanding, and afterward was even better, as Denny, Christa and I lingered to discuss the same topics we were outlining for young minds in the hour before. What's very interesting and necessary about the work Denny does for these students is that he includes a priority for the process involved in creating not only a good film, but a film that is recording good acting work. It may seem basic, this priority for good acting, but it's not at all. Many filmmakers, be they young or old, come close to disregarding any kind of process related to the actors at all. Hitchcock is famously quoted as comparing actors to cattle, and this sentiment is a tempting one for someone with all the power and responsibilities of a film director. After all, unlike theatre, a film never leaves their control (barring editorial exceptions, of course). They get the final say in the editing room, and I suppose it can be tempting in these circumstances to regard the actor's work as simple raw material that is spun out, manufactured. But it's not, and Denny appreciates this, and encourages his students to be intimate with an actor's process in order to better communicate with one. So this class was, for many there, the introduction of that idea.

The next morning, in the audition for the industrial, I was reminded of the class over and over again. Like the class, the audition was held at a table and with scripts in hand. I read my side of a scene with the casting director, and for the first time had that connection while reading it. Though quite straight-forward, it was not a simple scene. My character had to relate details of his life that created strong, involuntary emotional responses in him, yet he wanted above all to remain strong in the face of the challenge. In other words, as an actor I needed to make clear and believable my emotional reactions without baring them, or making the scene all about them. (It's kind of the secret game of acting, this pretense on both the actors' and the audience's parts that what they're there for is the plot or themes . . . we all know what we're really there for.) Anyway, typically the way I approach this kind of challenge is to play the intention of the character, what he wants, and listen. Just listen. When I really hear the words being said, the emotion comes of itself, and I can play the intention of continuing with strength through the challenge of those emotions.

"Intention" is just one of many terms we bandied about in class on Tuesday while trying to explain an actor's process and priorities to so many neophytes. It's difficult to say how much of our acting vocabulary actually made sense to the students, being as most of it is conceptual in nature. Words with simpler meanings in the rest of the world -- intention, obstacle, process, action -- are used as signifiers of things otherwise unnamed and intangible in an actor's world. Aptly enough, whether or not our words made sense to them, I could see our demonstrations, our "actions," getting through. Before one run, a student would look confused about, say, why it was important not to lead an actor into a certain goal. Then we would run a page, with Denny's coaching, and the same student would ask a very insightful (not to mention interested) question about how to direct an actor without determining the specific outcome. At the same time I was working to put years of practice into comprehensible words, the students were working at discovering the value in what they were witnessing. In this way, it was very similar to the feeling one gets from a good and productive rehearsal: a mutual and inclusive process of exploration and discovery. And we talked about that feeling in class, at that.

Another good feeling is when you get to the end of an audition and the casting director says to you, "Great work. Thank you. You've got the job." The occasions for this feeling are extremely rare, if for no other reason than that normally the casting director wants to get to the end of his or her day before making any decisions. I had occasion for this feeling at the end of my audition yesterday, and I'm probably still glowing just a bit. I mean, really, it's just an industrial -- less than a day's work, and for corporate purposes. But I can't fight this feeling (anymore). It's not at all a humble emotion. Uh-uh. No. I, plainly, rule. For now. What's curious for me to consider is that I think I did so well in the audition at least in part because of the activities of the day before. Having that time with colleagues, to consider and talk about how we work when we're working well, probably had a lot to do with the calm and clarity with which I approached the challenges of my audition. I could use more of that.

In the conversation amongst us all after class, we got to talking about the actor's process more, and specifically how it relates to a film set. It's encouraging to know that there are people like Denny out there making films with care about the acting aspect of them, and spreading that priority to future film makers. I really love film (et al), as a medium. I'm a big fan of theatre, and a big fan of photography, so the merging of the two is and always has been a very worthwhile prospect to me. I'd really like to act in a film -- anything with a narrative, in which I play a character with significant dialogue -- and do it soon. I've stayed away for a variety of (mostly lame) reasons, and one of those is a misconception of the film set being a place where the actor doesn't actually have a lot to contribute, or a process to be nurtured. The emphasis is on crank it out, get it right, edit and print it, or so it's always seemed.

Now? Now I'm rethinking that.

15 September 2008

The Greatest Show in Long Island City

Last night I helped set up, then attended, one of the best shows I've seen in a long time. It was the wedding of Friends Zoe Klein and Dave Paris, of Paradizo Dance fame, and it was quite an affair, both ambitious and intimate. Dave and Zoe put together a circus-themed wedding at a really cool venue in the LIC: The Foundry. Check out some pictures of the venue, then imagine that, with aerial rigging hung and a different circus-themed booth in every nook. As I said -- ambitious -- but with all the spectacle and performances, it was still a ceremony with its head on straight. One really felt that the best and most important thing happening last night was the union of two people with a special relationship. It was, in many ways, a far more successful and satisfying piece of theatre than I've seen in years.

The whole shindig didn't start until 5:30, but I sprouted up around 1:00 in promise to help Zoe pull it all together. I found there Friend Tiffany Kraus, of Kirkos association, which was a very welcome reunion indeed. I also found Friend Cody suspended from the rafters on white fabric -- she was scheduled to perform that evening, after the ceremony -- and it began to occur to me just how much of my former circus life might revisit me that evening. This is not necessarily all good, as I did more circus at a time when I was somewhat younger (read: a whole lot stupider). Nevertheless, I was excited by the prospect. I miss my days of regular ceiling-hanging and handstand-failing. Tiffany and I threw ourselves into candle placement, sunflower trimming and chuppah building, and the time flew by.

One of the splendid things that Zoe and Dave requested of their guests was that everyone dress in exuberant colors, along a specific circus theme of their choosing. Suggestions included ring master, trapeze artist, elephant, side-show denizen, etc. As things got under way, a completely various assortment of characters rolled into the place, some simply a little on the colorful side, others costumed to the nines and, of course, many genuine circus sorts didn't even have to try. Dave and Zoe themselves dressed in performance clothing for the ceremony, rather than a tux and gown. You might imagine this made the whole thing a boisterous occasion, and it was, but also very friendly, very communicative. Friends Kate Magram and Bronwyn Sims (Actor ~ Aerialist ~ Acrobat) were in attendance, too, bringing the total Kirkos number to five. It was, in brief, unexpectedly meaningful in a very personal way.

The most impressive part of Paradizo Dance's work for me is the way in which it blends Dave and Zoe's backgrounds and enthusiasms to create really flavorful performance that just about deserves its own category. Dave has been a competitive salsa dancer for years, and Zoe a more modern dancer and acrobat, and together they do inspired partner routines that are big on lyricism, lifts and lusty lunges (consonance is my big contribution). If you haven't seen any of their video, do. Even if the picture quality is poor, you'll be impressed within ten seconds. In fact, the movement and stunts are so impressive that it takes one a while to appreciate that everything is working on a higher level than that, that the grace of their movements is connected to specific emotion, choreographed with pleasing synchronicity to musical accompaniment. In other words, they've learned from each other's craft and used all of it to bring out a clear, urgent and rewarding communication with the audience. It's just lovely. That aesthetic is one they share with their friends, as was proven by the performers there last night -- dancers, aerialist and juggler. Paradizo Dance ended the evening's performances with a duet of their own. Needless to say, it brought the house down.

What was more impressive than the lifts, tricks and decor, even more than the example of a successful and happy life lived somewhere on the edges, was the way in which Zoe and Dave are so at ease, so at home with that life. It was a beautiful thing to witness, a public acknowledgement and demonstration of that agreement, that accord. Weddings are funny, in that no matter what your aesthetic or priority, they're invariably idealizations of your life. You work pretty damn hard to make them a concentrated dose of the goodness you wish for yourselves, and that others hopefully will wish for you. So, like theatre, they're not real. Oh God, how we'd hate them if they were.

As unreal as they may be, still, they are very, very important.

11 September 2008

Everyone is Leading Someone(s)

I've been pondering me the nature of good leadership of late. I think my interest is in part due to my recent desires to direct, to take the reins on a show of my own and lead it through the scabrous paths of the New York theatre scene. I often have a great idea, and then take a really, really long time to think about it. I'm not sure if this is just my way, or a way of sifting out ideas without staying power, or what (what = sheer laziness), but I can be very meditative about a new task. I like to do things right, and do them right the first time, which is of course an interesting strength/weakness sort of trait. For this particular meditation, I have been borrowing data from all sorts of sources in my day-to-day life, quite subconsciously. Sources like observations from my day job, observations from commercial transactions, news reports about various international governments and -- yes -- lessons from actual directors with whom I've worked. I've also been reminded of certain lessons from my Directing for the Stage class, taught by the late Dr. Kenneth Campbell. What it's all left me with so far is something like this:

  • Lead by example. This simply covers a lot of ground. It's cliche, and simple, and so often over-looked or excused in its failure. Some people even argue that you should set an example you can't fulfill, so everyone's striving for it together. I say be real, and be the best you can.

  • Leaders should infect with enthusiasm, not terrify with consequences. Maybe it is called for at some point: the terror technique. But if so, I'm not sure that I've ever seen it. Called for, that is. I've seen the terror technique. It's my noisy next door neighbor, figuratively speaking. I know way too much about him, quite accidentally, and never know how to respond when confronted by him. The terror technique, he makes no sense. You get much better results with enthusiasm. My boss switched it up to enthusiasm just this morning, and, man, have I gotten things done and cleared since then. Of course, this may also have something to do with her acknowledging a personal need to . . .

  • Be organized. It's true there have been plenty of inspired leaders who couldn't find matching socks in the morning, and plenty of perpetual followers who can pull their second-grade report card in under sixty seconds. I'm not saying this is the key to good leadership, but it helps. A LOT. People are a lot more willing to listen to someone who shows up early, doesn't allow interruptions and knows where they left their glasses. Of course, keeping oneself organized is a whole other ballgame from keeping other people so, which is why a good leader must know how to . . .

  • Delegate intelligently. Another cliche here. Although: really? I always hear, "Must be able to delegate responsibility," but rarely is it qualified with something suggestive of delegation being a skill of varying effectiveness. The trouble with delegation is that it takes a very finely honed sense of perspective, and an intimate understanding of the people around you, and very few people seem to appreciate this. You can't do it all, and even if somehow you can, it makes working for you miserable, because necessary information gets centralized so thoroughly that if you disappear, so does a great deal of effectiveness. How to delegate intelligently, exactly? It would take its own entry (or book) in all likelihood, but I suspect it has something to do with being able to perceive the big picture right alongside the details.

  • You're only as capable as you are flexible. The leader has to have the ability to stick his or her nose into every aspect of the endeavor. Also, the insight to know when to go with a specialist's opinion over his or her own. Orchestration is a good word. You may not be able to play every instrument in the band, but you damn well better know what each and every one can sound like, and be able to pick it up without knocking it out of tune.

  • Communicate. Seriously. About everything. On some rare occasions a secret or particular dissemination of information may be useful, but the rule should otherwise be to talk about everything, all of the time. And I do mean talk. Getting things done comes of talking; talking is the real-time interaction that provides the most information and the best understanding, even between people who are having trouble understanding the actual words involved. Collaboration is communication.

  • Whenever possible, begin every response with an observation and affirmation. And for that matter, start every conversation with a question. Beginning that way invites the person into communication, rather than laying something (yet ANOTHER THING) on him or her. Once you're in the exchange, you'll get much more helpful responses if the person you're dealing with hears you saying "yes" with your voice, even when you have to disagree. "Yes" maintains energy, affirms worth, and allows people to feel like you're listening. (It helps you out too with your long-term positivity.) In acting it's called "accepting and building," taking something you're given and making something more with it. This may sometimes be a matter of turning lemons into lemonade -- you're still going to get fewer squirts in the eye this way.

  • Know what you're about. I'm not saying by this that a leader has to have it all figured out. (On the contrary: How pointless.) No, I mean to say that people need something to latch on to if they're going to follow someone. Maybe it's just because they also need something to criticize or catch you failing to fulfill, but some singular quality that's demonstrable helps people focus in on you. Something personal must separate you from the crowd, and it's just helpful that you understand your own je ne sais quoi. Mystery can be your trademark. Just know it, if it is. It may become a target at some point, but so what? You aren't the important thing:

  • Make calls, and take responsibility for everything, credit for nothing. We tend to resist images and examples from kings and emperors (we're more comfortable with ship captains, for some reason), but there is something about that dynamic that everyone craves, or at times needs. We're more inclined to follow decisive people, and more inclined to work hard for them when we know they have our backs. This is difficult advice, because it can be so easy to misconstrue. A leader isn't always right, and a leader must have a chorus of input from his or her followers at all times, but he or she must also mediate, resolve, and take things forward. When things go wrong, the good leader protects his or her team. When things go right, the good leader makes sure the team members involved get the credit. It's a lot to take on, but in my opinion you're wasting your time if you do it any other way.

That's what I think so far, anyway. I must admit that it's not based on a whole lot of personal experience. Most of my leadership roles to date are the result of coincidence and/or default. Soon I hope to take that in hand. For now, I remain content to meditate a while longer.

10 September 2008

Miraculous Minutiae

So. They've given the Large Hadron Collider the old test run, and we're all still here. (It drives me nuts, not being able to figure out definitively if it's HAY-DRAWN or HA-DRAWN.) Of course, if in that initial pass somehow we miraculously reprogrammed reality, we'd none of us ever know it, because, well . . . it's reality, and as we've always known it. As far as we know. Anyway, nobody's even colliding anything yet, so we've got a few more hours, days, weeks, bi-annual periods before we have to resort to our emergency blackhole procedures. (That's good, because my patented Blackhole Resistant Skullcap [with NEW Dense-Particle Bi-Weave trim{TM}] is on back-order.) Actually, everything I've read about it suggests that the cause for fear of man-made blackhole is greatly exaggerated. Particles do what we're now doing to them all the dang time. We just get to catch them at it now. Hopefully.

It got me thinking, though, as I watched the news report on BBC-America this morning. It's a curious winnowing down from "large" things and ideas and efforts that leads us to a profound effect that's instigated on a profoundly "small" scale. I don't know a whole lot about CERN and particle colliders (though this offers a pretty good overview), but from what I understand, this is rather a project that's been in the making in one sense or another for decades, and requires huge amounts of facilities of all kinds. Yet it all comes down to getting one of the smallest things we can identify to behave in a specific way. And the result?

Specificity is important. Making distinctions is, after all, sort of all there is to abstract thought, and it has led us to so many important discoveries and interesting perspectives. I like to believe there's a unifying aspect to abstract thought as well, something that exists purely for the purpose of combining things and finding commonality, but that's a little harder to cite, much less prove. I can show you how you define "good" and "bad" using a binary code similar to . . . uh . . . binary code, but arguing that going beyond concepts of good and bad is both necessary and desirable only holds up until you have to apply it to choosing between eating a fresh sandwich and one that's been sitting in the sun for a week. In the arts, it would be nice to say we're all doing the same thing, different paths to the same goal, and it's all Zen (or whatever substitute you prefer) but it just ain't true. There's good art. And there's bad art. And there's a lot in between, about which we make many distinctions.

I digress, because this is not my point.

No, my point has to do with how insignificant a person can feel, said person particularly so when he or she is an actor. "Oh, boo-hoo-hoo," you may say. "We've all got it rough." True enough, and I don't mean to single out actors in particular for a pity party. They're just what I know best, and that familiarity piques the effect of everything. As actors (or directors, or painters, or nuclear physicists [or, okay: accountants]) we can very easily lose a sense of purpose because, well, what does it all add up to really? I mean, even the movie stars of yesteryear, with huge, global success, fade into obscurity faster than most. Here we are puttering about with this project and that, producing work that occasionally gets notice, but never quite wide enough notice, never quite profound enough impact on the world at large. And there are so, so many of us. Actors come and go and often get treated as a disposable commodity, and why not? There will always be more actors . . . just as I suppose, barring catastrophe, there will always be more and more people. So where does it all lead? What great or -- hell -- even small significance does the greatest thing we may ever accomplish with our lives, lead to? None, it would seem. We're dropping water into an ocean, one drop at a time; our actions are that minute.

A hadron is actually a subatomic particle made up of quarks, one the smallest objects we can reasonably identify. The science people (those in the know call them "scientists") are pretty worked up about the LHC because for the first time they have a technical possibility of proving the existence of the Higgs boson (the "scientists" inform me that a "boson" is another subatomic particle). The Higgs boson -- to hereby insult the intelligence of every physicist reading this -- is essentially an imaginary thing. They imagined it, not in the sense that it doesn't exist, but in the sense that they used their imaginations in theorizing it. See, the "scientists" basically came up with the Higgs boson (using an understanding of physics, the universe and everything so infinitely beyond mine that there's no analogy to properly satisfy this insertion) to fill the gap in an otherwise balanced explanation of physics, the universe and everything. This explanation is playfully named the Standard Model. (One can not help but picture one of these. You know: just your standard model.) In other words, when you hear the news reports about reproducing the Big Bang, they don't mean annihilating everything everywhere (intentionally, anyway), nor creating a whole new universe (intentionally, anyway), but rather understanding how EVERYTHING came into being. Yes: EVERYTHING.

EVERYTHING, potentially = the result of an interaction on the smallest of scales imaginable. Reaching out from the interaction of two subatomic particles -- the very force of that interaction, mind; not even the particles themselves -- is the potential for consequences that not only affect everything . . . they are everything. This is imaginable to me. It's crazily conceptual, but imaginable. I can also imagine -- though I have to be in just the right mindset -- that the least of my work in this world may go on to have untold repercussions, reaching far into the future and influencing people of similar degrees of diminution and growth both far and wide for ages. In fact, I've already seen some small, yet unexpected, returns on work I've done in my life. Even when all memory of my existence has passed, the ripples of my life will live on and on. Perhaps unrecognized. Perhaps even without the least understanding of their actuality. Yet there they'll be, moving through everything.

I believe the scientists will discover they were all wrong about the Higgs boson, and have an incredible amount of work to do to make the model work again, possibly including throwing out the model and starting fresh. Do I have the physics to back this feeling up? Hell no. I can't even grasp centripetal force; not really. It's just that they seem so certain of it, they just have to have it all wrong. No, I believe this because I believe that our searches have to go on. That's a force I recognize. Imagine, if you will (and why not), the universe as an infinite song, played by an infinite number of instruments and voices. Who wouldn't want to join in? Who wouldn't want to create and contribute the most beautiful music they (and only they) possibly can?

08 September 2008

Learning from Loki

I have finally completed, through sporadic spouts of dedication, backlogging my performances and appearances over at Loki's Apiary. As I look back on this not-quite-yet-a-year, I feel I can say with some certainty that this will go down in my career history as the Year of the Reading. I mean: dag. Look at all of these! I'm even missing one I had to back out of. Odds are that I'll participate in one or two more, before the year is out. As someone might put it: WHAT is the DEAL with the READINGS?

Another thing that has made a distinct impression upon me is how few actual full productions I've acted in this year. In truth, I count the number as zed. I mean, I'm currently, technically, understudying La Vigilia, and I did The Women's Project's Corporate Carnival in the spring, but LV hasn't needed me, as it turns out, and CC was something I entered about midway through their process, and never quite felt like a full partner in, not to mention the fact that it wasn't a play, per se. (On the bright side, I think I gave Faulkner a run for his money with ten commas in that sentence [Not really. {At all...}].) And so, I count myself as not yet having been in a full-length production in 2008. Further, I probably won't be. I mean, I don't want to be overly pessimistic -- not overly -- but I'm spending the next couple of months gearing up for The Big Show (which, sorry, doesn't count on this scoreboard). And thereafter, well, the holidays are an awful time to get a show, much less rehearse one. So . . .

That's not good! I mean, on the other hand (four fingers and a thumb):

  1. It has otherwise been an awfully busy year, professionally and personally.

  2. A lot of the work I have done on stage has been with and for young, promising playwrights, which is sort of the best sort of work one can invest in one's future with.

  3. I have written quite a lot this year, and even completed some of it.

  4. I signed to freelance with a management agency, and have gotten work through them.

  5. I did collaborate to create an original show this year, and began collaboration on an all-new one.

So, really, nothing to be ashamed of in terms of this year's work. Year 2007 was all about the large projects, with Prohibitive Standards, As Far As We Know and A Lie of the Mind, not to mention trips to both California and Italy, so it's not like my resume feels wounded. Still, it is irksome. I am irked by it. I think it's because I rather rate my worth as an actor not on what I've done, but what I'm doing. Which, you know, has a certain integrity to it, but also a certain dose of unbridled masochism. Hence my love of being completely overwhelmed by a barrage of projects at all times. It's funny (ha ha). When I attended All the Rage the other week, I ran into a friend with whom I performed in A Lie of the Mind, and we got to chatting about what we'd been up to of late. I volunteered that I really hadn't been doing much of anything, and she remarked, in sum of substance, "What? That's not true. I feel like I just got two emails in a row from you advertising performances." I realized she was right. I had been busy this summer. I forgot, because the shows were readings, benefits, short plays, etc.

Friend Patrick commented on my first entry about the new site (see 9/4/08) that perhaps making Loki the namesake of my fledgling 'blog was inviting trouble. He is, after all, most famous for spreading chaos, benevolently or no. It could lend new meaning to the term "easy come, easy go." It gave me pause. [Hold for pause...] I'm sticking with the name for now, however. Maybe it's my impatience for another full-length show, soon, but I feel that maybe a little stirring of the pot might just do me good.

A little, mind you, Loki.

05 September 2008

And the Award Goes To... (4)

So there's this guy I've known for just about 26 years now, and he came to the 'blogging game even later than I did. In the interests of maintaining his relative anonymity (he posts no profile on his 'blog, though most of his readers know who he is), we shall henceforth refer to him as Fuzzy. For no particular reason. And certainly not because it pertains to any childhood nicknames. Anyway: Fuzzy created his 'blog, Peter, Puck and Mxy, a little over a year ago, without any particular mission statement that I have been able to discern, but it does have a continuous theme, and one which is most apt, I assure you. Every single entry title is a song title.

Why is this so apt? Well, Fuzzy is one of the smartest and most perceptive people I know as it pertains to music. He's got it in his blood. I am a bit biased, of course, owing to the fact that he was one of the first people to introduce me to popular music and -- of particular note -- the one almost single-handedly responsible for any Beatles education I have received. We've made beautiful (sort of) music together, in fact. In elementary school we both started trombone lessons at the same time, and for a few years there we sat in the same section of a couple of different bands. As we approached high school, of course, I showed my true talents (among them, finding anything at all after school to do except practice trombone) and Fuzzy learned more and more ways in which he understood music. Thus, not for the first time, we went down separate paths. One of my all-time favorite memories is still of the Fuzz-man playing a solo at the final jazz band concert for our graduating class.

So you might expect to find a lot of music or music theory or music criticism over at Peter, Puck and Mxy, but you must consider Fuzzy's other interests, which are legion. Note, too, that the title is a bit . . . shall we say . . . eccentric. It suggests popular music, sure (if you consider 60s folk music to be of that category), but there's something more. I have it on good authority that Peter refers of course to Peter Pan, and that Puck is that merry wanderer of the night, Robin Goodfellow. I must imagine that some people scratch their heads over Mxy, in spite of a clear visual reference in the banner, because some people can't be bothered to pick up a dang comicbook every once and awhile. Mxy is short for Mr. Mxylplyx, common inter-dimensional, impish villain to Superman's hero. He works by magic, creating chaos wherever he goes, and the only way to get rid of him is to . . . well . . . say his name backwards. Xylplyxm (Retsim?). I think this is a gag that worked better when it functioned exclusively in the realm of comics, inciting debate betwixt Superman fans as to the proper pronunciation. At any rate, three supernatural, youthful spirits claim namesake to his 'blog.

So what you find at Peter, Puck and Mxy is a melange of commentary, quiz, personal narrative and comic strips, all of it salted with insightful and acerbic humor. It doesn't get updated quite as often as it once did, which makes me sad, but Fuzzy has good reasons and has provided plenty of old entries to get caught up on. It's a little like buying a ticket for a variety show and, owing to the simplicity of the 'blog's structure, you essentially have to read it in reverse chronological order. There is no menu or archive list. It reminds me of a book he told me about in my youth (and that I still haven't read): The Once and Future King. That was another thing Fuzzy introduced me to -- fantasy fiction. Now-a-days I take him to be my go-to authority on comicbooks in general, and so occasionally forget that even before that shared interest he shared with me an interest in fiction that has shaped the course of my entire life.

Fuzzy, really, was my first introduction to the trickster clown. (Ooo, but he'll hate that, coulrophobe that he is.) He's got a passionate method of diving headfirst into fantasy and stories, and immediately assuming all the priorities of that particular story's world. If you want to talk "playing high stakes," give him a tug by the ear. I've learned more from him about investing my all into what I do than perhaps anyone else I've known. It can be a little scary, frankly. There's something Fuzzy has in common with jazz musicians and method actors alike -- a complete abandon, a total surrender to the song he's playing, the story he's hearing, or creating -- that most people back away from before they ever even get close to appreciating its price and its glory. It's one of many good creative traits he's got (along with an excruciating attention to detail and an ability to pattern-recognize like a mo' fo') that I continue to aspire to, that have helped to drive me forward in my own creations.

And so, this award goes to Peter, Puck and Mxy.

04 September 2008

Health, Wealth & Wisdom

I hab a cohd. Id iz doh fun.

I've been doing pretty well this year past in terms of general health, especially as compared to the year before. I regard my health as a pretty good gauge of my happiness. They aren't necessarily entirely correlated -- I mean, sometimes you just get sick, and others, you're simply pissy toward everyone -- but by-and-large I've found them to be pretty good indications of one another. Whether it's cause or effect in a given scenario, my physical well-being is often my first clue as to the state of my psyche. This is most likely because I am a control-freak at heart, and cling with futile, desperate hope to the idea that I can and will feel the way I want to feel, when I want to feel it. So, occasionally, my heart has to bludgeon my mind with my body, saying in a perfectly calm voice during the repeated concussions, "Why are you hitting yourself? Huh? Why do you keep hitting yourself?" My heart can be a malicious S.O.B., but I have only myself to blame.

This used to manifest itself with some regularity, right around the week I had a show opening. Shortly after I left college, shows became less regular and adult life stresses started playing through, and I got so confused I actually stayed healthy for a long while. My struggles from a little over a year ago I attribute to an over-all sort of confusion about life, the universe, everything. So, is this bout the result of some stress? And if so, is the stress creative, lifestyle or other? Am I running myself down, or stressed about not having enough to do (yes; this is possible; shut up)?

You will notice (after I point it out to you) that a new 'blog has been added to the role on this here 'blog: Loki's Apiary. I don't know why it never occurred to me before. I have been trying to think for some time of an easily editable online schedule for my various appearances -- performing and teaching and what you will -- that I could update myself and what could be connected to the Aviary and send updates to my homepage. It took subscribing to one Mz. Eliza Skinner's 'blog (thanks, Cracked.com) to make me realize the solution was very simple indeed, and directly in front of me. ("Oh. Hi. Didn't see you there." "We've been here literally the entire time you have." "I'm a little embarrassed.") This is the intention of Loki's Apiary, to log and make accessible the practical details of every little quasi-public appearance I make as an artist and/or teacher. In the interests of full disclosure, I should confess that I'm back-logging appearances in the present tense, so it appears a more wealthy (and well-thought-out) history. Also for disclosure: Loki has nothing to do with bees. (There is a woman from Norse mythology, Beyla, who might.) But Loki's cool, and reasonably well-known, and bees are associated with a multitude of busy activities. PLUS: APIARY. "I'm rhyming. It's not easy."

One of the great stresses of adult life for artist and lay-person alike is the need for fiscal clout. There's no escaping it: In this day and age, the kind of life I'd like to lead requires a certain amount of financial solvency. There is no having my cake and eating it too if I can't afford a "Rainbow" Cookie (we all know they're M&M[TM] cookies, Starbucks{c}; you're fooling only yourself) with my coffee. Nothing to date has brought this into more prominent view for me than the necessities of planning The Big Show. It's expensive just to plan a wedding, much less actually purchase anything related to it, and I've got about as much support in this as a fella' could hope for. Still and all, it forces me to recognize that really going for the future I want for myself and my family requires that I have the resources to handle any contingency, including monetary ones. That, probably as much as anything else, has held me back from marriage in the past. That sounds bit petty to me, but it's not as simple as the sentence suggests. A person rates their worth in a variety of ways, and money can be a terribly tangible, day-to-day representation of that.

I made choices in crafting the Apiary, both personal and professional. The name may work against me (it started out as "Now Showing"), but I wanted that kind of conceptual link between it and the Aviary. Plus, Loki is a hell of a clown figure, in the sense that a clown is a character of continual making and un-making of plans and schemes, and he inspires less contemplation than Odin and more daring. I wanted it to have a distinctive and dramatic look, but also to be highly readable and uncluttered, hence the black background, colorful text and simple layout (in the reverse positioning to this 'blog). Finally, I wanted it to help make me money. There are a number of ways that announcing my activities in this format may stand to accomplish that goal, all of which are pretty straight-forward. One little additional way is through hosting other advertisements, which, if you scroll all the way down in the Apiary, you'll see I've elected to do.

I suppose it's more symbolic than anything. It is all the way at the bottom (yet above my footer graphic!) and yesterday it had two ads enticing one to make big money quick (today one is for the Fringe Festival, so way-to-go AdSense!) and anyway, I'm sure I get paid a fraction of a cent per click. All the same, I avoided doing that with the Aviary, and chose to with the Apiary, specifically because I want to embrace the possibility of earning power in everything I spend my time doing. Love it or hate it, whatever I'm doing well I ought to be compensated for, which includes even activities for which I've never quite pursued that, like writing or organization. There's also something about making it about money that makes an effort more real, more consequential. You're not just giving it a shot; you're putting money on the table and getting comfortable for a play of more than a few rounds.

And who knows? Maybe I'll make more money in the process. Maybe I'll even be able to afford my own health insurance!

02 September 2008

Laboring Under an Apprehension

Ye gads, but one post last week? And lately posted, at that? Verily, 'tis true. I was very busy out in Scranton last week, and with only occasional access to a 'puter. Last week's entry was in fact composed in twenty-minute segments at Northern Light, limited as I was by their time restriction on the shared internets. By gummuny, but I miss my dearly departed laptop.

Last week's entry also hardly did justice to the work aimed for and achieved last week, being as it was more to do with the choice to do the work than the details of its accomplishment. I aim now to amend that, now that the performances are all said and done. I can not, sadly, even give a full account of the course, as I had to leave our students entirely in the hands of my co-teachers after Friday last to venture to my hometown for preparations for The Big Show. They are excellent co-teachers, though, and I'm sure their burdens were decreased by my departure. The performances were recorded for me, sweetly enough. When I return to Scranton at the start of October to teach high school students, I'll get the satisfaction of a video representing the product of a week's exploration; hardly satisfying, but definitely fascinating.

Overall, I got incredible satisfaction out of beginning to see the fruits of our training just before I left the process Friday. David Zarko had been a bit worried that we hadn't yet cast the scenario come Wednesday, and we decided in fact not to cast until the start of our longer class on Friday, giving us just about a dozen hours in which to rehearse (not to mention stage, costume and generally prepare) with the actors in their given roles. This might seem madness, but throughout the week we felt everything we had to teach and review up until that point was absolutely necessary. We very carefully evaluated and re-evaluated our lesson plans each day, conforming them to fulfill the greater needs we perceived with each class. The week started with a different technique for creating a highly physical characterization each of the first three days, and an introduction to the principles of good improvisational theatre. As we progressed to midweek, we taught a little about commedia dell'arte history and characterizations -- keeping our priority on innovation -- and worked on the process of creating a story from a scenario of simple actions, eventually settling on the Scala scenario The Betrothed for our performance. We worked the scenario with volunteers jumping into different roles each time we ran and, using those runs and some pure improvised scenes based on commedia tropes, cast the show.

Really, the only time I had for witnessing the fruits of our labors was Friday, and I didn't expect much. Frankly, I was focused on learning the scenario as quickly as possible, and so stayed very business-like through the class, trying to keep everyone focused on repetition, simplicity and accuracy. Not a creative sort of day for yours truly. The way David's always worked with us on scenario is to recite the action step-by-step, have us fulfill it as concisely as possible, repeatedly, until we don't need the recitation anymore. This keeps us on our feet and, frankly, works a lot faster than sitting down with a written-out scenario and trying to memorize that. So that's exactly what we did with most of Friday. We also incorporated a new experiment. Owing to the number of people in the class, we had nearly twice as many as the scenario called for, and we teachers decided to solve this by creating new roles around the theme of weddings. So we had a minister, some seamstresses, musicians and porters, none of whom had been integrated into the scenario. They watched as we ran through all three acts a couple of times, and took notes on ideas they had for their insertion. In other words, once we learned the scenario, we had to learn it all over again, with new material added. So I was extra task-mastery. I used my outdoors voice all day long (which I not-so-secretly relish).

I couldn't have imagined how promising the whole thing would look by the end of class, 9:00 Friday night. I mean: Damn. I got all emotional. Not only had everyone learned the scenario (twice) accurately and succinctly, but already people were making sense of it, which is usually one of the most time-consuming parts. They had picked up that some of it was detective work, and the rest of it was up to them to create. There was straying into lazzi territory, which I had to crack down on a little for the sake of clarity at that stage of things, but it was ultimately a wonderful thing. It meant they got it, they were having creative impulses and were excited to explore them in the context of the scenario. It was clear to me by the end that they had a sense of rhythm, story and game, and not only got the inherent jokes to be played but understood where there was need and/or room for their own. Everyone got it; everyone was having fun after a whole week of packed scheduling and a long day of nothing but rote. It was also clear that we needed to revisit the physicalization and energy the next day, to reinforce those style elements . . . but that wasn't my concern, no matter how much I wanted it to be.

The choices of work we do and don't (do [huh: odd]) create an ever-shifting landscape of influence on our worlds, and right back on ourselves. I was, I must admit, not altogether enthusiastic about teaching this past week. I love working with Marywood, but recent experiences elsewhere had left a bad taste in my mouth for the work, and I felt under-qualified for what we were teaching. This class, however, revived my faith in both myself and in the people I work with. I had to leave it early, to take care of aspects of my own life that very much needed attention, yet the work of last week left me wanting more of it, nudging me into another direction with everything else I devote my energies to in the coming months. For example, I'm very excited now for the potentially traditional commedia aspects we plan to use in The Very Nearly Perfect Comedy of Romeo & Juliet, and I'm thinking about how to keep the energy of teaching what I want to teach, how I want to teach it, going even at the times I don't have a contract to that effect.

In fulfillment of my seven-day pay period that this recent Marywood contract covered, I'm obligated to teach a class to these same students when I return to Scranton in 2009 for TVNPCoR&J. I haven't yet determined whether I'm committed to a single seminar on acting as a profession, or two days' worth of class, or twelve hours, or what. I do know that I'm very much looking forward to it.