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Isn’t acting simple?

I’ve decided, actors should never act. We are the most performative people in the world and we spend years trying to learn how to be real and honest on stage without a hint of performance. Ridiculous right?  I know. For the last two weeks in our acting class, we have been given “content-less scenes” for two people. The scenes consist of a few lines for each person and it is up to the actors to decide the given circumstances of the scene as well as her own private objective for the scene.

My first experience with the scene was quite successful. The lines were:

A: So the guy just took off, didn’t leave a name or number or anything.

B.Yeah, maybe he just wanted a clean break.

A. Yeah, but that’s just so irresponsible.

B. That’s Susie’s problem.

A: Don’t you even care?

B: That’s Susie’s problem. Besides, I’ve got enough to think about today, remember?

A: Yeah, right. How did that go today?

B: Here. Read for yourself”

My partner and I wanted to make the scene unique, so we set it in a public restroom. I started the scene throwing up and she was telling me about a friend of ours while she was in another stall reading a magazine. She was reading the lines of A. I was B and after I stopped throwing up, I sat on the stool, and held a pregnancy test, which I cleverly fashioned out of a popsicle stick. That is what I handed to her to “read for herself.”

We liked the scene, but we weren’t really sure why. We noticed that most groups had the set up of two housemates with some sort of problem with mail or papers or whatever. After we all presented our work, Lise talked to us about the scenes. She talked mostly about our objectives and how a clear objective can make or break a scene. These are the notes I took from class.

1. Your objective must be SPECIFIC. If you think it’s a good and specific objective. Ask yourself how it can be more objective using the question, “why?”  Say,  my objective is to get so and so to leave the room. Okay, why do I want them to leave the room? Because I have their birthday present under the couch and I want to wrap it! Okay, knowing that, how can I make them leave the room? An objective can always be unwrapped a little more to make it even more specific.

2. It should always involve the other person in the scene. One person made it his objective to get out of the room so he wouldn’t open a piece of mail he wasn’t supposed to. After he went, Lise said that his objective was very clear; however, she was more interested in what was outside the room that he was so anxious to get to. She lost all interest in the scene between him and the other actor on stage. As an actor, it is our job to make the OTHER actor look good. That is always a good thing to remember. When acting, ask yourself, what can I do to make my scene partner look good? With that attitude in mind, you’re serving the chemistry in the scene and not just your own needs.

3. An objective can change throughout the scene. The important thing to remember is that if you achieve your objective, ask yourself, what do I want now? Objectives can change as long as there is always one in place.

4. Commit and take risks with the given circumstances in the scenes. Make the stakes higher. Remember, drama is life with all the dull bits cut out (Alfred Hitchcock). When exploring acting exercises, why not make the stakes incredibly high? Make it life or death. Watching two housemates go through mail is not interesting and doesn’t challenge you as an actor.

5. Maybe the most important thing is to have an objective you can ACTIVELY PURSUE!  Ignoring someone is never an objective. ” I just want her to shut up,” is not an objective. That is pushing the other person out of your scene. You can’t pursue ignoring someone else’s presence. Pick an objective you can ACTIVELY PURSUE!

6. Only have one objective at a time and make it simple. I am running to this house so the guy chasing me doesn’ t kill me. That’s a simple objective she can pursue actively. And it is sure going to be interesting to watch as well! Interesting work doesn’t have to be complicated.

7. An action is an attempt you make to reach your objective.

8. Stop pursuing an action when it a) doesn’t work, or b) you get it, but then you must switch.

This work made a lot of sense. It reminded me that drama is actually very simple! It’s not a hard thing to get on stage and play in the life of another person if you continually trust yourself, have fun, and keep an objective in mind that you can actively pursue. That is what makes a scene interesting! Seeing an actor on stage ACTIVELY searching for something he desires is always interesting to watch. It also allows the actor to make brave choices. When one tactic doesn’t work, she gets to make a decision as an actor to change her tactic. THAT is what makes a performance rich for an audience. Bold and precise choices by an actor.

I Love Wednesdays

Let me tell you… I LOVE Wednesdays. My favorite classes are on Wednesdays and we get our afternoons off which is wonderful because during the rest of the week, I am so rushed to get home, cook dinner, reply to emails and do homework, I feel I don’t have time to reflect on my day. But on Wednesdays… All is right with the world!

The day starts off with Organic Movement. Can I tell you have much I love this class? Lou, our teacher, is a retired dancer and an amazing teacher. Every class, we start off with stretches. Instead of stretches that I’ve usually done, we do stretches which let the weight of the body pull yourself further into the stretch. It’s a healthier way of stretching because you’re not pulling anything, just letting the weight of your own body pull you into it. First, we imagine we’re in bubbles and slowly, push the bubble out around you in whatever direction your body needs to go. You can push with your arms, feet, head, torso, whatever needs to be stretched.

Then we stand up, feet crossed but together, and let your upper body fall forward, straighten the back let and just let the weight of  your upper body pull you into the stretch as much or as little as you need. Then put one arm behind your back and cross the other in front of your body, then switch arms. then switch legs and do the same thing again. AMAZING stretch!

Another favorite of mine is of stand up with feet together. Then squad down, knees together. While squatting, do three little bounces on your bum. After the third bounce, lift your bum up into the air and feel the stretch in the back of the legs. As soon as it starts to feel uncomfortable, release and do three more bounces and repeat. I LOVE that one.

Then we do a warm up from Qigong. I LOVE it! I will go more into that later as there are other things I would like to record today. Today Lou talked to us about her thoughts on how an actor can legitimately experience an emotion on stage in a safe way. She talked about how sometimes on stage, she can tell if a fellow actor “crosses the line.” What she meant was that as actors, it is our jobs to honestly portray emotions on stage; however, when we stop experiencing the emotions as the characters and as people, we are in dangerous territory.

Ah! Okay, I’m explaining too much before I get  into the actual line of thought. She explained her technique of “6 Energy States.” Here they are and how they are used.

 

VIBRATORY- the energy of fear. From mild anticipation to terror. Easy to see when on stage and nervous! Using a graph like a heart monitor, constant and regular.

PERCUSSIVE- The energy of anger. From mild irritation to fury. Easy to identify when tapping your fingers when annoyed. Using the graph it is irregular and has peaks.

SUSTAINED- The controlling energy (the ultimate exponent of this being the queen who is never supposed to show how she is feeling.) Using the graph it is a straight line.

SUSPENDED- The energy of suspension. Time stopping still/waiting for something to happen/ a decision to be made.

COLLAPSED- the energy of despair (when the heart drops.) Important to use if you have a character is in a state of despair throughout a scene, not speaking- very easy to switch off or de-energize. Until you recognize that despair has an energy and of course there will be internal energies happening deep in the core of that character.

SWINGING- the energy of joy. Very easy to see in young children skipping down a street.

Levels of energy: 1 low- 5 high

Instead of asking How does my character feel- ask which energy am I using?

Take a speech that you know.

What energies are on the outside/on the inside before you enter?

Do they change when you enter the space?

Go through your speech-line by line- even word by word. Which energy generates which word/line?

 

This process makes so much sense to me! As an actor, you CAN experience emotion SAFELY. This is so hard to explain in words because it is such an abstract way of performing… Our bodies remember our experiences, all of them! It’s not my job as an actor to access emotion in a scene by reliving every heartbreaking and torturous moment in my own personal life to bring a scene to life emotionally. I can access those emotions because my body remembers the reaction it had to an event without accessing the personal pain of the event itself. Besides, if you feel the real emotion, what happens when you have thirty seconds between scenes in which are feeling a completely different emotion when you go back on stage? With the energy states, the emotion can come and go at a moment’s notice because of the imagery of the jets.

Lou explained that she is a very visual person and what she had done is imagine six jets inside her, deep in the belly, the emotional center of ourselves. Each jet is constantly flowing, otherwise we would be dead! When one energy is needed, that jet kicks into over drive. If it is a combination of energies, the jets work together.

If you keep rehearsing a scene and it’s just not working and you are not reaching the emotional state needed, if you DO have a past experience in your own life in which you DID reach that emotional place, it might be okay to relive that moment on stage ONCE, keeping in mind you let your fellow actors know where you’re going just in case you evoke a dangerous response within yourself, just to remind your body, but then let your body take over because it remembers the reaction on an organic level. That doesn’t mean you have a placid and set way of performing the scene every time with the same level of the same energy state; the reaction can be different every time. Just as I react differently within the same emotion from day-to-day, so can my character within the same given circumstances every performance. Or maybe it is a different energy state depending on the day! Also, let’s take Hamlet for example, he experiences anger, so percussion, but what is the cause of the anger? Fear? That is a different energy state. What I’m saying is you can always go deeper.

I think it’s also going to help me get out of my head as well. It gives me an activity to focus on with the scene. Instead of searching for an emotion from myself, I am imagining the energy jet supplying me with the emotion and I can just react and play within the scene knowing the energy state is supplying me with what emotion I need.

For so long I’ve tried to put a language or words to how I wanted to act. I’ve BEEN on stage with people who don’t know how to separate the emotion of the character from the emotion of themselves. I have been in a scene with an angry actor, not character, but actor, who I was really afraid would hit me. I knew that approach was not for me because they were supplying the emotion from a real place and I do not want to spend my life reliving every painful memory over and over agin. Otherwise, when I was playing Lady Mac and Mary Tyrone in repertoire, I would have gone nuts! LITERALLY! That’s not healthy. I always knew that, but I didn’t know how to put words to what I was looking for. It’s all about muscle memory and trusting the body to remember my experiences. Because my body doesn’t know the difference between crying over a breakup and crying from the death of my cat. It only remembers my physical reaction. It’s my mind that remembers the causes of the physical reactions. When I give my mind and focus to the character’s given circumstances, that is what becomes the cause of the remembered physical reaction and my painful memories stay in the past.

Then I had Vocal Techniques class with Alex. I love this man too. I mean, he named his plastic teaching throat models Ethel and Barbara. Enough said. 🙂 We revisited the poems we did last week. I had  a lot of success last week, and I was going into the class thinking that I didn’t want to just replicate the same thing that brought me success last week, I needed to do something else. If I just replicated, there wouldn’t be anything organic about the experience and there would be no point being on the other side of the world going to acting school!

After the first few people went today, Alex began talking about how acting is all about discovery for the actor. Yes, we need to experience the words AS we say them, but there is also a sense of discovery that allows the words to be found in the first place. I hope that makes sense to you readers…

These are from the notes I took in class.

It’s all about discovery. Not making your voice SOUND like you’re discovering, but truly discover the text. It’s not our job to regurgitate old images, discover new images in the words every time you speak them. THAT’S discovery. Throw the text away and trust that you know the words. That means that the FIRST thing you do as an actor is LEARN the words. Only then can you play and discover them. If they are locked and learned in the deep recesses of your mind, then you can throw them away and then find them without thinking, “Crap! what’s my line??!?!!”

When it was my turn to go up, I thought, I am going to focus on throwing the text away, and honestly discovering the words and what they meant to me. I didn’t worry about projecting, my voice, or making a connection to the audience. I threw myself into the exercise. I thought, “this may be complete and utter rubbish, but darn it! It’s going to be committed and discovered and personal rubbish!” I did not perform, merely discovered. While doing the poem, I rarely made eye contact with anyone, if I did at all! After I did the poem, I had no idea what kind of response I would get. I was pleased to hear that everyone said it didn’t seem like the reciting of a poem, but that it was a DISCOVERED story. Alex told me it was “quite remarkable.”  He said he saw an acting student throwing herself fully into an excercise in which she got a lot out of it. He then told us that is what we all need to be doing every time we’re on stage. Obviously when we’re performing, we need to make our work appealing to an audience with voice and body, but that was not the point of this particular excercise.

I am growing. That much is sure. I am throwing myself into the work NOT to impress my teachers as I have done in the past. I am making strong choices and committing to those choices. I may fall flat on my face, but I’m trying, and I’m doing it for me. I am starting to be fearless in school. I’m finally stopping my self-conscious ways and I’m getting out of my freaking head! So much of my life has been thinking. My undergraduate education was all about analytical thinking, for which I AM very grateful! I loved my liberal arts education; however, it is so hard to let go of thinking and analyzing a scene and a performance while IN it! Unfortunately, that is exactly what I have to do. And… I’m actually doing it. I am relaxing and just going for it without over thinking. This is actually huge for me. I also think it has a lot to do with these specific teachers. I don’t know what it is about Lou, Alex, and even Lise (the head of our program and our acting instructor) but I feel like I can safely open up, explore, and share in their classes. I’ve always been the type of person that doesn’t contribute to class conversation unless I believe I have something profound to say. That doesn’t mean that I’m not actively involved in the class! Not at all. I’m always very focused and thinking about what is being brought to the conversation. I just don’t usually share unless I feel like I have something amazing to contribute. However, in those teachers classes, I feel free to share and whatever I have will be embraced by the group in that environment. I love those classes, and I love Wednesdays. 🙂

Last Saturday, I went down to Victoria’s Square where I observed George and Roger, two men handing out tracks to people walking by. After watching them, I had the wonderful idea to focus my MA project on the topic of religion.

Religion has always had a special place in my heart. I’m fascinated by how the same thing that brings so much greatness, happiness, and peace in the world also causes the most bloodshed, war, and anger as well.  After enjoying my visit to Victoria’s Square last Saturday, I thought I would go again today.

When I got there, faithful George was at his post, handing out tracts again, but this time with another man. I hadn’t been sitting very long when George made his way over to me to begin a conversation. I was hoping he wouldn’t really notice me so I could eavesdrop on his conversations with others and come again in the weeks to come unnoticed. But then I thought that this would be perfect! So, I sat for an hour and had a conversation with George. I wanted to hear his life story, but also, I wanted to know why George came to Victoria’s Square every Saturday to hand out tracts to people who obviously didn’t want them. I wanted to know the motivation behind that action.

While sitting with George (I’ll let you know I was quite disappointed to find out George is actually Ben, I know, upsetting) I asked him to tell me how he came from a Muslim family to becoming a born again Christian. He then told me his entire journey which started when he was 15 studying the Koran and having a yearning to understand the language he was being taught. Then as he got older and had left religion he was involved in almost satanic/cult activity until he met the woman who would be the mother of his three children. Then, over a decade later, he and his partner went through a nasty breakup leaving him in a very dark place in life. That is when he met an American missionary who brought him to Jesus.

After his told me his salvation story, I wanted to ask him some more questions about this or that. I was VERY happy that he was willing to talk with me about his beliefs. After all, I was genuinely interested in what he thought and believed. The last thing on earth I would ever want to do is offend him. I in no way want to make a fool out of him, or a mockery of his religion, I am truly and genuinely interested in what makes him tick.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time speaking with George/Ben. The conversation sparked a lot within me about how I want the play to go as well. So far, the play is coming to me in moments. For my own sake, I am going to write them down here so I don’t lose them in notebooks or my head!

1. I think I know the setting of the play. I want my  Christian girl to be in a therapy session. Better yet, a court mandated therapy session because she snapped at work one day.

2. “Trials are exercises in God’s faith in me. See, God wouldn’t put this in my life unless He knew I could handle it; therefore, this problem right now is really God showing me he has faith in me to overcome.”

3. “Take an Aborigony for example. Aborigines who have never heard of Jesus can be saved even if they’ve never heard the gospel of Jesus. I know that Jesus is the ONLY way, as He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, but when that man has great tribulations, he will search for answers. He will have a ‘God-shaped’ hole in his heart and if God is the almighty power God, which He is, He will be able to reach that man even if doesn’t have the name ‘Jesus’ to go along with his salvation. It’s still the same God.”

4. Amazing Grace as show music

5.  “If 1 person is saved because of me, then all of this time out here was worth it.”

6. Why does one school of thought have to be wrong? What if Christianity is the same as Islam? They have just been separated by culture and language for so long, men have taken the same thought in different religion not because of fundamental beliefs, but because of differences in culture and tradition.

7. There are 6 different evangelists on the same street. It’s like they’re in a competition. “No, no… You don’t want to listen to that Susie down on New Street… (whisper) She’s Episcopalian… Oh and Bob on High Street? He’s getting WAY too flashy with that new megaphone and the Roman candles at his feet representing the fiery depths of hell… too flashy.”

8. The street performers steal the entire crowd! Twenty people preaching the word of God and the entire Birmingham population would rather watch a group of Scotsmen tossing around colorful sticks with pom-pons on the ends. In fact, maybe that’s why makes my heroine snap! She’s sick of the street performers stealing her thunder and crowd.

9. Do you think Christian tradition has made things that are completely natural into sins so the religion would stay in business? I mean, The whole premise of Christianity is that people have to believe that being a wholesome and sinless person is impossible and so everyone needs atonement through Christ. What if people really could be good on their own will power? Well that’s when it’s time to start making natural things INTO sins. Just taking arbitrary human actions and saying that they’re bad and therefore, keeping Christianity in business. I just thought that could be a funny line…

10. “Can prayer really help? I pray for something to happen and if it does happen, God answered my prayer. If it DOESN’T happen, God knew better and it wasn’t the right time or place for that prayer to be answered. God knows best. But then… but if God is going to do what He wants anyway, why pray?”

11. “Have you ever noticed how awful the grammar is in these tracts? I mean really, I guess God only wants high school drop outs and 1st year community college students to be saved.”

12. She’s never had sex because she’s waiting until she will get married. Although, she’s worried she will expire. She has daydreams of eggs sitting in a window rotting throughout the seasons. She comes in and the smell is putrid come mid spring. They have cracked open and are leaking all over the window sill, down the wall and puddling on the floor.

13. She has a recurring dream. She gets to Heaven, takes a test a lot like at ACT. She passes so they let her in and is surprised to find out that God IS actually Morgan Freeman. Turns out, he is racist and THAT’S why Africans have had it so hard all throughout history. He also used to be anti-Semitic. But then he saw Sophie’s Choice… Good movie. Then he changed his mind. Meryl Streep IS amazing, isn’t she?

14. “God.. OH GOD! I can’t say God! GOD!… Oh Jesus…”

15. Explaining why The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope are NOT men of God.

16. “What IS happily ever after? Do two people just sit around holding hands and smiling all day until 9:30 at which time they eat an entire cheesecake, never get fat, and then go to bed? Are you allowed to pee in happily every after? If you can in fact pee, does he have to go with you to hold your hand? What happens when you have to wipe? What happens when one of you dies? Are you supposed to be happy for ever with the memories of your dead husband until you keel over too? How can you be happy every Tuesday night when you remember that the next day is trash day and you stare at the trash can that has gnats flying around because there are leftover chunks of Friday’s tuna sandwich at the bottom and all you want to do is holler to him upstairs so he will take it out for you but you know he isn’t there? Do you holler anyway? I am desperately afraid I will always be lonely.”

 

Just some thoughts or elements I could put into the play. I will keep updating it as more pieces of the show come together for me.  As always, comments are appreciated! Thank you all!

So, I actually  wrote this yesterday during breaks in class, but I didn’t get a chance to type it until today. Also, to those you kind and wonderful people who have given me comments about this blog, thank you so much! I tried responding, but it wouldn’t let me, so let me tell you now, thank you for finding my life more interesting than me, your kind words, and your much appreciated support!

I apologize if this seems disjointed, but it was random trains of thought I had during class.

 

This year is not about presentation or performance. It’s about individual growth and group sharing.

I enjoy the work with honesty. There is a willingness and truthfulness in which I as an audience can connect to. As an actor, I play. I play with empathy. Empathy for myself and others within the given circumstances of a scene. The action within the given circumstances can be, and must me, playful, but it must be honest as well. It’s not that you feel every emotion in an unhealthy way, it’s a WILLINGNESS to give yourself to the given circumstances of the scene and a willingness to pursue your objective. That’s when the work is honest, genuine, and most of all, simple.

When my teacher Keith told us the 5 elements of storytelling, sincerity, simplicity, honesty, magic, and repetition, it ws simplicity that stuck with me the most. Giving a memorable performance isn’t about tension and pre-rehearsed ideas. It’s about economy and impulse,  two very simple concepts. In the past, I’ve worked so hard at trying to make things interesting. Economy, impulse, willingness, and honesty.

Can you like how “illogical” something is? I’m not sure… Maybe that’s just trying to find the sense in Dadaism. Like someone who pretends to “get” something meaningless like a in the creative writing we did where we folded a piece of paper in half and the moment we woke up, we furiously  wrote whatever thoughts came into our heads on one side of the paper, then turned it over and wrote again on the other side, then we unfolded the paper and read the page straight across. It was complete nonsense. Yet sometimes the nonsense sounded profound.

Holy crap! This was the most frustrating excercise of my life. We divided into two lines, and when our instructor said go, we all entered the space and would make either a circle, square, or triangle as a group without speaking. I know I can get frustrated easily… but still. I came into the space this afternoon a little frustrated because of banking issues and headshot photographers. I was okay for the first bit, but when we hit this shapes excercise.. oh my goodness! We would have a shape down as a group and it would look fine and it was nearly complete. But… the shape wasn’t what some, one of two, people wanetd so THEY decided to try to form it into what they wanted it to be regardless of what the entire group wanted. Or if we got the shape and agreed on it, they wouldn’t be happy with it and try to perfect it. I kept hearing things like, “this is more of a rectangle than a square.” I finally said, “Well, it’s hard to make a perfect square with 14 people. What’s 14 divided by 4?” Then people would turn sideways and put their arms out and  couldn’t understand why? It wasn’t a hard excercise! You all came into the space at the same time and make a shape eventually that you all agree on. It frustrated the living crap out of me that some people would come in the circle with their mind made up what shape they would be. How can you do that excercise that way?

That’s what’s killing me about this group dynamic. I really like everyone, but two people because they have a need to make everything controlled, concrete, or put a complete structure to an abstract excercise. But… I’m going to be around these people, all of them, for the next year so I better accept everything, otherwise I’m going to drive myself crazy. This is how it’s going to be in life, so I had better get used to it!

I Dream of an Old Friend

Today was a good day. In voice class, we recited our poems that we received last week. We were told to take the poem, memorize it, but spend time on our backs, practicing deep tummy breathing, hands on our abdomen between our belly button and pubic bone, repeating each word letting whatever images come to mind come. The point of the assigned excercise was to feel each word on an organic level, which I wrote about earlier.

Now, I wrote in that same post that when we did this excercise momentarily in class, I burst out into tears. I had NO idea why… But I did! I personally believe that it is because that area is an emotional center of our bodies. I, having issues with letting my breath drop down that low in my chest, do not often utilize that area of my body. When I finally did, it stirred that emotional center and the slightest heart-tugging thought sent me reeling!

Back to the poem. My poem was written by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, a Russian poet from the 70’s. Alex assigned each of us a specific poem, for whatever reason. My poem was called “I Dream of an Old Friend.”

“I dream of an old friend,
       who has become an enemy
but in my dream he’s not an enemy,
       but still the same old friend.
He’s not with me,
       but he’s there wherever I am,
and my head goes
       spinning around with the dreams.
I dream of an old friend,
       a confessional cry by the walls
on a staircase so steep
       that the Devil would break a leg,
and his hatred,
       not of me, but of those
who had been our enemies
       and will remain so, thank God!
I dream of an old friend,
       as I would of an old love
this is already
        forever beyond recovery.
We gambled on risk,
        we gambled on conflict,
and now we’re enemies,
        who had been two blood brothers.
I dream of an old friend,
         like the splashing of banners
is dreamed of by soldiers
         whose war has ended in wretchedness.
Without him, I’m not “I,”
          without me, he’s not “He,”
and if we’re enemies,
          it’s already a different age.
I dream of an old friend.
           Like me, he’s a fool.
Who’s right, who’s wrong,
           I’ll not begin to inquire.
What are new friends?
           Better an old enemy.
An enemy can be new,
           but the only friend is an old friend.”

I didn’t think much about my poem at first, good or bad. However, when I did the excercise where I learned each word’s organic meaning to me, I burst out into tears again! I was alright for the first verse or so, but when I started doing the line, “a confessional cry by the walls,” I LOST IT! It took me 3 sittings to do the entire poem! It was the strangest thing! I wasn’t upset, or frightened, or even sad, just experiencing.  For a while, it sent me reeling. I thought, “am I going to burst into tears every time I perform from now on? That would be terrible!”

Then I thought back, yesterday morning (Tuesday) in my acting class with Lise, she asked all of us to tell the group why we are here. Why did we come to acting school? Everyone went on and on about how they want a skill set that will allow them to get work, or they wanted to make connections. I thought long and hard about my answer as I was the last one to go. All those things were true for me as well, but it was more. I don’t want to learn how to perform because I hate watching “performances.” You know, when you go to the theatre to see an actor speak beautifully, yet you don’t believe a damn word she says! When it came my turn, I simply said, “I want to learn how to be an honest actor.”  It hit me, the type of acting that I love and admire is one thing. It is honest. It is not forced or performative. It is an actor with something to say, and she says it from an honest place and THAT is what connects her to the audience. It’s not being flashy or big or the most interesting thing on stage, it is that she is honest with you, the audience.

I realized as I was crying, that I was feeling those words in an honest way. I knew what those words meant to me.

Class time today, right… We went into class, my poem was learned, and I felt a strong connection with the poem. It meant something to me. I went second in class, mainly because I wanted to get it over with. I walked up there, thinking in my head that I wanted to get out of my head. I didn’t want to rely on “performative habits.” I can be entertaining on stage, I know that by now, but I didn’t come to drama school to learn how to be “entertaining.” I want to be honest. As I walked up there, I took deep breaths, and I convinced myself that it was okay to not make this a performance. I was going to share this story with a group of people. And yes, I wanted to communicate my story with them, but more than that, I wanted to unfold my thoughts with a friendly group of ears. I stood back, grounded on my feet which is something I never do, and I spoke the words. I never moved my hands, I made no gestures, I simply stated words with people. I stated words that had come to mean something to me on a deeper level. I never got emotional, only real. I discovered the words on stage without focusing on making them pretty. I said the words as they felt today.

When I was done, I felt spent. I had been fearless! It may have been sheer crap, but it was crap with a lot of heart. I wasn’t afraid to fail, instead I went into it full force, throwing myself into the excercise in a non-cynical way. The thing I found was, although I was spent, it felt effortless. Telling, no, discovering this story with the group was the most natural thing in the world. I looked at the group and Alex waiting for feedback. They all told me how honest it felt, unforced. Then Alex spoke. He told me, “Actually, I believe that was quite good,” something you do not often hear this man say! He spent our first class telling us what we would need to work on, not what we are doing well. Alex is not one told hold your hand, he is very honest and straight-forward. I couldn’t believe his reaction. He gave me notes on my voice and such. He told me that during my diagnostic performance, he thought I was very performative, yet today, it seemed to melt away and that I gave myself to the work.

I realized about 2 years ago how much I actually crave approval from professors and directors. I have always wanted to be told how good I am because if others think I’m good, than surely I am right? Now, this was not a fun realization to have about myself. I felt rather cheap and shallow once I realized that’s what I’ve always done.  My point being, usually today’s events would be the sprinkles on my self-validation cupcake of life; however, I didn’t feel that way. I felt good, don’t get me wrong, but I felt good because that means I’m on the right track. Too often, I am SO concerned with getting approval, that I miss the point of an excercise altogether! Today, I wasn’t focused on approval, performing, or even the excercise! I merely experienced and it was the most natural thing in the world! I can’t wait to get into some Shakespearean text with this mindset! Don’t get me wrong, the preparation is hard! You still have to learn it and then spend 5 minutes with every word of text, but when it’s on its feet and you know you’ve put it the grunt work, it is effortless and more effective than any performance I’ve ever given. 

Honesty is a great feeling. I’ve always joked that I lie for a living. I live a lie and people watch; but in reality, it’s the exact opposite, you tell a story in an honest and true way. It’s natural. It’s of the earth and of the body. It’s so basic it’s… organic. I love that word. 🙂

My MA Project

Hello both of you that follow my blog! 🙂 So at the end of this year, in order to receive my MA, I will be completing strenuous requirements for this massive MA project. I can either write a massive 15,000 word research project or write and produce a show. Originally I thought I would be doing the massive essay and write the curriculum for a project that I am hoping to by my life’s work called, “The Emilia Project.” It is an idea for a program I have to help young at risk women who are victims of low self-esteem and abuse find their own sense of self and confidence through art and language. Though I still want to bring The Emilia Project into fruition, I have another idea…

I’ve never fancied myself as a writer; however, I have begun to think about writing and putting up a show. I am a big believer in that people should never write because they, “feel like they should,” or they have “a beautiful story to tell the world.” In those situations, I feel that their work either comes off two dimensional because the writing has no part of the writer’s soul or ineffective because it has too much of their soul and the concept doesn’t translate to an audience.  My point being, I don’t think that half of the people who write should. However, I had a second thought this Saturday as I sat in Victoria filling an assignment for class.

I was sitting on the side of a fountain in Victoria Square Saturday morning people watching. I was assigned to take notes on a stranger and how they walked, their alignment, you know, purely physical habits someone has fallen into so I could take on those habits in class next week. I picked a man who was wearing this wicked “JESUS SAVES” jacket and passing out tracks in the middle of the Square. As I watched him for about fifteen minutes, I realized not a single person who walked by Roger, I named him Roger for the sake of the excercise,  acknowledged that he was trying to speak with them. Even if he didn’t speak and just had the track in his hand holding it out to people, no one acknowledged his existence. I also noticed that Roger was not in the slightest bit phased by the walkerbys’ apathy toward him or his reading material. That got me thinking. What would possess a person to stand outside in the cold for hour upon hour trying to make a profound difference in the lives of strangers who don’t care in the slightest bit or are completely annoyed by you? Roger han’t made a profound difference in anyone’s life that day, in fact, he was just something to be avoided by people walking through the square. Roger had the same status as a pile of dog poop in the quare.

There was another man accompanying Roger Saturday morning, George, also name for the sake of the excercise. George was standing very close to me speaking with an Islamic man for at least 45 minutes. They were already speaking when I arrived that morning and were still together when I left. Unfortunately, I didn’t begin listening to their conversation until the last ten to fifteen minutes of my visit. The thing to took my attention from Roger to George was George’s physical stance and body language. As he was talking with this man, he was standing in two different stances. Depending on the conversation, he was either very defensive or very aggressive. Although I couldn’t hear the conversation very well and I only took bits and pieces from it, I noticed that every time the Islamic man would begin to talk, George took on a “here we go again” attitude and was impatiently waiting for him to stop talking so he could explain to him, not the answer to his questions, but tell him why he shouldn’t be asking the question in the first place.

Now that is something that drives me absolutely bonkers!  I personally believe that when we are children, certain characteristics and traits are “mannered” out of us like our desire to play, but also, to ask questions. Somewhere along the way, we are taught to be self conscious of our questions because questions are stupid. I don’t know at what age that happens, but it does. I notice my three year old nephew Kai asking question CONSTANTLY! “Aunt Maggie, why is the sky blue? Why are there clouds in it? What are clouds made of? Do birds like flying? Have you ever petted a bird? Can I get a bird as a pet?” NEVER ENDING QUESTIONS! But when we’re older, we avoid asking questions as to not look stupid in front of a group. I love questions. That’s how we learn! Bear with me… There was an episode of Desperate Housewives where Lanette was looking for a church for her family. Bree took her to her church and Lanette stood up in the service to ask the pastor a question about his sermon. Bree was mortified at Lanette’s behavior and tried to get her to stop attending the church telling her, “Church isn’t a place for questions, it’s a place for answers.” However, when she went to church the next Sunday, the pastor asked Bree where her charming friend was. He told her how excited he was to have her because it was so refreshing to have such an inquisitive person actively listening after all, “Church is a place for questions, not for answers.” If they had all the answers, why have faith?

That being said, I love questions and it breaks my heart that our inquisitive spirits are beaten out of us as we get older. It broke my heart to see this man asking genuine questions but George took it as him trying to prove Christianity wrong by finding all the holes. At one point in time, the man asked, “If the Jews killed Jesus, why do the Christians, especially in the US, desire to have such a strong relationship with Israel?” A very viable question in my own opinion! Instead of answering the question, George looked down, shook his head, waved his hands, and stopped the man from talking to reiterate his dogmatic, pre-packaged salvation speech.

I thought to myself, George gave a stiff representation of Christianity to say the least! In my opinion, I believe religion and faith should be the most flexible thing in the entire world of thought. Let me explain… Some thoughts are concrete. E=Mc2, that’s concrete. It doesn’t change no matter the circumstances. If circumstances are different and it doesn’t work, there is another concrete equation to be used instead. Math is not flexible. Religion is the base of many people’s entire ways of life! If anything should be flexible, shouldn’t it be that? And if God, whatever It’s name is, is almighty and powerful and just as important to people today as It was 2000 years ago, shouldn’t the faith in It be flexible as to be timelessly applicable? That’s my problem with holy texts, any of them! They were written by humans, well… men, thousands of years ago with hundreds of generations of humans, well…. usually men again, trying to justify how it still applies to the world today when in all reality, it doesn’t! There are wonderful lessons to be taken from any holy text, as most of them say the exact same thing, but I don’t think that means we should follow them to the letter! Medical practices change as they are outdated, fashion changes as it is outdated, holy texts are the most dated things in societies today!

When I taught kids with Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, I created a lesson plan about superstitions. I told the kids crazy and weird superstitions of the 16th and 17th centuries and asked them to share superstitions that we have today. I explained that today, we have science to explain weird or freak occurences in nature; however, the Elizabethans did not. So if they saw a bright light shoot across the sky, the searched for and made up an explanation where as today, science tells us that is a shooting star, a perfectly normal explaination. Humans have a desire to find an explaination for things we don’t understand. What if that is region? There is so much in life man couldn’t explain so a long time ago, we came up with explanations. Then those explainations became custom and custom became a way of thinking, and then that way of thinking became teaching, and that teaching is now drilled into our heads as fact from the time we’re infants so much so that it is all we know.

Okay, maybe I got off topic slightly. Don’t get my wrong, I think religion can be a WONDERFUL thing. I have a very Buddhist way of thinking that if you feel you can reach personal peace and truth through religion, that is truly wonderful and worthy of celebration. It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t hate religion but that I’ve been angry with religious nut-job extremists in my own life.

So! Back to my MA Project. I’m thinking about writing a show, for one or two actors, in the style of Beckett in Waiting for Godot.  Two people who are nowhere, trying to save no one to their faith exploring the different ups and downs of religion and in the process finding their own salvation in the fruitlessness of their previous way of thinking. They find the truth, whatever that might be! Obviously this is in the very beginning stage… I have been fascinated by religion for so long and going back to why I believe people should write, I believe that someone should write in hopes of answering a personal question that the writer has herself. It should be a person quest for Truth and the writing is just her putting her thoughts down trying to sift through and make sense and order out of them. That is what I would be doing. Religion has been such a big part of my life as I have seen so much heartache in the name of religion.

1. My own two year relationship with a very confused boy. He was eventually diagnosed schizophrenic, but he looked to God for answers and healing when in reality, he was very sick and unstable and needed help. I stayed beside him through tears, anger, and hurt to see him waste away in hopes that God would give him a healing miracle. I left that relationship with a lot of guilt because I’d been told for two years that God wanted us together and God put me in his life for a reason. I felt if I left the relationship, I would lose my relationship with God.

2.  A dear old friend of mine married a gay man. They are now getting a divorce thank goodness… But he is obviously a gay man who was trying to marry himself straight with my dear friend. He will probably never come out of the closet though because he is a very religious boy and would feel that he would never be able to touch God if he admits what he is.

3. I was 14 years old on September 11th, 2001. I was at a very impressionable age when I saw the devastation brought to my country by religious extremists. I then saw my own country group-think a new hatred toward one particular religion because of one group of nut-job extremists. I mean, would Christians want the rest of the world to judge Christianity based on Fred Phelps?

4. Another dear friend of mine who is gay came out to his parents only to be sent information on a Christian group that “turns” gay men straight again. This obviously put a huge strain on his relationship with his parents leaving him feeling like a disappointment to his family. Since then, he has been taken into my own family.  In my father’s words of jest, he is “the daughter they never had.” 🙂

I think this is the question I would like to explore in my MA project. Why do we as modern individuals chose to follow an archaic faith? What does it have to offer civilization in 2009? Who knows, maybe I will find definition to my own faith in this process. If you have any ideas, stories, or thoughts, please share with me as I embark on this crazy journey!

Okay, day 3 of drama school. Everything is going incredibly well. Better than I had hoped. It’s only day three and I’ve unlocked more quirks and just… weird THINGS in my body that I didn’t even know were there! First up today was “Organic Movement.” I just know that I will love that class!  My instructor is wonderful! She spoke today about how when we are nervous, often times we stick our heads and necks out because that means, “I am acting, so I must be intense! This posture makes me look intense!” When in reality, it just looks like you’re sticking your head out and waving your forearms trying to make a point when all you’re really making is a big deal out of nothing! She also talked about so often, actors cut our legs off from out own instruments. She said that she will sometimes just look at the legs and feet of an actor and 99% of the time, they are absolutely dead! Especially in dramatic moments, they will sit down so they don’t have to apologize for their legs; if they’re sitting, the legs are simply out of the way! I thought, “How true!!!” I have SEEN myself act with my head jutted forward in order to seem more “intense” or “connected” when in reality, it just doesn’t work!

Today was all about organic thinking, taking in the text and the work on an organic level. My REAL breakthrough came in voice class (of course, I’m such a nut for voice classes!) He asked the class what we, as actors, need on stage. People kept suggesting technical things like, voice clarity and projection. I suggested that we needed connection. He asked me to pursue that thought. so then I added that as an actor, we can appear boring onstage unless we connect with out audience. It’s easier in Shakespeare since it was written before the 4th wall existed so you can tell your speech directly to the audience. However, even in modern texts, a connection comes through the actor as honesty. If an actor can be honest in her performance, she will connect with an audience because the audience will believe what she is telling them. He agreed.

He then asked how can an actor be honest on stage? You can’t exactly “portray” honesty. So, how can we be honest night after night after night after night?  We then decided that an actor must somehow experience the emotion to some extent at least (a healthy extent that is! Obviously you can’t send yourself to the mental ward by living the life of Lady Macbeth 8 times a week!). We then began talking about how organic language is. For instance, the cavemen made sounds in effort to communicate.  I also thought, animals make sounds to communicate as well. Is that not proof that language and communication is organic and that we all have a basic need to communicate? I thought so! Now, how do we experience the text on an organic level especially in a world and society where our first instinct is to intellectualize text?  We then spoke about how as an actor, the words are the organic connection. If we have an organic connection to each word on the page, then as we think about and say those words on stage, our commitment to the text will be on an organic level, our basic need to communicate!

Then he spoke about how an actor should display extreme emotions onstage such as crying. Basically, we decided if you feel the words on an organic level, the emotions will come, right? But then he suggested that we house our emotions in a specific place in our bodies. What do people say when they receive shocking news? “My stomach is turning,” or, “I’m sick to my stomach.” We house so much emotion deep in our stomachs. How do we access those emotions though? Breath. That is the only thing that goes down to that part of our bodies and comes up for us to access it!

We then did an excercise. This is where it gets intense! He asked us to sit upright in our chairs, place a hand on our abdomen (below our belly button and our pubic bone) and simply feel the breath. Now, breathing is something I’ve always struggled with! I know… it sounds so silly to struggle with breath, but it’s true! I hold my lower abdomen SO tightly! I always have. I know it’s a girl thing. We like to look as skinny as possible so we hold in our stomachs, especially our lower stomachs! The body knows when to breathe. When it needs breath, it will breathe. And when it’s done with that breath, it will let it go.

So we’re sitting there, hands on our abdomens, and then he asks us to think of a place, a happy place. I thought of my mother’s kitchen on Sunday brunch. He then told us to let the breath sink all the way down to our hands and I did! For the first time… maybe ever! Last summer was the first time I was able to breath even in my lower chest and I believe today was the first time in years I reached my lower abdomen. He then told us to use our senses. Think of the textures, smells, tastes, sounds! I thought of the smooth silver hardware and the red grainy cabinets. I smelled the peppery hash browns and heard the sizzling bacon. I heard my cat Paige on the floor as she walked to her food dish. I felt the air from the air conditioning vent blowing on my lower leg as I walked into the room.

It was a LOVELY thought! Truly! I didn’t feel the slightest bit sad or upset! I didn’t even feel extremely happy, just peaceful there in my mother’s kitchen. I didn’t feel homesick, just peaceful. And all of a sudden, I felt something wet on my nose. I moved my other hand to discover it was a tear! I was crying! Suddenly,  was crying uncontrollably! Now, I am not a crier… I don’t cry in class, especially when I’m not sad or upset about something! Tears just came streaming down my face! I had no idea what was happening, but I stayed with my experience.

After the excercise, he asked if I was alright (as I was the only one crying) and I said yes! I wasn’t upset, I was just in a very happy place! It’s amazing where we can hold emotions in our bodies. Maybe that’s all emotion is? Accessing bodily reactions to impulses that hit in the trigger spot of a certain emotion. It’s like tickling. If we get touched in certain trigger places, it evokes laughing and giggling. Perhaps it’s the same with crying but the abdomen is our trigger point? Just a thought. It was a wonderfully strange experience… and I’m not even sure what it means! I am very much liking the wholistic approach here at Birmingham. I know this will come back again and I will be able to figure out exactly what I did… But the point of the excercise was to experience something on an organic level, a sensory level. Then, take that same approach and take words from a speech and experience each word on that same kind of level. Understand each word and the personal meaning behind each word. Then, when performing the words, you can create another sensory experience with each performance. He did make a good point though. When experiencing a scene organically, you can never experience it the same way twice. We are different people every day, so an organic experience is going to be different because you will sense things differently depending on the day, the mood, and whatever other circumstances are at hand.

What an organic day.   🙂