An Actor Prepares, Again

After a longer-than-needed, self-appointed artistic hiatus, I did my first general audition today in a long time. And, it feels good. I mean, earlier today beforehand I wasn’t so sure. I kept imagining scenarios in my head that included everything from my mind going blank to having a medical emergency on stage to being straight up kicked out of the place and not allowed to audition at all!

That’s when I realized I was a bit anxious and needed to relax.

General auditions are odd, and often annoying. When auditioning for an individual show, depending on the company and the script and the director’s choice, the audition may consist only of reading sides, and only occasionally involve showing up with prepared material. Most actors I know sort of hate the monologue auditions, even while understanding its value. General auditions typically ask for two contrasting pieces, sometimes one needing to be verse, occasionally with a song. Plus there’s little sense of for whom or what you’re actually auditioning, as you’re part of a lined up schedule – go in, state your name and what you’re about to present, do your monologues, say thanks and leave. NEXT!

My problem with monologues is that I absolutely hate finding them, and even more so I think I’m pretty bad at finding them. Over the years I’ve often had a small handful of them at my disposal, but the problem is that over time they get to feel stale or no longer work for me or, even worse – I’ve shown everyone in town this monologue and it needs to be retired. (This is part of why I track what monologues I’ve done for which directors, to try to avoid repeating it.)

My hiatus wasn’t a fruitful time where I read lots of plays (where I would find great audition material.) In fact, during the past year or so I’ve probably read the least amount of any time in my life. I usually have at least one book on my nightstand, but it’s been a real dry spell. So when I realized it was time to get back in the game I started monitoring the audition sites again, looking for opportunities. When this came up, I put a reminder on my calendar for the signup date (there was a small window of opportunity) and started thinking about what I would do.

That’s when I realized I was screwed. I needed some fresh material.

I spent the next several weeks flipping through plays, anthologies, my paper files of monologues, my electronic files of monologues….I think it’s the worst part of being an actor. I hate it. If there were a service where someone would send me recommended monologues appropriate for me to do on a regular basis, I’d read those plays and happily pay for that service. Thankfully I came across something in time, and in the course of about 9 days I worked up a new 1 min 15 second, dramatic monologue – scored, memorized and fully embodied. (I coupled it with a contrasting one I’ve done before, but this theater hadn’t seen.)

Honestly, I wasn’t sure I could do it – that I could be ready. And I was prepared to cancel my audition slot. (For which I’d kick myself for months.) But it went off without a hitch, and in fact, I think I had their attention and that it went well! Not only do I recognize more clearly the time and committment I personaly need to work up such a thing, I’m confident I could do it again.

I’m feeling back in the game, and tomorrow I’ve got another chance to use this new piece!

Note to self: Keep reading and looking for material!

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See #1

Sometimes, it seems, nothing gets under my skin more than a bad couple hours at a theater, and this past week I had a doozy of an irksome experience. So much so, that I spent a good portion of act one wondering if I should just leave at intermission.

I’ve never done that — I’ve never not stayed until the end. In this case, I could’ve easily left at intermission because 1) I was seeing it alone and 2) I had no close friend in the cast that was aware of my presence. Furthermore (!) I was seated near the back of the house, on an aisle seat and I could’ve slipped out without disturbing a soul!!

I stayed.

I think the only thing that may have kept me there were the facts that I didn’t have to pay for my ticket because I’m an ARTshare member and that due to a parking ramp ticketing malfunction I was pretty certain I had free parking. This literally was only costing me my time. And, of course, a few brain cells in the end.

Still….I should’ve left.

I’m not going to go into all the details of why I didn’t like this show. I’m not even going to name it or anyone involved. Instead, I’ll just list the things I’ve identified as the problem and hope that I learn from this experience to never fall victim to such things.

  1. The direction was flat, uninspired and not nearly as creative as it wanted to be or seemed to think it was. There was an “aren’t we clever feeling” that was inorganic.
  2. The set design was fascinating and really cool (no, really…I liked it!)…but only for half of the play, and the director didn’t know how to use it well or to his advantage. (see #1.)
  3. The cast had some of the most diverse talent levels I’ve seen in a while, and by this I mean there were some miscasting situations (see # 1) and (even more frustrating) there were some brilliantly talented actors giving mediocre performances. (see #1) I think I could see in their eyes at times that they knew it, and they couldn’t overcome it.
  4. Why couldn’t they overcome it? Because of the lousy, ineffectual, sloppy, weak and pedestrian approach to the script and story and staging, including what I noted as unnecessary edits to the text, or a bad translation. Most of the time there seemed to be something interesting or detailed happening, but barely anything that was being created on the stage between those people was making its way across the threshold and landing on the laps of their audience.  Some of them seemed to have fun, but it wasn’t being shared with us. And the pacing gave me hives. (see #1…or is this just repetitive of #1? Huh. Well, it deserves to be said twice, in either case.)

What I wanted to see, with all the talent and hard work put into this, were grounded, rooted, characters striving for  something — even when, as in this case, that something was completely unattainable.

I saw a lot of striving but hardly anything grounded. I was shown the longing, but I didn’t witness longing. I saw lots of interesting attempts at being clever that either fell flat or rang out as clever for clever’s sake.

And also, I’m fairly certain that Chekhov never put the word see-you-next-tuesday in a script.

Ooops…..that may have revealed the production. Ah, well.

At least for a few hours I understood “I’m in mourning for my life.”

Love and Kindness, and other Hateful Things

Yes, that title sounds cynical, but it’s not. Here are a few things that have happened recently, culminating in today – Valentine’s Day.

Yellow Tree Theater opened a production of Clybourne Park, the hilarious and touching, Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play about race, race relations, and loving (or not) one’s neighbor. I was able to watch a run-through before their tech week, and I look forward to seeing the finished product.

I love this script because it touches on the heart of how we treat one another in so many different facets, and it does so through humor – sometimes uncomfortable humor. Reading or watching this play you might find yourself laughing, and then feeling uncomfortable because you laughed. And then a moment later, while laughing, something truly touching or disturbing sideswipes you and you stop laughing.

Sometimes much like life itself.

One of the fascinating factors of this script is in its premise: the story of our racial and ethnic divide as told through one neighborhood – and more specifically – one single household, fifty years apart. In the end, we discover that not much may have changed over the time span except the way we talk about race. In the 1950s we were all a bit more plain-spoken in our stance, whereas today our language has become nuanced, coded and even deceptive. In either case, there are people doing hateful things in the name of love for family, protection and preservation.

In light of modern-day events, such as racial profiling, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the politically charged discussions by and about anti-Muslim leaders over immigration and refugees…..well, I think Yellow Tree picked the perfect time to produce this play, and to let us all take a good look in the mirror.

Last week I did a segment on Minnesota Public Radio’s Art Hounds podcast to promote this production, because, between the script and the expectations I have of the theater and the artists involved, I anticipate it being something not to be missed.

And speaking of hateful things, Justice Antonin Scalia died this weekend, and Marco Rubio ended a debate by going back to the “marriage is between one man and one woman” remarks. I know I don’t talk politics here, so I’ll keep it brief. But somehow, in light of this play that I’ve had on my mind, and these things in the news, and sitting here looking at roses on Valentine’s Day – the confluences struck me. Whatever happened to “do unto others…” and “love they neighbor”? Why is there so much hate, anger, and distrust in our society?

What does it mean to be part of a community, or of a society, and what’s our individual responsibilities to that? 

These are the things that Clybourne Park (and this week’s news) make me think about.

Love thy neighbor……Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

 

“Thank you for missing me.” (Jamie)

Alan Rickman has died and we’ve lost a great actor.

The first time I saw him was as Jamie, the recently deceased cello player, alongside Juliet Stevenson in the 1991 film Truly, Madly, Deeply. It’s a romantic, fanciful film, which is not my regular go-to kind of thing. It might’ve been then, it’s not now. I have a vague recollection of someone telling me that I “have to see it” because it’s “so good.” This kind of thing was said often in those days.

This was shortly after I’d finished up college and my acting training, so I was surrounded by actors, theatre and film buffs, etc. We were the kids who watched movies only to analyze the scripts and each acting choice. We’d see a movie because of a well-respected, serious actor carrying it, like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. We’d pull plotlines apart, and when we saw things we didn’t agree with we’d decide if the actor, director, writer or possibly editor were to blame, which for a movie like the controversial Last Temptation of Christ, meant long, complicated conversations. We went to see Dead Poets Society not only because of its sweeping coming of age story but also because Robin Williams, known mostly for comedy, was doing a serious movie. “How does that work?” we wondered. We saw things like Unbearable Lightness of Being because of the layered story and subtle, detailed acting. (Our acting teacher said we should go. She said it was some of the finest acting we’d see that year, and that it was “the best sex [she’d] ever had.” But I digress…)

Whether or not I was initially thrilled to see this film or why I went is a moot point, because I recall getting hooked on the story early on and then being completely enthralled by the performances. Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson were incredible together. Their connection was so raw, so natural and true, I was astonished. I felt that the characters were so complete, and his (and her) work was so finely detailed, that together they nearly defined passion itself and that somehow I understood, from watching that movie, just what it was like to love someone.

Maybe I was young, naive, hopeful and looking for love myself. Maybe Anthony Minghella nailed it with his first major directing job, and that’s what I was supposed to receive. Either way, Rickman’s performance left a mark on me. He was immediately elevated in my mind to one of those great actors whose work I admire, and that performance ranks up there among memorable moments on screen and on stage I’ve had the pleasure to witness. Every time I saw him in anything else I always remembered, and often remarked, that the first time I saw him was in Truly, Madly, Deeply. If the person to whom I was expounding Rickman’s accomplishment wasn’t familiar with the movie, I felt  sorry for them. More often than not, it seemed, they hadn’t seen it or heard of it.

An article online this morning included clips of some of his best work, and thankfully they did include this movie. I knew I shouldn’t have watched it, especially first thing in the morning when I’m most vulnerable. Fortunately, only my dogs witnessed the running tears. Such a great scene.

While some mourn the passing of Severus Snape, I mourn the loss of an amazing talent. We were fortunate to have him.

Truly.

New Year, New Me.

This blog, like much of my artistic life, has been silent of late. Dormant. Hardly a peep. I’ve a couple drafts of entries that I started….but just somehow couldn’t finish.

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2015 was a tough year. While there were a few projects I worked on, which were fun, successful and fulfilling, much of my time and energy was focused on finding a new day-job. Like many theatre folk, I don’t work often and/or lucratively enough to do this full-time, but that full-time job needed changing (for issues that I will not both going into) and so job hunting is what filled my time, evenings and weekends, instead of the luxury of working on a play.

In fact, the whole experience, over several months, was rather draining – mentally and emotionally. I spent countless hours perusing want-ads, editing my resume and crafting cover letters, and the toll I felt was quite surprising. If I’m being honest, I’d have to say I became rather depressed. It certainly was a burden I was carrying, but I think for me the tipping point came when I realized I’d stopped looking at audition notices, and didn’t even want to look. I didn’t want to go see a play because I didn’t feel like getting up. I had a running list of positions to apply for, and each application was a thorough, time-consuming process. I was applying for jobs the way I would approach a role or direct a play. “How can I make this work? What do I need to do with this to get to my goal?”

And alongside all of it, I’d lost my spirit for any creative enterprise. I became concerned I was losing who I am.

As is often the case, patience and solid work paid off. At the end of the year, I got an offer that will accommodate an artistic life on the side, I left my old job, and have given myself a short reprieve in between the two in order to refresh my mind and soul…and spirit.

I’m looking forward to getting back to the groove of things. Finding productions to work on, ideas for new scripts, seeing shows and writing about more things here.

It’s a new year and I’m looking forward to a new me.

 

 

Make Theatre. Not Speeches.

There’s a practice by some theatres to incorporate a curtain speech into every performance. These are usually done by a volunteer board member or company member, and generally is a “welcome to the show….we’re glad to have you here..etc.” and sometimes includes a pitch for season tickets or donations.

Blah!

I hate these speeches. I know hate is a strong word, but it’s appropriate here. I hate these speeches because they take me out of the moment and out of the experience of theatre-going. They ruin the moment. They do NOT add to the production.

I believe that experiencing a play includes the venue—its setting and atmosphere. I appreciate pre-show music, and pre-show lighting on an exposed set, because they create a tone for the play that I’m about to experience. To have all that interrupted, albeit momentarily, for someone to “welcome” me and possibly try to sell me something, is really off-putting.

(I’ve barely become accustomed to the pre-recorded messages about turning off cell phones. I dislike those too.)

The other night I went to a show in a non-typical theater space. It was an intimate production with less than 100 seats. The pre-show music and lighting of the room (I say “room” because there was little differentiating from the “stage” and the “house) was perfectly used to place the audience in the right time period and setting. The intent was to put us right there in the middle of the action, and it worked.

Then the lights shifted, and someone came out and……started talking at us about how proud she was of this show and how important it was and how excited they all were that we were all  there and how if we wanted to support the company (because after all they couldn’t do it without us!) we could make a donation……blah blah….and “please enjoy the show” and off she walked.

Ugh. I was out of it. I was no longer in the room. I was down the street, around the corner, I was anywhere but the place that had been created.

And I thought to myself, “I hate curtain speeches.” And this time?

This time, after about a fifteen-second pause, the same woman walked right back on from whence she went and started the play.

Awful.

Awful!

To top it off, the play begins with this lead character on stage alone for several minutes. No dialogue. Naturalism. Simple. But I wasn’t interested because I just listened to her sales pitch. She’s already broken the believability for me.

I don’t know anyone who loves a curtain speech, but most people I know have a much higher tolerance for them than I do. Call me a purist. I believe in the power of theatre. I believe it’s the greatest of the art forms that can speak to its audience in the most detailed way and reach greater depths.

I wish producers would stop ruining it with curtain speeches. Put it in my program. Let me read it instead. In fact, show me some great work and THEN prompt me to take action to make a donation when I read it in the program….the program I’ll review again after the show when it’s been a great experience.

Then? Then you’ll get my donation money.