Constant Havoc

Yes, I thought about this stuff before I put it here.

Tag: theatre

Pop pops

warholemarilyn

There is little in popular culture that attracts me. I do not know if it has to do with middle age or with growing spiritual awareness. I avoid it and mainstream media, because they upset my peace of mind, which I value highly.

I don’t watch television. Truthfully, I should say I watch it very rarely. I used to be allergic to it. I couldn’t sit still in front of the machine. Videos online used to have the same effect. They made me squirm uncontrollably. That changed. I can physically sit in front of the TV now and watch, but I honestly hate most of what I see. It’s garbage. Recently, I watched the short series Vicious starring Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi on PBS. I enjoyed that. It was well done. I have not seen anything else in many years, and in my opinion, I’m fine. I haven’t missed a thing.

I can’t read pop fiction. I like reading, and I spend a lot of time doing it. I read books that interest me. I recently finished Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon for the umpteenth time in the last thirty years. Seriously, I have read it too many times to count. It’s good. I recommend it. Right now, I’m reading two books about reaching the spirit world through ritual body postures. The books are fascinating. One is Ecstatic Body Postures by Belinda Gore, and the other is Where the Spirits Ride the Wind by Dr. Felicitas Goodman. I also read a lot about theatre, acting, and directing for the stage. I read good books. Please, don’t get me started on James Patterson.

I don’t watch the news from mainstream media. Yes, I am very much an American, but I get most of my news from BBC and The Guardian. I like the new news website Vox very much.

I never have the radio on in my car. I can’t tell you anything about pop music. I have wide-ranging tastes in music, but they tend toward lyrical and classical. I recently started listening to the British singer Sam Smith. He’s very good.

I like the artist Andy Warhol’s quote very much:

Once you ‘got’ Pop, you could never see a sign again the same way again. And once you thought Pop, you could never see America the same way again.

I love art, and I’ve seen some signs that were truly high art. There was one for a liquor store on Lemmon Avenue in Dallas, Texas, that was spectacular. It was like a space ship landed on the corner with lights blinking and exploding all over the place. It was gorgeous. Yes, I like the pop art of Andy Warhol. I’m contradictory. Forgive me.

I love America, too. It’s messy. Sometimes there are ugly bits that force their way into view, but on the whole, America is all right. I’m an optimist. Forgive me.

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Art

stairs

January 4, 1958

A work of art should not show. It should not teach.

IT SHOULD BE.

It should be like a fact that has many meanings, all as complex and mixed up as life itself, contradictory, unfathomable, mysterious. The meanings should be here. But the audience should feel — as they do in the presence of a work of nature, that they have to find them, dig them out, and interpret them for themselves, each putting on each his own meaning.

from Elia Kazan’s notebook for Face in the Crowd

as quoted in Kazan on Directing

What is theatre that fits?

embracing

Life has dimensions. We are each of us just the right size, and knowing that size keeps us happy. When we lose sight of our size and begin to push out of or contract to less than what we naturally are, we experience discomfort. I am me, and I love me. I know just how far I extend, and I find everything I need to keep me happy easily within reach.

Art has dimensions, too. I believe art’s value lies in reminding each of us of our true dimensions. Many of us think ourselves very small. We are not. We are large and can grasp great chunks of life to fulfill ourselves and keep us happy. We need art to remind us how big we are.

I am a theatre artist. Others are dancers or musicians or painters or writers or a myriad other types of creators. I am happy they know their passions. Theatre gives me breath. When I am acting or directing or reading a play or studying the writing of other theatre artists, I am full. I know my dimensions, and I am very large.

I can touch you with my art. We can make contact. Magic happens in moments of contact.

Theatre is created in sequences. First, there is the urge. I have a desire to touch, and I begin to search for the vehicle that will allow that touch to reach me. I talk to friends about the theatre they are creating. I see theatre. I imagine the possibilities. I allow the urge to grow, and it forms a force that draws more creativity to me.

I begin to study. I feel what’s in the air. I pay attention to the sounds on the street. I listen. I hear. I contact people, other creators.

We are all creators.

I read. I see the words of playwrights, and I make contact with their intentions. Plays on paper are potentialities and promises. The words release themselves in me, and I feel their powers push me to remember how large I am. In my mind, I reach out to the possibilities.

I see forms. A vision shapes itself in me. Ideas are born. A vehicle to contact the spectators arrives.

I contact creators who help me fill my vision with life-giving air. I touch other creators, and they touch me. We are in contact. We share our gifts of creation.

There is some time that passes, during which we all concentrate on creating the vehicle to contact the spectators, and when the vehicle is ready, we call the spectators to help us give it birth.

The creation is born when it is viewed. It is given life when the spectators participate. In being seen, contact is created, and magic occurs.

I need to create magic. I need to contact. I can breathe when I create contact.

In his book, The Empty Space, Peter Brook writes,

The theatre is the arena where a living confrontation can take place.

Contact happens in living confrontation. I believe contact is sacred, and I strive to create sacred contact. When my creation touches another person, a space is created that fills us both. We are made whole. The spectator finishes me.

If I lose sight of the contact I strive for and make theatre for the sole purpose of showing, I cannot make contact. It is mere ego. It hides my soul from the spectator, and when I am hidden, contact is impossible. Magic is impossible. The sacred bond is impossible.

Art that fits creates sacred contact. Art that knows its dimensions can appear very small physically, but living confrontation is always the perfect size. It is just large enough to create a space where we can breathe.

Theatre that fits creates room for people to touch each other. There is magic in that sacred embrace.

Dimensions

I like creating theatre that fits.

Theatre & Cinema

Horizontal image of an old Theatre Marquee.  Evening shot.

The cinema flashes on to a screen images from the past. As this is what the mind does to itself all through life, the cinema seems intimately real. Of course, it is nothing of the sort – it is a satisfying and enjoyable extension of the unreality of everyday perception. The theatre, on the other hand, always asserts itself in the present. This is what can make it more real than the normal stream of consciousness. This also is what can make it so disturbing.

Peter Brook

The Empty Space

A Definition

greek amphitheatre

We can thus define the theatre as “what takes place between spectator and actor”.

Jerzy Grotowski

Towards a Poor Theatre

A Directing Adventure

theatre

Today’s the day! Over the next two months, I will be co-directing a play with a seasoned director, and the auditions are tonight and tomorrow night. I have done my homework by reading and re-reading the script many times. I’ve studied the characters and their motivations and come up with a list of verbs describing each one. The theatre’s designer has come up with a beautifully simplistic set that will give the actors a space in which to explore their various roles and actions and emotions.

The play is The Spoon River Project, which is made up of poems excerpted from Edgar Lee Masters’ early twentieth century American classic Spoon River Anthology. Citizens of the fictional town Spoon River speak from their graves, remembering, inspiring, preaching, ruing, accusing, and confessing. There have been numerous adaptations of the anthology for the stage over the past hundred years. This one is by Tom Andolora. He chose a representative sampling of the graveyard’s characters, and importantly, he researched and included some period songs that the actors will perform.

Mr. Andolora also uses one of my favorite theatre techniques. Each actor plays multiple roles. They do three or four, in fact. By careful use of small costume pieces and physical changes, the actors will have to differentiate each character, and they will have to make it believable.

The space will be bare, befitting a graveyard, with a few movable benches, and room is even being made on the stage for audience seating. There will be a small ensemble of musicians to accompany the cast in the songs. The only props will represent what the individuals have taken with them to the grave. They will make use of shawls, vests, and other small items of clothing.

The process of directing is not absolutely new to me, but I am a novice. I have directed before, and in that play, the actors were also called on to delve into different characters. I revel in seeing a good craftsman make the necessary adjustments in a second to change from one role to another. When it’s done well, it makes me squirm in my seat.

I have already mentioned reading the play multiple times to really feel it. I searched and found what I believe may be a through line or what’s also called a plot line. The great twentieth century American director Harold Clurman dubbed it the spine. It’s a simple word or phrase or very short sentence describing the central theme of the piece. I like to pick words from the actual script for this note when possible. The through line does not have to be communicated to the actors, but it informs all the director’s choices.

This script is full of wonder. The poems are alive with active verbs that make imagining staging it a joy. The anthology is a pleasure to read for its own sake. Mr. Andolora did not choose my favorite poem, so I will include it here.

Edmund Pollard

I WOULD I had thrust my hands of flesh
Into the disk—flowers bee-infested,
Into the mirror-like core of fire
Of the light of life, the sun of delight.
For what are anthers worth or petals
Or halo-rays? Mockeries, shadows
Of the heart of the flower, the central flame
All is yours, young passer-by;
Enter the banquet room with the thought;
Don’t sidle in as if you were doubtful
Whether you’re welcome—the feast is yours!
Nor take but a little, refusing more
With a bashful “Thank you”, when you’re hungry.
Is your soul alive? Then let it feed!
Leave no balconies where you can climb;
Nor milk-white bosoms where you can rest;
Nor golden heads with pillows to share;
Nor wine cups while the wine is sweet;
Nor ecstasies of body or soul,
You will die, no doubt, but die while living
In depths of azure, rapt and mated,
Kissing the queen-bee, Life!

The speaker, Edmund Pollard, wishes he had dived into all that living had to offer, and he implores the hearers to do so. He speaks of flesh, alluding to bees’ stings, and fire and light. To those of us above the graves, he commands we attend the banquets and feasts that lie before us. Let us feed! Love and intimacy take their places, too. Finally, he returns to bees and their kissing sting of life.

I am living today. I am excited at my new adventure in theatre starting tonight. Life moves me, and I take joy in it.

Even More Thoughts on Acting

To bring an audience the revelation of the failings and aspirations, the dreams and desires, the negative and the positive aspects of human beings—this is what we should set as our goal as committed theater artists. Then we will be respected and have respect for ourselves and respect for acting! —

Uta Hagen, Respect for Acting

I have read both of Uta Hagen’s books about acting and admire each one. Besides the one quoted above, there is Challenge for the Actor, which I prefer.

Revelation. That word is miraculous. I go about my days meeting various people in many different walks of life, and it’s always astonishing to me to think about their lives. I wonder what the home is like for the cashier at the grocery store. What story has the doctor just been a part of before he comes in to take a look at my sore throat? What’s going on with the friend who isn’t returning calls? The individuals I meet on a daily basis are full of failings and aspirations. They have inner lives that I can imagine and gather occasional glimpses of.

The study of people around me assists me in building a character. My role in a play assumes that I know much more about my character’s thoughts and actions than simply when he’s speaking. I have to know what he’s thinking between the lines. More acting happens when I’m not speaking than when I am. I’ve been in long scenes on stage with only 5 lines of my own, but my character must exist the whole time I’m in front of the audience. While it might not be written down, I have to know what my character would say if suddenly called upon to speak.

To get to that level of character, I have to work. I relate that work to my own life as well. What are my motives for pursuing a certain goal? What are the dreams and desires behind it? Finally, what are my negative and positive aspects that I present to the world every day? Playing me takes full time. I never get to lay it down, take off the costume, or wash off the makeup. I’m aware that I perform everywhere I go.

A Few More Thoughts on Acting

Johnston Forbes Robertson as Hamlet, Lyceum Theatre, London, 1897.

Johnston Forbes Robertson as Hamlet, Lyceum Theatre, London, 1897.

Is acting a craft? Is it an art? How do we allow for such differences in the acting world as lie between the Little Rascals on the one hand and Meryl Streep on the other? What makes an actor?

Stanislavsky was the first who put in writing what came to be a widely accepted answer. It became so widely accepted that it is accorded the status of a proper noun and capitalized as the Method. He put on paper a formula for creating a character that still carries weight today and still engenders controversy. In the same interview in 1961 quoted previously, Mr. Jose Ferrer said:

By definition, how can Stanislavsky’s so-called Method, which was created for the period of 1890 in Russia, be valid today,…in a period that has television, has the atom bomb, has radio, and media of communication for actors that didn’t exist for him.

Indeed, why does the Method still matter and what is it? Mr. Ferrer went on to call it a kind of realism arising out of the Industrial Revolution and the political milieu of the time also evident in Impressionism in painting and music. I am just beginning to read Creating a Role and Building a Character, but I know a lot of what I’m going to find simply due to being in and around the theater and actors since I was six.

An actor is more than a shell. He brings experience and talent to a role. His body carries physical memories of emotions. His mind remembers mental images of events. He is a whole, and a good actor applies it all to his assignment. He takes his own inner life and uses bits and pieces to create a character for the audience to believe in. He uses it all to craft a being to live and breathe its hour on the stage.

Shakespeare had something to say on the subject of acting in Hamlet (III.2):

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently: for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say,whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness…

Be not too tame neither; but let your own discretion be your tutor: suit the action to the word, the word to the action; with this special observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature: for anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own image, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.

Shakespeare draws a line between using all gently and anything so overdone. Isn’t he calling for realism? While the words here concentrate on outward shows of action, won’t the inward feelings follow that give the Player the ability to cry for Hecuba? Or is it all bound up in talent? I don’t know the full answer to that yet, and I’m looking forward to the possibility of discovering it.

A Few Thoughts on Acting

In an interview published in 1961, Jose Ferrer said, “I like to tell the author’s story. That’s the satisfaction of acting to me.” He stressed relaying the playwright’s narrative. He did not address the issue of absurdest theater in what I read, but I came away with the clear sense that the play’s the thing.

What is the actor’s responsibility to the script? Can it be as simple as to breathe life into it? An actor takes written words and transforms them into an oral medium. He gives them voice. If he’s any good, he may even give them life. But a lot happens between the first reading and the performance. Words spark imagination. Words inspire the actor to feel. A whole range of physical reactions stir the actor to create. And it all starts with words. Words. Words.

In another part of the interview, Mr. Ferrer described memorization as the most unpleasant part of the acting process, and I agree. There’s a tyranny of the script, and it makes me ask about the choices the author has made. Hamlet gives us a brilliant speech about his inept handling of his dead father’s wishes in “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” The words fight to get off the page and fly about the theater firing the passions of the hearers. Hamlet is chastened by the Player’s tears for an unknown Hecuba, while he himself toils with the knowledge of a dear murdered father.

Yet, when we see him next, Hamlet is lost in “To be, or not to be…” A good actor has to be responsible for the transition from one to the other. There must be a world he occupies where objects and events lead him from shouting to hesitation. What can the actor accomplish between those two disparate speeches to arrive from the passion of one to the pathos of the other?

The author only sets down what is absolutely necessary to advance the plot. Any extraneous speech, line, phrase, or word has to be struck from the page. While we can write reams about the difference between these two speeches and how inappropriate their timing may be, we have to assume that Shakespeare set them down on the page in sequence for a reason. In Olivier’s movie of Hamlet, he interposes the scene with Ophelia between the two. I think he does a disservice to the writer.

As Mr. Ferrer said, the actor is telling a story, one written by someone else (except on very rare occasions). The actor is not an editor. He is a vessel. He is the important transporter of the playwright’s words, delivering them to a receptive audience, hopefully, in a dynamic and correct manner. He exists to animate what is on the page.

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