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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Listening and Discovery in the Rehearsal Room

At this afternoon’s rehearsal I discovered we’re at one of my favorite points in the process, a point where we know some things but not everything. A point where we truly start discovering.

Today was a stumble-through: the first full run of the show after blocking and some basic scene work. Everyone is still carrying their script, no one is certain of much of what they’re doing. And, perhaps the real key, we’re getting to the point where we know some of the lines.

And that’s where the fun comes in.

I no longer have my face buried in the script, following along with everyone’s lines. Instead I’m watching the other actors, whether they’re talking to me or not, so I’m starting to be actively involved in the scene. This is a play we almost never leave the stage, and can go several pages before we have any lines or specific action to attend to, so there are stretches of just listening. I could peek ahead, and know what I was doing next, making a mental note of my cues, and I could be ready for them. But during those stretches I was able to explore, investigate the listening aspect, and try to discover how I might need to respond to what’s happening or what it is that causes me to finally say or do something. I love this stuff.

This is the part of the process where reaction and purpose are truly defined, and the more specific the better. It can never be rushed. Every reaction and beat needs to be justified and filled, and it needs to lead to the next beat.

Eventually when the right choices are made, we’ll move on to the refining and polishing, but this—this part right here—is where the real core work is done. The start and stop work throughs over the next several days are going to be a blast.

Hunger Pangs

This post should’ve been up here days ago. Perhaps weeks.

After a long stretch of essentially back-to-back projects, followed immediately by some major personal life changes and experiences (read as: excitement) it is suddenly the end of the summer. Early Fall.

This is the time of year that makes us all remember school, right? The new and exciting next thing. Changes. Adventures. For me it’s always been a time to wonder what’s on the horizon, and what am I doing? What am I doing artistically, is usually the case. Well, mostly. But yes. That’s the question.

The answer is: nothing yet.danger_sign

I have ideas floating around in my head of projects to create. But…..

The world is not always conducive. Cooperative. There are other things at play, as well.

I don’t think of commercial work as an artistic outlet, but I enjoy the times when my schedule for a day is filled only with the words: “be an actor.” After a while (too long?) of not having  such auditions I had two in three days, with an actual artistic outlet TV show audition in the middle.

Then nothing.

The world is on a different biorhythm.

Another Closing Night

Almost any theatre artist will tell you that closing nights can be bittersweet.

There’s a camaraderie amongst a cast and crew that grows quickly, and at times intensely, over the few months’ course of any given production. People come together to create this living, breathing piece of art which by its very nature is not permanent – which will have to disappear into memory. In this process they come to know each other intimately, rely on each other and, hopefully, trust each other. This is most true for those who are part of every performance, on stage and off, working with a live audience who may love it or hate it or both.

There’s nothing like performing live. There are no second takes in theatre, there’s only another chance the next night….until there isn’t. And you close.

Tonight is the closing night of my current show: Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.

It’s an ensemble piece in the truest sense. Nine actors creating over fifty characters. (The remnants of one of mine are seen here.)

The remnants of a character

There’s a beauty in this kind of group work, in this non-linear script, where energy is tossed or thrown or deftly handed from person to person. And in this show most of us are always on stage the entire time. I don’t think I’ve ever watched my cast mates more in any other production. I love watching actors work. I’ve loved watching these actors work.

This has been quite a memorable experience, challenging in its own unique way. There are so many new-to-me people and the cast is filled with actors I’ve come to admire—well, a few I already had admired and I’m very glad to have had this experience with them—but most of the them I didn’t know before this show.

Part of this cast is young—young enough to make me feel old, and I don’t think of myself as old. They’ve reaffirmed my hope for the future of theatre. They’re creative, talented, ambitious and hungry. They’re the reason the theatre has never died, despite the calls for its demise that appear every now and then.

Until I get another chance to do so, I’m going to miss working with all of them.

I’ve been fortunate to have been working on some project, whether as actor or director, since September, and do not have anything definite laid out in the future just yet. (That actually may change as I write this….) This too makes the closing a little bitter. Doing theatre is something that fills me like no other thing, and when I’m away from it from too long….well, I go a bit stir crazy. I doubt that will happen.

There’s only one take left, one more chance. Like every play I’ve done there are things I still strive to make more beautiful, more artful, more true. No two performances are ever the same, and tonight there’s another unique group of people who will come together to be the tenth actor in this performance: our audience. I hope they bring their A-game. I suspect we will.

How do you memorize all those lines?

Yep, the age old question.

I’m knee-deep in rehearsals for a play and just about off book. We’ve had a few painful rehearsals (painful is my word) where we’ve tried to get off book, and I stumbled and struggled for lines that wouldn’t come.

Generally, for me, and dependent upon the nature of the script, I need a couple working rehearsals to get the actions, motivations—and the words—in to my body, before I can start working on the process of putting down the paper. It’s muscle memory. It’s intention and conflict and challenge. Not rote.

We haven’t quite had that luxury with this production. This is a full-fledged, full-length play, where we’ve had a lot of conflicts meaning we often have someone missing which makes working things a bit more….difficult. Instead we’ve been blessed with lots of discussion time, table work and research. Truthfully, that’s something we often don’t get enough of in a production.

But now we’re at the midway point and we’re trying to get off book. And I talk a lot for a good portion.

I spend a lot of the first act asking questions in a courtroom setting.

I ask things like:

How old is he?” and “How old was he?” and “What is his age?”

or

“You dined….?” and “You had dinner….?” 

And then there are the names of people and titles of books that I mention here and there, that feel very much interchangeable (at the moment.)

Which do I say when? Not quite sure all the time.

Why ask the same thing multiple times with different words? Because that’s how people actually talk, of course, it’s just unfortunate that as actors we need not only honor the work of the playwright and say the right words, we need to give our fellow actors the right cue, or they may not say their words!

And don’t even get me started on knowing my own cues. There are so many non-sequiters in this play you’d swear we were doing five different shows at once.

“How do you memorize all those lines?” In the end the answer will be, “I don’t know…you just do” even though right now the answer is “keep trying.”

Speaking of which, I’ve got to be at rehearsal in an hour. I’m going to read over my lines—and cues—again.

Back to the Rehearsal Room

I’ve been on a short break, but that’s over. Tonight I jump back in the fray, and it’s about 180° turn from the last project.

A couple weeks ago i wrapped up Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom. It sounds like a video game because it’s all about a video game. And zombies. And death. And communication. (Or lack thereof.) And relationships. It was dark, very dark, with some really dark humor. It was a very modern play, unstructured and widely open to interpretation. It was a blank canvas on which we could paint any number of pictures.

Tonight I begin rehearsals for Moises Kauffman’s Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. The only thing it has in common with that last play is it’s also about relationships. Just, different kinds.

And this time I’ll have an accent.

Although there is one other thing that will be the same: “I’m just an actor.”

That’s no small task, but I love the cleanliness of working on a production with a single focus. Someone else can worry about….so many other things. I’ll worry about creating my character, building my relationships, and of course, memorizing my lines.

This script is incredible, and I’m thrilled to get started.

The Pathway to a Character

I’m about half way thru the rehearsal process for my current show in which I’m acting. At present I’m feeling a bit lost and unsure of what’s working, what’s not. I don’t feel it’s a typical process for me, but this rehearsal is making me become a bit more aware of how I typically work.

I’ve always been an inside>outside kind of actor, at least for the most part. Discovering a character’s want and goals, and how his fears and hopes dictate how he goes after that goal, and all of it, along with other known characteristics (age, work life, health, etc.) determining how he holds himself, moves, speaks….

This project is working a bit differently. Focusing on the physicality and the sound. Shaping it from the outside in, to the point of determining the internal drive.

I think. Maybe it’s just my own miscommunications.

I’m feeling like I’m chasing down this character. My instincts put him one place, my director sends me elsewhere and when I try to go there I seem to end up in a third place.

Usually my path is forward, even if winding, homing in on the final persona and presentation.

This time the path has not always been forward. It’s bounced around, it’s shot across the room, it’s backtracked and twisted 180°.

Right now I’m not sure where some of it will end up. Right now I’m not sure I’ll know it when I land in the right spot. Right now I’m glad I still have a few weeks to opening.