Monday, November 30, 2009

The Biz Monday Starter: Audience

As a performer there are things that you can control. Like how you prepare for your role. Did you research your part well? Did you memorize the lines sufficiently? Are you comfortable with your blocking? And as a performer you find yourself focusing on the things you can control because there are so many things you can't. Perhaps the biggest thing we, as actor’s, can’t control is audience. Who they are, how are the going to perceive the performance? Will they like it, hate it? Audience is such an integral part of performing, so what happens when you do a play that presumes an audience has a similar background, a similar academic past, a similar affinity with the concepts touched upon in the piece? What happens when the audience doesn’t have those things? Is the play dead in the water? Should plays be watered down/should they be written above the audience? Should the audience even be a major factor in choosing works to perform? Should we as actors care? Any thoughts?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkey Weekend

It is Thanksgiving! I will be back on normal "post schedule" Monday, but it is now time to enjoy the holiday weekend!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Playback Tuesday: Adaptation

I started working on this and realized that this post will need to be divided into two parts: 1) the screenplay and the movie, and 2) the production notes. The two parts will be posted on the following two Tuesdays. For now I'd like to talk a little bit about my own personal musings on the often brought up subject of the book versus the movie. I always feel a sort of trepidation when I find out that a movie is going to be made based on a book that I've read. It's okay if it is one that I haven't, but the audacity of someone taking my mental creations of settings and characters turning them into some concrete visual version makes me anxious. It's the attempt to transform words that resided within the boundaries of my mind into monopolizing visuals that create a shared, depersonalized version of "my" envisioned story. I worry that the movie will come short of my high expectations. Must I accept the house in the film as the one the characters live in? Those are the clothes? The actors, are they now the characters? Is Kate Winslet to dethrone my own made up Marianne Dashwood? Can Hugh Grant replace my Edward Ferrars? Selfishness I know. For the playwright there must be some sense of madness. To be expected to take works of literature that are word bound and to make them into a visual tapestry. Oh the horror, the horror. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the task itself is demanding, it took Emma Thompson five years to write the screenplay for Sense and Sensibility. The following two Tuesdays will about analyzing the screenplay (and to a lesser extent the film itself), and exploring Emma Thompson's production journal. I feel very greatful when film writers, actors, producers, or director's write a running commentary of the actual making of a film. So, next Tuesday I will attempt to dig deeper into one film, one writer's journey and challenges.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Biz Monday Starter: Keeping Busy

Hard work, research, ingenuity, perseverance, honesty. I feel like these are all things most American children grew up with as values--things to strive for if we want to succeed. Then we progress forward to college where these same values are stressed again, though this time streamlined and restructured to fit each major, each college of study so specifically that it can be a challenge to take each value and realize that they still fit into broader generalizations. To be successful, whether in business, government, science, mathematics, law, or the arts, requires the same sort of work ethic, the same sort of drive. M.K. Lewis, author of Your Film Acting Career, stated that he was convinced that successful actors would be successful at any career they chose to do. I read that statement and immediately felt the impact. So often an actor can be overheard saying, "I act because I am not good at anything else." I know that I've said it before. That statement, though, too often becomes a crutch. A way to try and permanently bind and justify your career path. Perhaps because acting seems to be an unusual career, and is often little understood by Industry outsiders, actors feel this push within to defend their career choices--to normalize them. Anytime, however, you attempt to be (at the risk of sounding terribly cliche) the best you can it becomes even more of a striking untruth. I believe that individuals who believe they are successful would not be overheard (seriously) saying that I do this because this is just what I know. As M.K. Lewis points out, they know that the things they did in one field, the steps they took to get to where they are now, are the same ones they'd take in any other field.
As I start to think of my career as just one stream in a larger basin, it becomes easier for me to put some of those values into larger context, which in turn allows me the freedom to pull from larger examples of inspiration, stories, and experiences. That, in turn, helps me to see that though some do stumble into success, most people, have been working hard, researching, getting up early and staying up late for a long time. And, that although, perceptions of what it means to be successful are individual, and often, very personal, a tenant of successful individuals is that the idea of fulfillment from what they are doing keeps them constantly reevaluating themselves and their work. A constant activity, a drive, a passion that keeps them busy and spills over even if they do work at a job that doesn't give them fulfillment like Pearl Fryar.
This week will be all about fleshing out this idea of research and hard work.

Continuing Tuesday with an analysis of the screenplay of Sense & Sensibility, including comments on Emma Thompson's production journal, and finishing off on Friday with a review of The Hours focusing particularly on the director and writer commentary.
Oh, and yeah, this guy works hard.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Picture Perfect Weekend

It is the weekend again, and I feel very thankful that I will be able to use my time to catch up on some projects that need attention. Writing is one thing that I have to pick up (along with watching some good films), but there are also a lot of non-theatre & film things that need to be put in motion. I blog about that stuff over here...just in case you are a closet crafter too. The above picture was taken on a cloudy day in Montana last summer. It is a sculpture at the battlefield of Custer's last stand. An interesting note is that his wife pushed for the preservation of the battle/events that took place thinking that he would be looked upon as a national hero.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Film Flash Friday: A Man Named Pearl

Another aspect of film that I find extremely interesting is that actors are not required, characters are. The documentary is a good example of this. Documentaries are some of the most story centered films, because quite frankly, they have to be. A Man Named Pearl, is a documentary chronicling the effect one man has had on his rural, South Carolina community. Pearl Fryar is an African-American man who spent his days working at a canning refinery working four day, twelve hour shifts, but was able to cultivate a passion for horticulture. In particular, a love for creating magnificent, towering topiaries out of plants discarded by the local plant nursery. His passion for plants arose out of an answer to the fear of his neighbors, in his predominately white neighborhood, that he wouldn't keep up his yard. Through years of hard work, late nights, and early mornings he created a huge topiary artwork garden that spans three acres. A Man Named Pearl is ultimately a simple story about a man and his passion for plants, but gains complexity from the obstacles and perceptions that he must overcome in order to achieve success and acknowledgment for his work. Fryar sums up his belief in the film by saying, "It's human nature to look out for who ever looks like you...and there are always going to be those obstacles. The thing about it is to make you strong enough that you don't let those obstacles be what determines where you go." His personality and humor, along with the often unintentional humor provided by the resident's interviewed, makes this movie extremely entertaining. My criticism of the film would be that I would have liked more time devoted to Fryar's past and more details explaining how he got to where he is now.

Directed: Scott Galloway & Brent Pierson

For more info about the film check out: IMDB
For more info about the Pearl's work check out this BLOG

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Playback Tuesday: Interconnectedness & "The Struggle"

Paper Dolls, written by Elaine Jackson, centers around two aging black beauty queens who return to judge an international beauty contest fifty years after their wins at the Miss Emancipation of 1930 beauty contest. The whole show involves the two actors, joined by two men and two women, reliving scenes from their past and relying heavily on the minstrel show influences. These are two women who have often times unwillingly (and willingly) played into the stereotypical images of black women portrayed by the television and film industries of that time period. Both women talk about things they did to make themselves prettier by white standards. Margret-Elizabeth states that, "...Everytime I washed my face I would leave lots of soap on my nose and let it dry while I pinched my nose--and, voila!--my nose would stand up. Lizzie counters with, "...Well...I pinched my mouth. My mother taught me how to do it. You can make your lips smaller if you tighten them over your teeth like this."
They both, however, have this desire to rewrite the often bitter experiences of their lives. Margaret-Elizabeth, throughout the play, begins to realize that most of her life has been spent in dreamy bubble of deceit. It seems difficult for her to take a sharp analysis of how lying about her age and being willing to "play along" with racist stereotypes has not gotten her many of the things she always desired, like respect or love. It isn't until Act Two that Margaret-Elizabeth is able to open up about her childhood and the beginning of her struggle to find her identity. Margaret-Elizabeth states, "...When I was thirteen years old, my mother went around telling everyone I was nine. When I was sixteen, she told people I was twelve! I've lived my whole life never experiencing my true age. I wore ribbons in my hair until I was thirty-five years old! Mother said, 'When you're young, people allow you to make mistakes. They forgive you.'"
One of the most interesting aspects of this play is that though the central theme hinges on race, the themes surrounding the idea of what to do when youthful beauty and innocence end are just as poignant. Is there such a thing as aging beautifully, and how do we as individuals learn to cope with all of the disappointments in life that, unlike in this play, we cannot relive and rewrite? I found it a very humorous, interesting, and ultimately a sobering read.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Biz Monday Starter: Process

I like the idea of process. A series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end. The processes involved in theatre can be extremely varied and complex, but their goal is to produce a show. So often I find myself getting too wrapped up in the final product. When some of the most intriguing discoveries lie in what steps were taken to get to what I see before me. I thoroughly enjoyed this post by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. It provides a glimpse into the process of researching for the set design of a show. I find myself more and more enamored and amazed with all of the planning, research, and imagination that goes into all aspects of theatre production. The people and the process that makes it all work, or in some cases, not work.

Speaking of process, I also enjoyed another post that featured a writer and her tweets.

Tweets...I have never tweeted before, but it is funny how short updates can tell a very interesting story. This particular post deals with the story of a writer and her struggle to write, haven't we all been there?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Picture Perfect Weekend

Well, it is that time again. Time to rest, read, and relax. I hope the weekend is as picture perfect as it can be for everyone. My weekend began with a trip to D.C. and oh were the sights inspiring.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Film Flash Friday: O'Horten

Film is a medium that I turn to again and again when I need a refresher course in the art of subtlety. The range of emotions that can be captured on film is extraordinary. A single blind of the eye lid can take up an entire screen, and it is so often the smallest gestures and expressions that govern human interactions. O'Horten is a film defined by the subtle. Baard Owe plays Odd Horten, a man who lives his life by a schedule. He is the captain of his ship, in this case a train which he maneuvers through vast tracks of barren, snow covered land to the epicenters activity. From the ease that Horten feels behind the "wheel" of the train, one gather's that it is precisely that solitude that Horten values in his daily travels and that any break in that, such as a talkative co-pilot, interjects personal interactions with people that Horten tries to avoid. Owe plays his character as not so much aloof, but as a man who enjoys feeling comfortable in a small, contained environment. However, Horten's carefully pruned life is about to be turned into something unpredictable and ultimately unmanageable with the coming of his retirement. All of this happens, subtly, of course.

At an event honoring Horten's years of service, while the other train engineers seem at ease and sociable, Horten sits uncomfortably, eyes averted, waiting for the focus of attention to shift. He is a man who prefers to be an observer not the observed. The final realization of the control over his life that he is losing comes about when he misses his last train, his last chance to cling to his "normal" way of life. He goes into depression, and though Horten has never been a talkative character his demeanor changes. He becomes more and more like a confused old mariner who suddenly finds himself without a ship. For Horten to break free of his inability move into the present and leave the past behind he must first face someone he has hard time coming to terms with, his mother. The scene where Horten talks to his mother in the nursing home is one of the few scenes where he has the most consistent dialogue, even though his mother remains unresponsive. One wonders if despite old age and possible illness, if his mother was even more reserved than Horten. Is this perhaps where Horten gets it from? Owe's performance in that scene is particularly interesting because he becomes almost like a little boy seeking acknowledgment from his mom. He acts completely engaged, as if he is expecting a response from her at any moment, and eventually, when he mentions her ski's he gets a smile, but one wonders if he even was able to glimpse it from where he was standing. The movie progresses with Horten becoming less and less an observer and instead more of an awkward participant in various interactions, and it is those interactions (and Horten's subsequent reactions) that make O'Horten a very satisfying movie, and a great reminder that amazing acting performances happen all across the globe--even if in the most subtle ways.

Directed, Written, Produced by: Bent Hamer--Release Date: December 26 2007--Rating: PG-13--Language: Norwegian

Much Better Reviews Can Be Found Below:
The New York Times
Roger Ebert
Los Angeles Times

More Information on the Film Can Be Found At:
Internet Movie Database (IMDB)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Playback Tuesday: The Man Who Wasn't There

I enjoy reading screenplays as much as I do theatre plays. For me the enjoyment is getting so wrapped up in the characters and the story that stage directions, locations, and in the case of this particular screenplay, camera positions begin to melt into a subtle tapestry of visuals. And in film, the visual, is everything. Especially since the camera is often the spying "third eye." The screenplay, The Man Who Wasn't There by Ethan and Joel Coen, took me through the events leading up to Ed, the barber's, demise. Through first person narration I got a glimpse of the life of a quiet, often socially awkward Barber, who wants more from his humble existence and goes about getting more in a way that eventually destroys him, and the small community of equally flawed people surrounding him. The true beauty of this screenplay is the way in which each decision interlocks with a consequence equally as dramatic and absurd which leaves the reader trying to piece together the final outcome. I must admit that for the last ten pages I was simply strapped in for the ride, too anxious to find out what happens to Ed to spend too much time stopping to piece together the puzzle. The screenplay includes several photographs taken from scenes in the movie from which I recognized several familiar faces, including, but not limited to: Francis McDormand, Billy Bob Thornton, James Gandolfini, Tony Shalhoub, and Scarlett Johansson. I now look forward to seeing how the movie and my own self created version of it compare.

The Biz Monday Starter: Creative Ways To Advertise

I have become intrigued by the idea of creatively advertising theatre productions-particularly in a way that endeavors to appeal to a more tech savvy audience. Facebook and Twitter groups abound, but I must admit that theatre blogs-the way they look, the style, the topics, the events they plug-are fast becoming an obsession for me. A new favorite is the Praxis Theatre blog. I love the mixing of social awareness and theatre. I believe that some of the most poignant plays and performances come out of a personal need to communicate with an audience. As far as advertising, I am pretty much in love with their take on the paparazzi in Celebrity Theatre. I am a sucker for such things. As far as the correlation between the Internet, blogging, facebook, and twitter and the success of selling seats, I can't say. But a little publicity can hurt, right?

Falling Back

It's that time of the year again. The end is near, and I've become very self-reflective. What have I done in 2009 that I didn't do in 2008? Did I work harder? Did I do things that really mattered to me? Or, if I am not careful, will I be stuck December 31st scrambling to figure out where all the time went (and all of my ambitions). An acting blog is an excellent way to keep me further invested in my career--reading, writing, researching, and watching. All great ways to ring in the new year.