Tuesday, June 29, 2010

It's a complicated dance, and I'm missing some steps, but GOD it's good to dance again....

As most of you well know, I enjoy a good academic discussion.

I don't get many of these, anymore.

In my younger days, when I was of academia, I had infinite opportunities at academic discussion, and I, of course, did not want to limit myself to my strong suit; in fact, if I could avoid talking about the theatre on ANY level, I would, in favor of such things as Russian Literature, Civil War History, the Creation of the New Deal, or even, the ongoing discussion over the merits of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

All this, over seemingly endless slices of pie. Yes, I said pie. Not cake. I am an equal opportunity baked goods consumer; and if there's pie, I will have pie.

With that in mind....

There is so much to discuss upon the subject of Elizabethan drama, you could start to day and finish the day you die, and still not be finished, except for the fact that you're not breathing anymore and probably having dinner with Jesus AND Shakespeare. And I bet the conversation would continue in Heaven, with Jesus laughing at some idiot thing you said, and Shakespeare saying, "They did WHAT to HAMLET? It was a f***ing GHOST STORY, for the love of GOD!"

And then, of course, God would chime in, but let's move on...

With so many interpretations, and no author to go to, short of the actual text (which is where you really NEED to be going, for all your character needs: That's right, folks, come on down to the TEXT, where we've got characterization just waiting for you to try!) it's a garden of joy for me to get involved in a good old-fashioned academic discussion.

I need to reiterate to you all: I AM HAVING A GREAT TIME. And I say that with the full knowledge that between last Sunday night and last Friday morning, I had exactly FIVE hours of sleep, and four shifts at work, and three rehearsals. And even in those rehearsals when I felt that I was literally halfway between heaven and hell,and it could go either way....I was STILL having a good time. The allowance to find a rhythm, to try different things as I make my way, to actually feel laughter bubbling up from me with every really good choice my castmates make....it's divine.

And you can really forget that when you haven't done it for a long time; and you can really take it for granted when you've done it too much.

But there was something that happened the other night that brought together my abilities as an actor and my experience as an academic.

I saw something. It was just a little moment; a look, and a sound. And if I hadn't been focused upon the work, I maybe would never have noticed it. But in that moment, I knew I had to say something to the director.

I like Erin, the director; she has so much to do, and she handles it with a kind of aplomb that you usually don't see very often. She enjoys what she sees, and when she doesn't, she adjusts it with a kindness that belies the kind of deadlines she must surely be coming up to. She has a nice laugh; the kind of laugh that makes you want to do something interesting to hear it again. And, I don't like to burden her too much with my academic crap, because, frankly, I'm full of s**t most of the time, and who wants to endure that?

Sometimes, when you get so involved, you forget that the destination is out there, but you need to look at the road that leads there, as well. And in this particular piece of road....well, from my vantage point, in this particular scene, something didn't sit right....

Petruchio has brought Kate home, and he's railing at his servants, and basically supplying her with one hand and denying her with the other, and she's looking at him, rightly so, like he's out of his mind. And then, with a word, off they go to the marriage bed....

And Kate made this sound; and she made this look. And at that moment, a sickening feeling came over me, and I knew that if I caught it, the audience might catch it, as well....so I told my director that I didn't think it would be good if the audience felt that Kate was being raped in the bedroom.

She agreed.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Here's to us! Who's like us? Damned Few....

Hey, Old Friend
Are you OK, Old Friend?
What'll you say, Old Friend;
Are we or are we unique?
Time goes by,
Everything else keeps changing...
You and I, we get, "Continued Next Week!"
Most friends fade,
Or, they don't make the grade...
New ones are quickly made
And in a pinch, sure they'll do;
But us, Old Friends;
What's to discuss, Old Friends?
Here's to us...
Who's like us?
Damned Few!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Horace Wimp, Is This Your Life?

It seems with every rehearsal, the platform configuration is different, and similarly, it is always a different one that is "soft", meaning that it bows just a little when you walk upon it, like a plywood trampoline, and God help you if there are more than one of you upon it....for it's a disaster just waiting to groan and snap and send you...well, it's only about six inches, but you could get a splinter.

Last night, the temperature outside was a pleasant sixty six degrees; and in the theatre, it was the Black Box of Calcutta, with two overworked electric fans moving hot air around the room.

I can't get the script out of my hand. It seems to be welded to the end of my arm. And these damned GLASSES that I need to read the words that seem to get smaller and smaller....

My knees hurt.
Where the F*** did these lines in my face come from?

I've got to tell you.....I'm having a Really. Good. Time.

Seriously; I step out, with book in hand and sore knees and reading glasses and a voice that won't obey the commands that it used to, and I can't move quite the same I used to, and my tongue seems three sizes larger than my mouth....and I can't stop smiling.

I can't say that every choice is gold, kids; there are a fair share of clinkers there among the winners, but just the ability to make the choice is refreshing. And I have managed to surprise myself just enough to make myself positively GIDDY.

It's managed to make the rest of this crap bearable.

"And even if I have to be a ditch digger for the rest of my life, I'll be a ditch digger that once had a....wonderful day!"

Bring it!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

We interrupt the sleep cycle to bring you this....

I love Sunday mornings; you sit in an office for eight hours and watch the sun come up over the Northern City.....and there is that feeling upon the drive homeward that the sleep you will soon partake in will be lovely and deep; but you don't want to sleep too soon, or you won't sleep long enough...

So, you change clothes, kiss the wife good morning, and turn on the television, just for a moment.

And there it is....

Lord Olivier in Richard III. One of my very favorites.

Yup, I stayed up.

Totally worth it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

If it's Friday, it must be Monday. Stupid Schedule....

One of my old instructors (or, to be specific, one of my instructors of old) used to say that the definition of a professional is "someone who does their job, even when they don't want to."

I get that.

I've been periodically running from the room all night. The results of the sprint are far too....colorful to describe here, but let me just say that answering telephones is the last thing on my mind, and frankly, if the security of the country revolves around my being at my desk at 0200, then we're all f***ed.

Thursdays into Fridays suck. But that's old news to anybody who reads this inconstant drivel. Lately, though, it's gotten just a shade worse, and I make no excuses; the extra-curricular is my own doing, and I am enjoying it. But it means that my forty-plus body must go almost thirty hours without benefit of beddy bye.

Which would explain my digestive distress.

In other news....the play is blocked.

We have been rehearsing in the theatre of Bismarck State College, on a reasonably sized stage in the hottest auditorium I have ever had the honor to trod. Seriously, warmth that you only find in the dense jungles of....Micronesia?...perhaps the island of Yap? It's warm and humid and not conducive to actual brainpower.

I have witnessed several methods of recording blocking in this particular process; I am fallen back on the shorthand, because I am not trusting my former memory in this incarnation. So, to be sure, I'm writing it down, and reviewing it twice. But some others have apparently fallen back on the old tried and true method of doing it once, and then completely forgetting it. Which, combined with the aforementioned heat and humidity have made me quite cranky in an unusually quiet way.

We've been blocking for a week; when it comes to working these scenes, if we have to go over it again and again, there will be blood.

But I am having a fairly good time; all that creative energy that has been lying dormant (HA!) these past.....seven years or so.....well, it's starting to pour out of me like beer through a bong. Eventually, I'll have to reign it in, but for now, it's a very....freeing....feeling.

I swear to GOD if somebody offered me a job right now, I would take it.

Of course, I'm an idiot.

Seriously. Test me.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Analysis and the Rusty Actor.

I think in my last post, I talked about the differences between theory and practice, and that all the theory in the world is fine, but theory lives in a wondrous place called OPTIMUMIA, which is just over there, south of Narnia, but on the same road as that Hogwarts school. Practice lives on a stage during what can be a grueling rehearsal process.

Of course, rehearsal processes can be grueling or boring, depending on the time frame, but in the professional world in which I spent a sizable portion of my adult life, your rehearsal process is usually short, and well-filled; yeah, you got eight days to put it up, but those are eight 12-14 hour days, and can go longer during those pesky tech and dress rehearsals.

(I realize that most of you know what I'm talking about; I'm being descriptive for those who wander in...)

So, here I am, in a rehearsal process that's eight weeks long, four days a week, three hours a day. I'm not quite sure where to put my hands, as they say.....

When you work quickly in those eight day rehearsal periods, you make choices very quickly, usually in your favorite chair at home. You analyze quickly, you find the hooks, you acknowledge where the humor is, where there is emphasis, where there is not....yes, as an actor, you look at it from a director's point a little, and you fine tune as much as you can in the comfort of your own home.

That way, when you hit the stage, you have some kind of road map, and the rest is just shaping, molding, playing well with others, working within your creation and at the same time adapting to THEIR creation....and going from single analysis to groupthink.

One of the specific things about Shakespeare: You cannot move and talk at the same time. Well, that's a bit of a generalization; you CAN move and talk at the same time, if you want to, but it is my belief that you either lose the line or the intention of the movement. This is the price you pay when the language is dense and lovely; you speak, and then you move. Or, you move, and then you speak.

So, now you have to add that dimension to the mix; a melodramatic movement pattern to heighten the awareness of the dialogue.

Eight weeks may not be long enough.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

First Steps.

Analysis is one of the more interesting parts of the acting job; an old friend of mine used to say it was like being a text detective. All the answers to all the questions can be found in the text.

But that can be misleading, much like all the theory placed in your brain by well-meaning professors in well-meaning programs at well-priced Universities. It reminds me a little of the scene in Rodney Dangerfield's BACK TO SCHOOL where he takes apart all the theories set forth by the professor, and interjects a little real-world schooling, in the form of payoffs, and compromises, and such.

Theory is good when it's an ingredient, but it's not the whole soup.

And sometimes, we need to add other ingredients, as well as that textual theory, in order to come up with a character that's interesting to watch, and interesting to play.

And therein lies the problem; the problem of Hortensio.

In reading the text, there seem to be some glaring errors of continuity which some scholars have suggested comes from a re-write somewhere in the play's history. It is suggested on more than one front that the character of Hortensio began simply as a friend of Petruchio's and evolved for some reason into a suitor for Bianca.

The flaws are seen in the fact that apparently Hortensio is a friend of Bianca's Father, Baptista, which would suggest a similarity of status and generation; but then, it's revealed he's also a close friend of Petruchio's which would also suggest a generational connection. Gremio is obviously the older of the two original suitors of Bianca, which would place Hortensio more in Petruchio's generation. He has a free and easy relationship with Petruchio, enough to actually suggest that he marry Kate, and to feel a pang of regret, which he remedies by suggesting that she's a harridan.

But then, when the time comes, and Baptista actually auctions off his youngest daughter, it is only Gremio and the new suitor Lucentio (or, more to the point, his proxy) that attend it; Hortensio is not invited, or even mentioned, which would suggest that Baptista isn't a very good friend at all, or Hortensio isn't considered a serious suitor...or, the re-write that some scholars suggest is truly a flawed re-write.

The Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare's plays that some people point to as proof that the playwright was truly not fond of rewriting; the chief example is the "Induction" scenes featuring the fooling of Christopher Sly, who appears and then seemingly disappears with no explanation or resolution. The Hortensio argument seems to lend credence to the argument...but that doesn't help in the playing of it.

What I do see in the original analysis is that, if we use every OTHER Shakespearean character, or even character type, then Hortensio has the logic and education of Horatio, and appears to suffer some of the buffoonery of the servant class, with comedic beatings, usually at the hands of Kate, as well as his apparent emasculation at the hands of his new wife, lovingly referred to as, "The Widow."

This is where theory leaves off, and practice begins.

I have some options to explore, at the very least:

Hortensio understands that he's the underdog, and goes undercover to circumvent Baptista's desires, perhaps to spirit Bianca away....

Hortensio is not really interested in Bianca, but is more interested in beating Gremio in a kind of suitor competition.

Hortensio is in love with the image of Bianca, but when he discovers what she really is, he admits that kindness trumps beauty.

I have to admit that there has always been a kind of discomfort that comes as you try to apply these thoughts to actual physicality, but I am looking forward to it after a long layoff.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Past and Present merging into a tasty soup.

I'm two rehearsals in, and there is a sense of anticipation I haven't felt in a somnab**ch long time.

First of all, it's a strange sensation when you go into a rehearsal and sit at a table with a dozen or so people you've never really seen before, and trust that they know what they're doing. It goes against everything I've ever done, but everybody around me is trying new things, so I'm going to go out and try something new, as well.

And apparently, I know them, or they know me...or they know somebody I know...it has been like six degrees from Clemo. One fellow, whom I refer to as Baptista (the character he's playing) is part of the program at Bismarck State College; now, keep in mind that my nephew is head basketball coach at BSC, but that's not the connection; Baptista was a professor at Webster in St. Louis while I was a professor at Culver-Stockton, and I knew and well-liked a few of his students. Another actor (playing several of the smaller roles) is a student at University of Nebraska, where one of my old graduate school chums is Chair. And, tonight, I realized that the guy sitting next to me (playing Gremio) is related to me by marriage.

Small world.

The work really hasn't begun yet....we're in the obligatory read through and the necessary editing for time and meaning (purists need not apply), and the equally obligatory lesson on meter and rhyme and history of production and what variations on the theme and why we're not doing the Induction, even though Christopher Sly is an interesting character, even though he just sort of....fades away.....

The chief problem I am finding at this early stage is finding the hook; especially considering that the character of Hortensio seems to have been re-written, and in a prior incarnation he was simply a friend of Petruchio, and now he's a suitor of Bianca.....perhaps it's the fact that as a suitor, nobody takes him very seriously....

Aside from that....

The first time I did this show was when I was a young man of 18; several of the original cast of that production went on to Broadway; some went on to pretty decent careers within Actor's Equity; and some work for Homeland Security; but I can remember every single voice....and the wonderful set with the world's heaviest turntable.

Ah, memories.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Anticipation with a healthy dose of uncertainty.

And, we're off.

Yesterday, at about 6PM, I received a phone call; the voice was one I didn't recognize, largely because I had only had a brief discussion with the person in question. Her name is Erin. She's a director. And apparently, I'm cast in a Shakespearean comedy.

If you're familiar with SHREW, TAMING OF THE (as we would say in government speak), then you can probably guess which role I've been cast in.

That's right. Hortensio.

Yup. Flummoxed me, as well, but I never look a gift horse in the mouth; a foot in the door is a foot in the door, and if somebody offers you a way back to think you enjoyed doing, you don't slap their hand. I just can't wait to find out the rest of the cast, and get to work....

I have to admit, I have a kind of trepidation. I've tried this before, back when I was living in California...this community theatre Shakespeare. And I had to abandon the project because it was driving me into a depression, or....maybe it was driving me FURTHER into an already established depression.

But I'm feeling much better now.

It plays for a single weekend; five performances, beginning on my birthday. I can fit it easily into my schedule, as long as I slightly adjust my sleeping habits, and I have the blessing and support of the lovely wife. So, I'm going to give it a shot.

So, I have something to write regularly about.

You lucky people.

Now, all I have to do is remember how to learn a script, developing a character, working well with others.....piece of cake.

And we ALL know how much I love cake.