I have a small role (Charley) in the London Community Players' production of Death of a Salesman, so I claim no credit for this. And I make no claim to being unbiased, though I do my best.
This production is one of the best you could ever see. I'll stack it up against any professional production of Death of a Salesman. And last night's performance was the best yet.
The production takes place in Procunier Hall of The Palace Theatre, a too-small standard black-box-type performance venue, but Jason Rip (director), Steven Mitchell (tech and staging consultant), and Tia Morin (stage manager) have worked tirelessly and flexibly to bring off a tour de force in the venue.
The more we work on the play, the more I fail to see it as a critique of the American/Canadian dream or an attack on greed, success, or materialism. Rather, I see it as an exploration of the early onset of dementia in a man who never faced reality, about himself or much else.
To me, the hero of the play is Biff, who finally comes to grips with who he is and who his father was, after years and years of anguish about it all.... sort of a prolonged identity crisis.
Sure, Charley is a kind, sympathetic, generous guy and in some sense is a testament to the American/Canadian dream that success comes to those who work hard and who are honest and kind. Also his son, Bernard, who grows from being a nerdy (anemic, Willy calls him) kid to become a hot-shot lawyer arguing a case before the supreme court, is something of a hero. But they aren't the real heroes of the play.
Willy, of course, is a tragic hero. You want to grab him, shake him, tell him to stop lying to himself and everyone around him.
Linda (Willy's wife) is a tragic heroine. She lives with Willy's lies, trying to put bandaids on major wounds everywhere, going along with him and not forcing or even asking him to face reality very often. She keeps Willy from going to Alaska, and I'm not sure but what I wish Willy had gone there. Yet there's a good chance that if they had gone to Alaska, Willy still would have been a failure. After all, he was rejected and abandoned by his father and his older brother and likely would not have dealt with the challenges of Alaska any better than he dealt with the challenges of being a salesman in a changing market.
No matter whether you agree with my take on the play, you will be in awe of the performances. The audiences clearly are moved by the performances, and people have used phrases like "stunningly good" or "brilliant" or "mesmerizing" or "deep and moving" when talking about the show.
Rob Faust (Willy) and Deb Mitchell (Linda) are simply amazing, having captured the essence of their characters [not to mention having learned such taxing roles and the physical strain of actually performing them]. And the support from James Roberts (Biff) and Marshall Lemon (Happy), Willy and Linda's two sons, is terrific. Beyond those four main characters, the rest of us have supporting roles. And, to tell the truth, everyone in every role does a tremendous job.
See this play. It is one of the best productions you will ever see of Death of a Salesman.
Here is a photo of me as Charley in Death of a Salesman. The photo is by Ross Davidson taken during Monday's dress rehearsal.
The preview is tonight. We have our official opening tomorrow. Friends who saw the rehearsal last night were VERY moved by the performances.
Procunier Hall, The Palace Theatre.
Here is a short exchange from the play, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller:
Charley: When a deposit bottle is broken, you don't get your nickel back.
Willy: That's easy enough for you to say.
Charley: That ain't easy for me to say.
Charley is telling Willy to recognize that he can't change the past, but Willy holds onto his dreams for himself and for his son, Biff. Charley tells Willy, "Let him go," referring to Biff. And then Charley acknowledges that it is difficult to give up on past dreams.
It's like the old adage, "Don't cry over spilt milk." You can't undo the spill. You can rue the loss, you can clean up the mess, you can buy more milk, you can even learn to be more careful in the future; but you cannot get the milk back.
It's an example of the sunk cost fallacy that we talk so much about in economics: Costs should be based on forward-looking decisions if people are rational maximizers.
For example, what if I paid $12000 for a used car but then realized I don't like it. What I paid for it is irrelevant. The only things I should consider are my options for the future: should I donate the car to charity to get a tax write-off? should I sell it to someone else? etc. Trying to recover my $12000 is meaningless. Instead, I should look forward, identify my options, and choose from among them.
Humans don't seem to work that way though. Willy can't or won't give up on his dreams; he can't give up on the expectations created in the past. And Charley asknowledges that he, too, had trouble giving up the past and making decisions for the future when he says, "It ain't easy for me to say."
Here is another example of the sunk cost fallacy, from this site.
Hal Arkes and Catehrine Blumer ... asked subjects to assume they had spent $100 on a ticket for a ski trip in Michigan, but soon after found a better ski trip in Wisconsin for $50 and bought a ticket for this trip too. They then asked the people in the study to imagine they learned the two trips overlapped and the tickets couldn’t be refunded or resold. Which one do you think they chose, the $100 good vacation, or the $50 great one?
If, indeed, you think the Wisconsin ski trip would be better (of course you don't know for sure, and so the decision will be based on your expectations), then what you paid should not affect your decision because you will not be able to obtain a refund on either trip. You have paid $150 in total; it's gone, it's sunk. The only relevant questions is, "Now what're you gonna do?"
A "rational" maximizer [homo economicus?] would choose the Wisconsin trip, expecting it to be better. What was paid for the two trips is sunk; the decision should be based on expectations concerning future alternatives.
The example continues,
Over half of the people in the study went with the more expensive [Michigan] trip. It may not have promised to be as fun, but the loss seemed greater. That’s the fallacy at work, because the money is gone no matter what. You can’t get it back. The fallacy prevents you from realizing the best choice is to do whatever promises the better experience in the future, not which negates the feeling of loss in the past.
Willy does this throughout the play. He maintains his dream of being a big-time salesman even though, "He was a happy man with a batch of cement," and would have been much more successful in the construction business. He not only refuses to recognize his own, personal comparative advantage, but he holds onto that dream even in the face of his apparent lack of success. Does Linda do the same thing when she talks him out of moving the family to Alaska? Maybe, or maybe she just has different expectations.
Willy's dreams for himself, for Biff, and for their relationship are like a sunk cost. He could give up the dreams and be more successful, but he doesn't let go of them. Instead of looking forward and making decisions based on his options for the future, Willy keeps looking backward, trying to live a dream that cannot be, even in end.
Note: I play Charley in the upcoming performance of Death of a Salesman at Procunier Hall, The Palace Theatre, London, Ontario.
I'll be in this production of Death of a Salesman playing Charley, the next door neighbour (who seems to be one of the few honest, sane people in the play).
I love this production. The director, Jason Rip, has a terrific perspective which should open some people's eyes. And the cast is amazingly good, especially the two leads: Rob Faust as Willy Loman and Deb Mitchell as Linda Loman.
If you want to come to the $9 preview on the 18th, book tickets early. The other performances are $20, but seating is very limited, so even for those shows it's a good idea to book tickets early. The ticket-booking site is a bit complex because there are two different theatres at the same site, and the other one is doing "Noises Off" (which I'd love to see, if we can work out some way to visit one of their rehearsals).
Questions to consider, for those who know the play:
Performances at Procunier Hall (of the Palace Theatre):
September 18-20 8pm
September 21 2pm
September 24-27 8pm
For tickets, call 519-432-1029
Our run at the London Fringe Festival is nearing its close. It has been a great run with some very talented fellow actors. I'll miss it and them.
The play is a romantic comedy about a theology professor who is on sabbatical leave. An attractive female Romanian graduate student wanders into his office looking for help with conversational English. Much hilarity, confusion, tenderness, frivolity, joyful awakening, and compassion ensue.
The last chance to see our show is this evening, 5pm at the Spriet Theatre (above the Market).
Ian Klymchuk no longer has access to a place to publish his reviews, so I have agreed to post his reviews here on this blog. It's nice to see him reviewing things and places again after all these years.
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Persephone – A lot of skin and muscle
A review by Ian Klymchuk
So Heather and me was sitting on a patio enjoying a cool beverage when who should stroll by but our good friends Ben and Dottie. So we asked ‘em to come on in and enjoy a brew or two with us.
They came into the patio, but Bennie has all them heart and stomach problems, so he had a “fizzy water” – club soda. Dot had a white wine, and we settled into enjoying the weather and the atmosphere.
Then Dottie, bless her blessed soul, says, “We’re going to see at dance show at the Convention Centre. Why don’t you two come along? “
Me: What??? You want ME to go see some dance nonsense??? You gotta be kidding me.
Finally, Heather makes it clear that she wants to go with Ben and Dot to see this show (it’s part of the London Fringe, 2014). It’s called Persephone. I kept calling it PER-seh-phone, but I guess the right way to say it is Per-SEH-fo-knee. What do they know, hunh? So to maintain marital harmony, I go along.
On the way there, I says to Benny, “What are you doing? I can’t stand this stuff, and I know you can’t either!”
Benny says, “Yah, I know. But the Jays played this afternoon, so I didn’t have an excuse. What’s worse, they was shut out.”
So we get to the place where the dance is gonna be. … they call it a “venue”. We can’t go in when we get there. HUH?
We can’t buy a beer. We can’t even buy a friggn white wine, like them artsy types drink. We gotta wait until five minutes before the show starts. Then we can go in. Man, this is gonna be torture.
So we go in, and we make sure our cellphones are turned off. And we’re chattin’ away like we always do before a show.
And then suddenly it hits me that HEY! Those are bodies laying around all over the stage! And they ain’t got much on.! Wow, is that ever cool! I’m sort of excited and I nudge Benny, thinking maybe this will be pretty something, if you know what I mean.
The lights go down and the music starts. The bodies start moving. When there are lots of bodies on stage doing stuff, they actually impress me. There’s something that looks like them famous art prints the way they moved [EE: Ian had seen my book of M.C.Escher prints; I think he was referring to some of those], and even when they wasn’t quite together, I figured they planned that cause they moved together right after that.
I liked the group stuff better than the solo stuff. Maybe that’s because sometimes it reminded me of the CFL cheerleaders, who look real good with all them moves and throwing their hair around. Or maybe it’s because it reminded me of synchronized swimming. I don’t know what it was, but it was pretty nice. And I liked how they used the stage and the front row space for a bunch of the dancing.
And, I gotta admit, the concluding formations was really something. And another good thing? It lasted only about 40 minutes.
Me, I don’t much like watching dancing. But I did like watching all them young dancers who was so fit. And I did like watching all the coordinated moves they made.
But I got two questions.
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Ian Klymchuk is president of the Lucan Chapter of the Philistine Liberation Organization. After a nearly two – decade hiatus, he has decided to start writing reviews again. His early reviews can be seen here: http://home.cabletv.on.ca/~econoclast/plo/Klymchuk/klymchuk.html
Unfortunately, neither he nor I have access to that site any longer, so I’ll probably just post his future reviews here on EclectEcon.
We had a great tech-dress rehearsal yesterday and are all set to open our entry in London's 2014 Fringe Festival. We open tonight, 5:30pm at The Spriet Family Theatre (though this is not exactly what one might call a "family" show). It is being produced by Out of Sight Productions, a name which is both fun and fitting for the group
I am delighted to be working with the other four actors in the show. Ken Parsons, who is totally blind, plays a blind bishop who also happens to be a lecherous, dirty old man. He is absolutely hilarious. Roger Khouri plays the head bishop. Rose Bonner plays a cleaning lady who seems to have kept her job despite being a cantakerous, disagreeable sort. I play Roger, a theology professor who is on sabbatical and who lost his wife two years earlier. And Tiffany Blom plays Sonia, a Romanian graduate student who happens into Roger's office, leading to companionship and friendship between the two.
Four words describe the play: confusion, compassion, lust, and dust.
A theology professor is on sabbatical. His wife took her life two years earlier, and he is struggling with that. A Romanian grad student happens into his office, looking for help with conversational English. He is persuaded to help her, and the tutoring develops into friendship. Along the way, there is confusion, silliness, compassion, re-awakening, lust, and dust.
The play, "Academia Nuts" will be my first performance in a Fringe Festival play (I'm the prof). The Spriet Family Theatre is on the second floor, above the Covent Garden Market.
The 2014 London Fringe Festival will be held June 4 - 13 during which Out Of Sight Productions is presenting a one-hour play, "Academia Nuts" by Paul Kinsella.
The play is a romantic comedy about a theology professor (me) who is on sabbatical leave. An attractive female Romanian graduate student (Tiffany Blom) wanders into his office looking for help with conversational English. Much hilarity, confusion, tenderness, frivolity, joyful awakening, and compassion ensue. For more about the play and about Out of Sight Productions, see this.
Academia Nuts, at The Spriet Theatre (second floor of the Covent Garden Market, London, Ontario), Identified as Venue #1 for the Fringe Festival:
- Wednesday, June 4, 5:30pm
- Friday, June 6, 5pm
- Saturday, June 7, 2:30pm
- Monday, June 9, 8pm
- Wednesday, June 11, 8:15pm
- Friday, June 13, 5pm
Because "Academia Nuts" is part of the Fringe Festival, it is likely you will need to purchase a button as well as a ticket to see the play, but there are typically quantity discounts for packets of tickets, so it might be fun to see 5 or 10 of the shows during the festival. Last year the buttons were $5, and the tickets were something like $10, but I have no idea what the pricing will be like this year.
There is a lovely area in London, Ontario, that used to house a large hospital and many ancillary buildings and operations. It is near downtown and abuts the south branch of the Thames River. In keeping with our adaptation and adoption of Brit names, the area is referred to as "SOHO", in part because the hospital was on South Street and was often referred to as SOuth HOspital.
The hospital has moved, as have the ancillary operations. The space and real estate could likely be a prime development area. Enter the local politicians, dreamers, possibly shady dealings, and perhaps even undetailed and undefined cronyism.
The confused and confusing layers of intricacies of entwined dealings in this city make me wonder how any municipal politician can keep track of what goes on here (or in any large city).
Irrelevant Digression: I met the current mayor once. He was at a mystery dinner theatre show I did a year or two ago.
Kelly McDonald is one of the smartest people I know. He is also amazingly energetic and determined. One of the many things he does is produce, direct, and participate in radio and television shows. He is also well-known for his stage theatre work in London, Ontario.
This evening and several more times over the next week or so Kelly has a show about the Toronto Blue Jays on Rogers TV [channel 888 in London and Toronto, update: it is the Accessible Channel produced by Accessible Media]. I think it might be on at 8pm in London with the title "Sports Access". It might also be on at 4pm today in Toronto. He spent some time in Florida doing the interviews for the show.
Kelly is nearly totally blind. His production company is called Out of Sight Productions, which tries to use vision-impaired actors in much of its work. His company is producting "Academia Nuts" for the London Fringe Festival in June. Three of the five actors in it are vision-impaired. I'm one of the other two and happy to be a part of the show.
Nearly two years ago I auditioned to be in a documentary series about how the War of 1812 affected Southwestern Ontario between Niagara and Detroit. I was initially offered a role of a 32-year-old, and I immediately wrote to the producers that I was flattered that they thought I could play such a role. They, of course, rescinded that offer and instead offered me the role of Governor Isaac Shelby (of Kentucky), who was a general during that war. The filming for my very minor role was done in August, 2012, and will be on TVO sometime during the winter of 2014. Here is my very brief role, in its entirety, in Episode One.
I recorded this snippet on my smartphone from a disk sent to me in advance of the TVO showing of the series.
In this scene, I am assuring the women of Amherstburg that we Kentuckians will not destroy their homes so long as they do not harbour any of their men folk, whom we would consider to be soldiers for the British. The narrative over the video suggests that I might be playing General Harrison giving these assurances, but that isn't exactly what I was told nor what the credits say (and is especially bizarre since General Harrison is played by a different actor).
Oh well, another gig, another credit.
Coincidentally, Shelby, Michigan, less than an hour north of where I was born and raised, was named for Governor Shelby:
Shelby was originally established as Churchill’s Corners in 1866, named after Walter H. Churchill who was the first postmaster. It was renamed Shelby in 1885 when it was incorporated as a village - after General Isaac Shelby, who along with his famous Kentucky Rangers, took back Detroit from the British in the War of 1812.
It's interesting that in the full narrative of the documentary, Governor Shelby's role in the War of 1812 is not mentioned even once.
And you know what? If I hadn't played this role and done lots of reading about it, I'd have had no idea who Shelby was, what he did, or why that village was named Shelby.
The London One-Act Festival has been revived for 2013 with eight one-act plays, each being performed twice during the festival. Here are the details. One piece of information missing from the poster is that the first play begins at 7pm. Each play will be 30 minutes or less.
I have a minor role in Idiosynchronicity, along with three fabulous actors: Lori, Alana, and John; and the director/playwright (Len Cuthbert) is a joy to work with. Our play is being performed on Wednesday and Friday nights.
Addendum: Here is a photo Len took during our most recent rehearsal.
The subject line of this blog post is a well-known punchline/joke, knowingly and often repeated among actors. We are a self-centred lot.
Here is some further evidence (as if more were needed). Remember those Theatre Briefs I posted during the past few months? [The index to them is here] Guess which one gets by far the most traffic.
The one with suggestions about how to write your biography for the programme. Yes, we want to be better actors, but we also want to know how to present ourselves to others.
I have agreed to be one of the actors participating in a 24-hour fund-raiser at The Arts Project [T.A.P.] this weekend. Actors, writers, and directors will gather on Friday evening to be randomly assigned to four different groups or temporary theatre companies; then the writers will be given a topic and will write one-act plays overnight (while the actors and directors sleep!). The four different groups then meet at 8am on Saturday, receive their scripts, rehearse all day, and perform the plays at The Arts Project that evening. At the same time, five or six artists will be working all night to create works representing or inspired by the same topic; their work will be auctioned off on Saturday evening (via silent auction).
Proceeds from the art auction and the theatre tickets are all going to help support The Arts Project. I attended this event last year and had a wonderful time as a spectator. I'm thrilled to be a part of it this year. And they are offering a pretty good special: for $35 you can buy a membership AND a ticket to the theatre events. The combination is a rather substantial savings over the two items purchased separately.
For more details, see this.
[no disclaimer. I'm not on the Board of T.A.P., and I don't work or exhibit there. I have performed in several plays there, and I have attended quite a few others. It is a wonderful addition to the theatre and arts community to have this excellent space (a former shoe store) available downtown.]
Here is a list (with links) of the Theatre Briefs I've posted over the past couple of months. Thanks again to those who gave me permission to use and repost their material, to those who encouraged me to post this series, to those who offered helpful feedback, and to those who reposted the material on various websites (with permission).
ETERNITY: The time that passes between a dropped cue and the next line.
PROP: A hand-carried object small enough to be lost by an actor 30 seconds before it is needed on stage.
DIRECTOR: The megalomaniac individual who suffers from the delusion that he or she is responsible for every moment of brilliance cited by the critic in the local review.
BLOCKING: The art of moving actors on the stage in such a manner as not to collide with the walls, the furniture, the orchestra pit or each other. Similar to playing chess, except that the pawns want to argue with you.
BLOCKING REHEARSAL: A rehearsal taking place early in the production schedule where actors frantically write down movements which will be nowhere in evidence by opening night.
QUALITY THEATER: Any show with which you were directly involved.
TURKEY: Every show with which you were not directly involved.
DRESS REHEARSAL: Rehearsal that becomes a whole new ball game as actors attempt to manoeuvre among the 49 objects that the set designer added at 7:30 that evening.
TECH WEEK: The last week of rehearsal when everything that was supposed to be done weeks before finally comes together at the last minute; reaches its grand climax on dress rehearsal night when costumes rip, a dimmer pack catches fire and the director has a nervous breakdown. Also known as Hellweek.
SET: An obstacle course which, throughout the rehearsal period, defies the laws of physics by growing smaller week by week while continuing to occupy the same amount of space.
MONOLOGUE: That shining moment when all eyes are focused on a single actor who is desperately aware that if he forgets a line, no one can save him.
DARK NIGHT: The night before opening when no rehearsal is scheduled so the actors and crew can go home and get some well-deserved rest, and instead spend the night staring sleeplessly at the ceiling because they're sure they needed one more rehearsal.
BIT PART: An opportunity for the actor with the smallest role to count everybody else's lines and mention repeatedly that he or she has the smallest part in the show.
GREEN ROOM: Room shared by nervous actors waiting to go on stage and the precocious children whose actor parents couldn't get a baby-sitter that night, a situation which can result in justifiable homicide.
DARK SPOT: An area of the stage which the lighting designer has inexplicably forgotten to light, and which has a magnetic attraction for the first-time actor. A dark spot is never evident before opening night.
HANDS: Appendages at the end of the arms used for manipulating one's environment, except on a stage, where they grow six times their normal size and either dangle uselessly, fidget nervously, or try to hide in your pockets.
STAGE MANAGER: Individual responsible for overseeing the crew, supervising the set changes, baby-sitting the actors and putting the director in a hammerlock to keep him from killing the actor who just decided to turn his walk-on part into a major role by doing magic tricks while he serves the tea.
LIGHTING DIRECTOR: (I)Individual who, from the only vantage point offering a full view of the stage, gives the stage manager a heart attack by announcing a play-by-play of everything that's going wrong.
LIGHTING DESIGNER: (II)One who whines, bitches, throws fits, and says "this is the last show I'm doing here ! I swear to God!" (rinse, repeat).
MAKEUP KIT: (1) among experienced community theater actors, a battered tackle box loaded with at least 10 shades of greasepaint in various stages of desiccation, tubes of lipstick and blush, assorted pencils, bobby pins, braids of crepe hair, liquid latex, old programs, jewelry, break-a-leg greeting cards from past shows, brushes and a handful of half-melted cough drops; (2) for first-time male actors, a helpless look and anything they can borrow.
THE FOREBRAIN: The part of an actors brain which contains lines, blocking and characterization; activated by hot lights.
THE HINDBRAIN: The part of an actors brain that keeps up a running subtext in the background while the forebrain is trying to act; the hindbrain supplies a constant stream of unwanted information, such as who is sitting in the second row tonight, a notation to seriously maim the crew member who thought it would be funny to put real Tabasco sauce in the fake Bloody Marys, or the fact that you need to do laundry on Sunday.
STAGE CREW: Group of individuals who spend their evenings coping with 50-minute stretches of total boredom interspersed with 30-second bursts of mindless panic.
MESSAGE PLAY: Any play which its director describes as "worthwhile," "a challenge to actors and audience alike," or "designed to make the audience think." Critics will be impressed both by the daring material and the roomy accommodations, since they're likely to have the house all to themselves.
BEDROOM FARCE: Any play which requires various states of undress on stage and whose set sports a lot of doors. The lukewarm reviews, all of which feature the phrase "typical community theater fare" in the opening paragraph, are followed paradoxically by a frantic attempt to schedule more performances to accommodate the overflow crowds.
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Individual willing to undertake special projects that nobody else would take on a bet, such as working one-on-one with the brain-dead director on whom the rest of the cast has threatened to take out a contract.
SET PIECE: Any large piece of furniture which actors will resolutely use as a safety shield between themselves and the audience, in an apparent attempt to both anchor themselves to the floor, thereby avoiding floating off into space, and to keep the audience from seeing that they actually have legs.
STRIKE: The time immediately following the last performance while all cast and crew members are required to stay and dismantle, or watch the two people who own Makita screw drivers dismantle the set.
ACTORS: People who stand between the audience and the set designer's art, blocking the view. That's also the origin of the word "blocking," by the way.
STAGE RIGHT, STAGE LEFT: Two simple directions actors pretend not to understand in order to drive directors crazy. ("No, no, your OTHER stage right !")
Just remember: It's only theatre until it offends someone . . . .
Then it's ART!
Brief #29 THE ACTOR’S LESSONS of DESTRUCTION
Brief 28: An interesting perspective, even though it is based on U.S. information:
(From a book called “When My Grandmother Was a Child” by Leigh W. Rutledge, which begins, “In the summer of 1900, when my grandmother was a child...”)
You may never do a show from that era, but if you do, these facts might help you understand the setting.
Brief #27 THINGS THAT ARE NEVER SAID IN THE THEATRE
(I cannot remember where this came from, but I've seen it various places on the internet. Note that "Good luck" and "Macbeth" are not on this list)
BY THE PRODUCER:
BY THE ACTOR:
BY THE DIRECTOR:
BY THE DESIGNERS:
BY THE TECHNICAL DIRECTOR:
BY THE STAGE MANAGER:
BY THE STAGE CREW:
Brief #26 PREPARING FOR YOUR ENTRANCE
based on work by John Crowther
I see no reason why the actor should attempt to be “in character” before his/her entrance.
This statement brings up the very valid question: what does it mean to be “in character”? Presumably it suggests that we are able to walk, talk, and behave in ways that are like the character, which just isn’t what we are doing in the moments we’re standing in the wings in the darkness while waiting for the cue. What *is* useful is to be relaxed and focused and in the “creative condition”, and herein lies the rub. The key word is focused, and focused on what?
If we are going to be “imagining and believing what has happened to the character a few minutes (or seconds) before entrance” so that we re-experience “the past and the feelings associated with them,” we are inviting difficulty. All of that exploration of the events and feelings that have brought your character to the present moment so that you can better understand and play it fully should have been done already in rehearsal. To do it as you wait for your cue accomplishes the exact opposite of keeping you focused; it scatters your thoughts because you’re not sure *specifically* which part of the past you should be thinking about. It also is not true to your character, and therefore is not “in character.”
If I’m about to storm through the door to confront my best friend with the discovery that he’s been fooling around with my wife, I am not going to be a) standing in the darkness waiting for my cue to enter, nor b) thinking of the past. Rather, I’ll be thinking about how I’m going to deal with him in the present and future. (And yes, I recognize that this is an example of one of those times when it would be appropriate to access the necessary emotion.) If I am walking into the bedroom after a terrible day at the office, I don’t need to recreate the fight with my boss, the mistake I made on the widget shipments, the bumper to bumper commute home, stepping in doggy doo when I got out of my car, etc. All I need to do is focus on how great it’s going to feel to get out of this suit and tie (that feels like a straight-jacket).
The acting process does not necessarily involve getting ourselves more and more “into character” beforehand so that then the moments of the dramatic event will come to us spontaneously and impulsively. On the contrary, we find the character by uncovering and learning how to play each moment of the dramatic event in a way that is consistent with the character we are creating. The complexity of the character results from the simplicity of each moment, and being in character results from the cumulative experience in the present tense of living each moment of the dramatic event fully and truthfully. In performance we are then like the musician, who begins by playing the first passage of the score as he has learned it (with whatever emotional content it contains), then transitions to the next passage, and so on.
John Crowther describes preparing for his role as “Einstein” in a one-man show:
In “Einstein”, the lights go up on the first moment of the play and the audience sees me at a blackboard, lost in my calculations. After a few moments I realize with surprise that they are present, and turn to greet them. Whatever it is that brought me to the blackboard is immaterial, the only thing that matters is what I am doing when I’m there. Yes, it’s true that as I put on the costume, wig, and moustache I am going through a transformation, and when I’m done I am walking and moving like Einstein. I will walk from my dressing room to the wings as Einstein (which I continue to do after 200+ performances of it). But this serves more to relax and focus me than to get me “in character.” It’s like a pianist limbering up his fingers. I’m still John Crowther moving like Einstein (a simile). It isn’t until the lights come up on me at the blackboard that I’m Einstein (a metaphor).
It isn’t uncommon to find that aspects of the person we’re playing are difficult for us because they are inconsistent with our own experience and behaviour. They can be as obvious and glaring as the external walk or the accent, or as subtle as an internal feeling or a certain emotional response. A skilled actor with a deeply ingrained craft may have an easier time breaking through his natural resistance to something unfamiliar, but maybe not, depending on what he’s trying to accomplish. Imagine an experienced guitar player who comes across an extremely difficult chord he’s never seen. Before he can play it effortlessly he must practice it, over and over. Each time he comes to it he will have to slow down slightly, until eventually it comes to his fingers easily and naturally.
Another example: if you are right-handed and I ask you to write your name on the blackboard with your left hand it will feel clumsy to you and look sloppy. But with practice you’ll be able to do it effortlessly. You may not be able to copy the Town Charter with your left hand, but you can write your name convincingly. We are not required as actors to do and feel everything our characters would throughout their lives, but only those things that are required by the dramatic event, and we have to do them only *when* they are required. If a certain character might have a swagger when he walks but he is only sitting in his one scene, then we don’t have to master a swagger, we have to master how that particular character sits and moves in a chair (working either from the inside out or the outside in). If at a certain moment he lights a cigarette and smokes, then we have to master how he does it. If in another moment something amuses him, we must master the distinctive way in which he laughs. The accumulation of these details is what gives us the illusion of “being in character,” and convinces the audience that we *are* the character.
It is also worth mentioning that the more aspects of the character we master (based on the requirements of the dramatic event) the easier it is to master other aspects of the character. If we learn to write enough things on the blackboard with our left hand, eventually we can write with our left hand as easily as with our right.
(For truly brilliant character work, try seeing Sean Penn in Woody Allen’s latest movie, “Sweet and Lowdown.” Penn genuinely disappears inside his character, seemingly without effort. The character is in the details.)The TWENTY-SIX previous "theatre briefs" are here:
Brief #25 STANISLAVSKI/TORSTOV ON DICTION
(by Norman Schwartz)
Because of the much-publicized excesses of the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Actors Studio technique churned out endless imitations of its prize-pupil Brando -- “scratchers and mumblers” as they were maligned in their day.
Many North Americans still associate Stanislavski with an inner and self-involved technique which paid little attention to the niceties of vocal production and speech.
Nothing could be further from the truth!
In KS’s second book of his famous trilogy on acting, he devoted chapters to the art of speaking, gesture, even walking. KS often expressed his opinions about the actor’s art through his alter-ego the teacher and director, Tortsov. Torstov had this to say about speech:
EE Addendum: You and your director may disagree about how clearly to enunciate. A good example is "duct tape." If your director doesn't want to hear two "t"s because that would sound artificial, then listen to the director. At the same time, one of the better actors I worked with never developed very far because he steadfastly refused to enunciate the consonants more clearly.
“After many years of acting and directing experience, I arrived at a full realization, intellectual and emotional, that every actor must be in possession of excellent diction and pronunciation, that he must feel not only phrases and words, but also each syllable, each letter. We do not feel our own language, the phrases, syllables, letters, and that is why it is so easy for us to distort it. Add to this lisping, guttural, nasal, and other … distortions of good speech! The dropping of individual letters or syllables make as glaring defects for me now as a missing eye or tooth, a cauliflower ear, or any other physical deformity. Lack of rhythm in speech, which makes a phrase start off slowly, spurt suddenly in the middle, and just as abruptly slide in a gateway, reminds me of the way a drunkard walks, and the rapid fire speech of someone with St. Vitus dance. Poor speech creates one misunderstanding after another. It clutters up, befogs, or even conceals the thought, the essence and even the very plot of the play.”
Brief 24 Theatre Etiquette and Acting Guidelines
These points from Kerry Hishon are common sense and common courtesy. They should not need to written out. But I have been in too many productions where people just don't seem to consider all these little things.
1. There are no small parts, only small actors.
2. Listen to the director.
3. Don’t direct others.
4. Always be on time.
5. Always bring your script and pencil to every rehearsal.
6. Don’t chew gum.
7. Practice, practice, practice!
8. Memorize your lines as soon as possible.
9. Memorize your cue lines.
10. Memorize the scene order.
11. Maintain a positive attitude at all times.
12. Research your character.
13. If you don’t know the meaning of a word or phrase, look it up.
14. Enunciate every word.
15. If you or someone else forgets, improvise.
16. When you are not speaking, you are silent and listening.
17. If you can see the audience, they can see you.
18. Absolutely no talking or whispering backstage.
19. Before you perform, warm up.
20. Never say anything about another person unless it’s positive.
21. Clean up after yourself.
22. You perform unless you’re dead.
Also see Kerry's other postings on
Each one of those postings is worth reading. They are clear and well-written. It might even be a good idea to post them in the rehearsal space.
Brief #23 REALIZATIONS AND INTENTIONS
based on work by John Crowther, who devised the Basic Acting Unit concept
A strong case can be made for Step 4 being the beginning, but the way John teaches, the BAU begins with Step 1, the INTENTION, since it leads to the next step, the REALIZATION, which is the first action we play. The REACTION (Step 4) is precisely that, a reaction to something that has just happened and to which we react *in real time* as it would be experienced by the character. But our preparation for going onstage, or for the director to say “action,” is more deliberate, calculated, and drawn out than this, and thus doesn’t have the immediacy that REACTION ought to have as Step 4 of the BAU.
In terms of preparation, everything that happened to the character before the dramatic event begins is not only useful, but essential, in determining that first INTENTION, but ought not be confused with what we as the actor experience as if we were the character. The former is intellectual, derived by conscious analysis by the actor, whereas the latter is arrived at in the moment through an interaction between that part of us that is the actor (objective, analytical) and that part of us that is the character (subjective, impulsive), both working together simultaneously (the actor in performance should be both the artist and the art at the same time). Our “design” for the role, discovered and developed throughout rehearsal, involves a predetermined INTENTION for each BAU (often the same for a sequence of BAUs), but these INTENTIONS will be adjusted according to our specific REACTIONS to our partner or partners.
John Crowther writes:
In my first Broadway play, SOMETHING ABOUT A SOLDIER, I was playing the part of a young Army private. In the first act Kevin McCarthy, as an officer, was to enter the PX a few minutes ahead of me, so we both awaited our cues in the wings of the Amsterdam Theatre together. As Kevin’s cue approached he would pat his pockets quickly as if searching for something and then turn to me in the darkness and whisper, “Excuse me, soldier, do you have a match?” “No, sir,” I’d whisper back, going along with him. “Okay,” he’d whisper, “I’ll just step into the PX....” and if he’d timed it right it would be his cue to enter. This always seemed odd to me, because our having to speak in a barely-heard whisper robbed the “improvisation” of any truth, at least as far as I was concerned. But, and this is the point, it presumably worked for Kevin, so who’s to argue?
In the second act I waited in the wings with Ralph Meeker, who up to a moment before going onstage would be laughing and joking about his exploits of the night before (usually involving women and great quantities of alcohol). Suddenly he’d hear his cue, excuse himself quickly, and go onstage to a highly emotional, highly intense scene in which he was always remarkable, completely truthful and believable. Go figure.
Emotional preparation for the first moment is another matter altogether, and how one deals with it depends on the demands of the play and the actor him/herself. Bursting in the door having just witnessed a fatal car accident is very different from, say, coming home from a boring day at the office, greeting one’s wife, and then being told that one’s best friend has died. We can imagine a scene in which halfway through it someone is asked about his late mother and then, while answering, recalls something that causes him to become emotional. (This brings to mind the scene in “American History X” in which Edward Norton is interviewed by a TV reporter about his father’s murder. Norton is crying throughout the scene, which, though probably authentic, seems far less interesting than had he begun the scene trying to be very matter-of-fact and strong, and then suddenly finds he can’t hold back the emotion. Indeed, we can learn a lot from television interviews in which, during the interview, the individual becomes emotional.)
Part of the problem is that an emotional result like crying is too often mistakenly (sometimes unconsciously) treated as an intention leading to an action (INTENTION: to cry; REALIZATION: crying), but in fact most emotions are experienced in life and in acting as REACTIONS (Edward Norton’s character reacted to the TV interviewer’s continued questions by becoming emotional). This suggests that in most cases the best preparation for an emotional scene is making ourselves emotionally accessible so that we can react without inhibition to the circumstances of the dramatic event as the character experiences them. Norman has made reference to this. It’s one aspect of what Stanislavski called The Creative Condition of the Mind.
Brief #22 Preparing Emotionally
By Norman Schwartz
Almost all the great actors and directors at the Group Theatre (1931-1941) who went on to teach the next generation put great emphasis on Emotion and Emotional Preparation. The necessity for Truthful Feeling became the hallmark of American acting training in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
It was Lee Strasberg’s belief,. held till the end of his life, that the golden key to this verisimilitude was Emotion Memory, also known as Affective Memory. The actor recalled some intense past experience, summoned up the sights and smells of that memory, and with it all the emotions involved. S/he then used that recaptured emotion for the character s/he was playing. Sandy Meisner, Bobby Lewis and Stella Adler disagreed violently with Strasberg about how to achieve the sort of emotional fullness they had all observed in the great Moscow Art Theatre players who had toured the USA in the 1920’s.
Meisner, Adler, Lewis and others in the Group Theatre felt that this endless digging into past traumas was both unpleasant and painful-- ultimately counter-productive as it often made the actor hysterical and unfocused on the role. They looked instead for other means of Emotional Preparation. Meisner eventually advocated fantasizing and daydreaming, Adler absolute belief in the imaginary circumstances. Whatever their technique, all of these great mentors de-emphasized Affective Memory, but emphasized the need for emotional fullness summoned up and held onto before entering the scene.
An actor can certainly use this and any technique to recreate the inner life of the character. Some actors prepare elaborate diaries and scrapbooks, write biographies, recite inner monologues. Others concentrate on what happened to the character five minutes before the play or scene began. And yet all these methods, useful as they are, do not really prepare the actor for what is about to happen to him or her once s/he enters the scene.
No matter how vivid the inner life of your character is , how deeply you feel his/her circumstances, the actor’s ultimate task in dramatic literature is always to DO, not FEEL. This doing might be as simple as “I want to borrow a cup of flour,” or as complex as “ I want to find out who killed my father.(Hamlet)” Dramatic action does not begin at step 4 of the BAU, i.e., a REACTION to what has happened in the past. It always begins with Step 1: INTENTION.
Before entering the scene, the trained actor focuses on deciding what s/he must DO NOW to accomplish his/her SUPER-OBJECTIVE. This SPECIFIC INTENTION is always married with a physical execution, usually speech and/or movement, which is Step 2 of the BAU or REALIZATION. The choice the actor makes is always personal in that it reflect his/her individual point of view of the character’s behaviour. The more original the choice, the more heightened the verb of action the more powerful the performance.
The actor doesn’t enter prepared to FEEL; s/he enters prepared to DO.
[note: at this point, I have to add that I don’t really care whether you start at step 1 or step 4. Both are essential to good acting! I honestly don’t see how you can act on an intention without being prepared emotionally; at the same time you can’t act the emotion – you must act an intention]
I spent a bit of time today rummaging around their site. It is absolutely loaded with stuff for people interested in acting, both stage and video. Monologues, audition hints, acting tips; you name it, they got it. Here is the link written out: http://www.actorhub.co.uk/
And here is their link to the first Theatre Brief that I posted a month and a half ago. I was amused that somewhere, somehow they came up with a headshot for me that is at least 15 years old. I think it is on a website I no longer have access to, for editing purposes (here, which is quite dated and pretty silly in some ways).
Actor's Hub looks like a terrific site. It will definitely be on my "go-to" list whenever I am looking for things theatre-related.
Brief #21 Disturbing the Molecules
(by Norman Schwartz)
If drama is the story of someone wanting to do something against all obstacles, then the choice of SPECIFIC INTENTION--what I want to do NOW, moment-to-moment-- is absolutely essential to building the character. It is very tempting to choose a simple or obvious verb of intention. Most plays begin with somebody wanting something from someone else, often something the other person doesn’t wish to do or give. (E.g. “I want to CONVINCE my husband to finish the screenplay he’s been working on for two years.”)
CONVINCE is a rather ineffective verb. The secret then is to heighten or upgrade this ordinary verb until it becomes something definite, exciting and actable. From ordinary to extra-ordinary.
In William Bell’s must-own book on directing, A SENSE OF DIRECTION (Drama Books), he offers an excellent example of upgrading. In the scenario, the common verb CONVINCE my husband is changed by the actor to FLATTER, FORTIFY, EXALT, IMMORTALIZE him.
The actor who works this way does what Glenn Close calls “disturbing the molecules.” When the actor chooses an active verb rather than an innocuous one, s/he creates an energy force that transports the specific moment to a heightened point of reality. The energy field has travelled from the actor on the stage to the point where it enters the perception of the spectator. G.B. Shaw referred to this effect as “the optics of the theatre” --the trick the actor uses to carry his/her emotion to the point of audience comprehension and excitement.
Sandy Meisner spoke of it this way: “ (When) you ... get the basic reality at the conversational level, and then discover the deeper meanings that fuel it with the optics of theatre, it’s not built on bed of clichés... (When) you put the real situation on the stage, you need to keep its reality so that it’s believable both to you and to the audience; but you have to raise it to a level above real life. Otherwise it doesn’t communicate.”
Ball offers this example:
I want to FLATTER him becomes
I want to PRAISE him becomes
I want to STRENGTHEN him becomes
I want to GLORIFY him becomes
I want to GLORIFY him into realizing his true worth.
The plot says the wife convinces the husband to finish his script. The actor acts something much more theatrical and exciting.