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What I learned: Acting this term

December 28, 2010 1 comment

Snapshots on a few things I learned this past term, outside of class time…

Cover of "This Property Is Condemned"

Cover of This Property Is Condemned

What I learned from acting in This Property Is Condemned:

  • To always play my characters as being intelligent – as having intelligence behind their eyes. By doing so, I immediately become more observant, and look for new tactics and ‘ins’ in order to achieve my objectives. And eyes are the windows to the soul, after all. Gotta open up the curtains.
  • Playing objectives strongly (which means knowing them really well, first), creates better, stronger listening.
  • You’re listening for what you want to get.
  • Sometimes, it works to, before a performance, embody all the pain another character feels in order to get them in the right place – to interrogate them, mock them, demand of them, belittle them. This was hard for me.
  • Directly resulting from the prior thought, sometimes you’ve just got to let the gal REALLY HIT YOU before a show for her to really get into the emotional truth of her character. Thankfully, TPiC wasn’t a long run. πŸ˜›
  • When the audience reacts/distracts, listen even more intently to your scene partner.
  • React. Even if that means the blocking changes. If this feels too uncomfortable, you may not really know your character well enough, or be listening strongly enough.
  • When you listen for ways, avenues, possibilities to pursue your objectives, the show will work.

 

 

Picnic
Image by Mark Sardella via Flickr

What I learned from acting in a scene from Picnic:

  • My instinct is to shy away from the sleaziness of a character, to not play it, even when it’s there in the text. There’s a difference between being an advocate for your character and ignoring what’s on the page. Learn to revel in the sleaze. πŸ™‚
  • I realize I am now perfectly comfortable kissing someone while in character. Back in high school, I wished I would get cast in certain roles so that I could do a stage kiss, because I didn’t have nearly the courage to kiss someone in the real world. Would have been nerve-wracking, back then. But I am older, wiser, more experienced now. I’ve even occasionally kissed in real life! πŸ˜›

 

 

Mike Novick

Image via Wikipedia

What I learned from acting in Titus Andronicus:

  • Audiences are less likely to laugh than usual, after just witnessing a 15-year-old girl be raped and have her tongue cut out and thrown at a tree.
  • Don’t try push the comedy. Didn’t work.
  • Running on several nights of 5 hours of sleep makes it difficult for me to pay attention to everything happening onstage and get my lines out with decent pacing.
  • For certan roles, it’s fine to start finding them by using characteristics from a pre-set template. In my case, I modeled the minor character Aemilius, a government bureaucrat who crowns Lucius as emperor, after Mike Novick from The Jack Bauer Power Hour (aka, 24). Piercing eyes, stern disposition, primary desire is the stability of the administration.
  • Fellow collaborators muchly appreciate personalized thank you cards. πŸ™‚

 

 

What I learned from acting in a scene from A Doll’s House:

Alla Nazimova and Alan Hale, Sr. in a photo fr...

Image via Wikipedia

  • (note: last year, I had performed the exact same scene, but as the woman, Kristine Linde (in a corset, no less), whereas this time, I was playing it as Krogstad.)
  • I have a better recollection of the lines my scene partners say than I thought I did! Didn’t take long at all to get back into the words of the scene.
  • It is A-OK to experiment with different blocking options each time you run the scene, so long as the director knows that’s what you’re doing, and so long as you’re keeping aware in the moment of each decision and feeling which one works best.
  • Sometimes you need to give your scene partner permission to touch you.
  • I’m getting better at seeing when I, or my scene partners, aren’t following through on our impulses. Figuring out why that is, requires communication.

 

 

Credit: Dave Morris?

What I learned from assorted Improvised Theatre shows and events and whatnot:

  • It is really satisfying to jump back into a previously created and established role, and to continue on with that person’s story and arc. Pretty much why I enjoy collaborative storytelling (often with D20s). (Die-Nasty auditions.)
  • If an opportunity seems too good to be true, take it! It may just be silly-awesome-unbelievable. (The butler gig.)
  • Some shows are doomed from the start, but if that’s the case, take a moment to assess the situation, and figure out how you can put your best effort in to make what you can of it, because the original plan just ain’t going to work. (An Impromaniacs gig where the audience had been sitting around, listening to award speeches for over two hours, and then… well, as Chris Gabel so accurately captured:

Thank you ladies and gentlemen… that concludes tonight’s awards presentation. The bar is now open and there’s cake at the back of the room. Feel free to help yourself. Oh… and now… the Impromaniacs.

  • Some nights, everything goes right. (Theatresports/Theatreshorts.)
  • Some risks pay off so much better than you ever hoped. (Improvising a song to the title of “Stars on the Horizon” at the Phoenix Coffeehouse.)
  • Theatre is ephemeral. (not having any recordings of said song. I was certainly too much in the moment to remember it. So it remains just an experience for the people in the room, as theatre, especially improvised theatre, so often is.)
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My full-time summer, one month in.

Previously on Andrew Wade’s blog, our intrepid adventurer set out to make this summer far more theatrical and career-useful than summers past, by sending out a plea for aid, advice, and assistance to help him on his way.

I was fortunate enough to meet up with him in his humble rented room and ask him a few questions:


So, what are the biggest realizations you’ve made, now that you’ve spent a month on the job?

Two things: Responsibility/Leadership and Balance.

I have discovered just how important it is to me, personally, to give my absolute all in whatever I’m doing. On the week I spent writing, memorizing, and rehearsing Heemeyer and the Killdozer, for example, I tried to see if I could squirrel away time at the Centre of the Universe to work on the piece, but, mentally, morally, I couldn’t. Felt like I was betraying the promise I made when I signed back on at the CU, hiding behind closed office doors, setting a bad example for the (younger) co-op students.

Andrew, Lord of the Observatory (photo: Erika Joubert.)

I am not fond of half-assing anything (pardon my English).

This isn’t to say that every work hour I have is productive – unfortunately, certainly not – but that actively trying to do non-work-related activities felt dishonest, because there really were projects (such as building clocks for the different planets) to spend time on.

So I resigned myself to the knowledge that I would be spending my few after hours researching, writing, editing, and memorizing away. Which was actually a good deal of satisfying fun. And needless to say, the performing of the piece was a downright blast, a huge ego-boost, and led to marvellous conversations afterwards.


And for balance?

Life balance, specifically. I’m in my best mental mindset when I have a mix of socializing and alone-time every day, some physical exercise, good nutrition, some performance (which, I’ll admit, includes putting on 45 minute planetarium shows and telescope tours), and some mental creation work (I’ll include both writing and book-reading in this category). On a weekly basis, some God time (typically church) and time spent with children are pretty darn necessary too.

This means that, say, going to the gym each day as I had eagerly discussed with friends, is legitimately tough, because I’m already biking for two hours. (Sorry Graeme, though I really do appreciate all your help, and I am taking your fashion advice to heart.) That said, I am now (as of yesterday) making an effort to use my free-weights every day according to a routine he showed me. Bulk up those arm muscles. GRR. MANLY.

Honestly, my life right now is surprisingly balanced! I go to church on Sundays, teach children about astronomy at my job, and have the occasional great opportunity (thanks Janet Munsil!) and Impromaniacs to tie me into the outside theatre world. Even the bike commute isn’t so tough, though I do wish it would stop raining quite so often. (For the record, busses aren’t an option – they wouldn’t get me to work on time.) (gee, I’m really loving parentheses today.)

True, I may not be honing my craft as intensely as I do during the rest of the year, but I’m not avoiding it. And I am doing some writing, be it in this blog, or hand-written letters to friends, or a monologue about a homemade tank. I should really get on editing my plays and putting them online, mind.


So life is all hunky-dory, then? Perfect and idealized?

Well, of course not – there are always ways to improve. I still spend too much time reading the internet in my few off hours, don’t write quite enough, and spend far too much time at work dithering about. But I ain’t perfect, and I don’t expect my life to be so, either.

There’s also the looming potential that I won’t be able to finish my writing degree this year, as the one course I need to graduate conflicts with my acting classes in both terms. I’ve written an email to the chair of the department to see if we can make a deal somehow, though. So the prayer of serenity will tide me over there for the next few days:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

I would like to add, “God grant me clarity and self-awareness, so I can know how to create fulfilling days.”


You might want to work on your method of writing convincing fake interviews, too.

Quiet, you. πŸ™‚

The dangers of a working summer for an actor.

May 2, 2010 4 comments

Perseid Night at The Centre of the Universe

Perseid Night - by Erika Joubert

The Problem

I am walking down a dangerous path — that of the full-time, not-so-acting-related summer job.

From Tuesday through September, I shall be back at the Centre of the Universe giving tours of what was the world’s largest optical telescope (93 years ago), running planetarium shows, holding summer camps, and teaching school groups. I genuinely enjoy working there; the staff are great people, the job doesn’t impose undue amounts of stress, and I get paid to learn more about the universe. But it isn’t acting. It pays for my tuition for the year, and forces me to exercise by requiring an hour-long bike ride to and from work (including a few kilometres up a mountain). But it isn’t acting, and, being an observatory, I need to, well, work in the nighttime. Go figure.

And night shifts mean no acting. No Shakespeare in the Park, no Fringe Festival, limited time with The Impromaniacs… and a tiring, long-commute, full-time job to boot.

A Little History

Over four prior co-op work terms, I haven’t a good track record at keeping up my passions. As a Granville Island Ambassador, Telus World of Science Science Facilitator, TRIUMF Tour Guide, and CU Astronomy Interpreter,Β  I wrote perhaps three short stories and half a play in total, and acted in a limited fashion with the Impromaniacs last summer, unnecessarily understudied for a Fringe Show, and competed in a monologue competition. That’s about all.

This used to worry me, that I could effectively live a life without writing or acting, a real-world life with a rent-paying, 9-5 (mostly) job and all that comes with it. But the truth is? My summers are rarely ever nearly as satisfying as what I do for the rest of my year at UVic, learning through workshops, plays, acting classes, movement pieces, voice techniques… my summers feel like something away from myself, outside of the stream of my life. Like I go on hiatus until September.

The Questions

But how can I keep up a hard dedication to my crafts when I’m waking up at 7am and getting home at 6pm, tired to my bones and soaking wet from the rain and muddy streets? How can I focus on movement and voice warm-ups, on honing my body through training programs and work-outs, when I’m losing sleep week by week and already biking for a couple of hours every day as part of my commute? When, rather than being encircled by a fleet of eagerly encouraging classmates, I’m surrounded instead by my collection of video games and television shows; when I’m all ‘socialed out’ by the time I get home, and don’t feel a desire to go out and interact with my lovely theatre community?

I’m not saying this to go all boo hoo hoo, poor artist me… I’m genuinely asking. Because my past summers have been all about doing professional work and living a home-life hermitry. About being the average working stiff who earns his keep, then ‘relaxes’ his brief evenings away. Granted, that keep includes a year’s tuition and rent and such to help hold me through the school year (when I also work 15-20 hours a week), but still.

I’ve been trying to solve this problem for years now.

My mind shouts to me to reach out to my community, to use my community’s positive pressures, like Graeme and his excellently thought-out work-out routine, like Impromaniacs shows, and like weekly writing groups. To corner myself into ensuring that I enter my final year at UVic armed with more than paid tuition, four unrelated months, and mostly-unrelated skills.

My sanity questions whether I can handle imposing more obligations on my schedule for a four-month-long stretch.

My dreams demand that I do better.

The Plea

I don’t have a tidy answer; no little epigram of wisdom to carry me through. So I’m asking: Any advice? What do you do to stay connected to your crafts in a full-time-job world?

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Othello, Day 2: Acting when Blanking

Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh as Othe...
Image via Wikipedia

I am an analytical man; I like to examine a problem from all its angles and determine a solution. In theatre, this leads to much quick pacing and minor hair-pulling the moment I get off a stage where things have gone wrong.

Our second performance was a strange night for theatre; it was the day of Canada’s gold medal hockey win and the olympic closing ceremonies, so we were peached by the attendance of our smaller crowd of ~40 people who emerged to see the show.

As an acting group, our energy seemed quite low – the dreaded second performance of any show always seems to bring with it a lessened enthusiasm for some reason, with less punch behind the lines and less spring in our steps.

This was also the performance where I completely blanked on two of my lines – two hefty paragraphs, rather, in two separate scenes, one before and one after the intermission. I can’t remember ever losing lines to such an extent in a performance.

Had it been one line, I may have dismissed it and simply resolved to go over the line in more detail the next day. After all, we managed to hide my first slip well enough, with myself improvising minor Shakespearean quips while waiting for my scene partner to figure out his next line and work it in. We went off the track a little while, but hopped back on, andΒ  the audience seemed none the wiser.

Had it been two paragraphs in the same scene, I might have worried somewhat about my connection to that one moment, and delved further. But these were two different scenes, two different emotions, same sorry scene partner (my bad, Ryan). And the second blank wasn’t so aptly handled.

No, that time was a calamity, a definite blank, where I kept in character but had absolutely nothing to say, and for what felt like five minutes, but was probably fifteen seconds, I stared at Othello, helpless. And Ryan Levis’s eyes throbbed with “say your f***ing line. SAY YOUR F***ING LINE.” I don’t swear, but his eyes were darned profane.

My only salvage was to lean over to him as if whispering in his ear… so that he could feed me the beginning of my line by whispering in mine.

And so, backstage, with cast members telling me not to worry about it, I set about the mental ordeal of determining why this was happening. After all, I’m trained! I’m a professional, dagnammit! I had warmed up my body, warmed up my voice, read over my lines, rehearsed the fight scenes, gotten into character, into Iago‘s body, what else could it-Β  Ah. Right.

For such a complicated endeavor, so often acting comes back to basics. Why was I blanking on my lines? To paraphrase a sentence, sure, that may perhaps just be a memorization issue. But blanking, that situation where all words are stopped from your breath like a cork in the esophagus, where the scene disappears and sweat creases along your brow and the whole darn room is as silent as a dead toad and the other characters become other actors, staring at you with strained hope… that’s not memorization at all. That’s losing your objective.

In the scenes where I had blanked, I hadn’t focused on my objectives, on what I wanted in the scene, so when the lines stopped coming, there wasn’t that drive of why I am saying what I am saying that brings the next line on.

Amazingly, my non-theatre savvy friends in the audience didn’t realize anything had gone wrong, though a professional actor friend of mine, had. So for most people in the crowd, they had witnessed a dramatic pause, nothing more, and apparently had nothing but praise for my performance. Whew.

When I auditioned for this show, I decided to take it as a great learning challenge – the largest role with the most lines I have ever undertaken. Believe you me, I’m learning.

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