Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Audition News

Last night I went to an audition held by the Montgomery Playhouse, in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

The company has two venues, neither of which I had been to before last night. The audition I attended was at the
Gaithersburg Arts Barn facility. The play was The Sisters Rosensweig.

I knew next to nothing about the play a few weeks ago. Since then I had done some research into it, and of course at the audition there was a summary for us to read.

I cannot say I was nervous, but there is always a small degree of tension when I explore something new. It was not, however, as bad as it could have been; there were only two people trying out last night. Total. Me, and one other guy.

The producer mentioned that the previous night there had been at least ten people trying out. In a total reversal of what I am used to at the community theatre level, we were told not enough women had tried out. At least, not enough of the proper age. So, the director confessed, they were having difficulty, at that point, casting the show.

Yet, I read, as did the other guy. Each of us the same parts. "Nick", "Tom", and "Geoffrey" are all British, and since I have "cockney" on my resume, I was asked to try that for one of the characters. I never expected to, so I did not get to really warm up. I was a little rusty, but it was there. Not as good as I can be though, with more practice.

I then read for a middle-aged, tactless, elitist Englishman. I think that went better. Dialogue seemed more natural to me, personally, and I think i did better with my, "generic upper class" English accent than I did with my cockney.

Finally, I read for Geoffrey. A flamboyant type. Bi-sexual. Who, in the scene I read for is dancing about in turquoise underwear. (I know.)

I felt I did ok, though i forgot to use an accent that time. It would seem, however, that whatever happens, that was the reading that made the biggest impression on the casting committee. I heard several laughs. This of course, in and of itself does not mean anything. I only mentioned it because it is hard not to notice when you get more of a reaction from the people around you.

And that was that. The director is not sure when she will know anything, as she has the problem with finding enough of the right aged women.

The other guy I read with complimented me on my reading as we left the lobby. (The stage itself was not available for the audition, so I did not see it.) So all and all, i feel confident that I did the very best audition I was capable of doing. Furthermore, I thought I was given a fair chance to showcase what I could do. (Which sadly has not always been the case with some other community theatres that I have never gotten a role in.) Therefore, I cannot complain at all about the experience.

I have no feeling one way or the other about my chances. It could go either way. But that would be all right. It would be gratifying of course to be selected, but the main purpose of this audition was to break some ice with a new theatre group, and meet a few new people. This I was able to do, and the next time I try out for one of their shows, i will be more familiar with their procedures.

The chance to do so may come soon, in fact. They have auditions for something once every 6 weeks or so until the end of 2008. If I do not get into this play, I will probably give another show there a try.

Interesting trivia fact. I read for characters named "Nick", "Tom" and "Geoffrey". I have previously played characters in other plays by all of those names. In the case of Nick and Tom, twice. Once even with a cockney accent, as I did for this reading. Weird.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

With This Role, I Thee Dread

Chances are good that if you are in as many shows as I am, you are going to play "opposite" to someone else. That is to say, playing their character's romantic interest. I have done it several times, and kissing has been involved, and other such activities on stage, as has oft been discussed on this blog.

One thing that has not happened to me yet, however, is what more than one of my fellow actors has called "The Meeting".

The Meeting is when an actor sits down with the real life significant other of his co-star, so everyone can get to know each other. This is not merely being social. The "Meeting" requires all invovled to discuss scenes and direction and the play, and the nature of the performances with the non-stage significant other.

Being required to attend this sort of meeting is, as far as I am concerned, absurd. Yet it happens frequently enough for me to have an opinion about it.

I have known actors whose "meetings" have required a dinner for 4 with the real spouses and stage pairs "getting to know one another". (Which makes it sound more like some kind of swingers meeting.)

I have talked to several actors who have been unfortunate enough to be told "My husband is super jealous, so, he's not going to like you much."

This is not the place for me to express my disdain for such insecure couples. However, since this is an acting blog, I will say that I pray I am never saddled with playing opposite to someone like this.

If your spouse is that jealous of you kissing or touching another member of the opposite sex, albeit in a stage setting, that is your business. Yet perhaps the stage is not the place for you. And if you do feel the need to keep acting despite such feelings from your partner, I would certainly conclude that you should work overtime to avoid roles wherein you have to touch other people. (Though this is incredibly difficult.)

A performer should not be put through this Meeting. It is distracting, annoying, and in more extreme, (but not rare) cases, can be scary. Sharing the hidden nuances of a performance with someone not involved in the show makes one unnecessarily vulnerable.

All of these feelings would unnerve even the most stone cold professionals while they are trying to perform a love scene of any depth. And this should not be the case.

I cannot say how exactly I would react if someone told me that "John needs to meet you". I feel fairly certain I would feel somewhat insulted and more than a little annoyed. I would not be happy, by any definition.

As a corallary to this, I have also encountered people who "refuse to kiss anyone for any reason other than my real life husband/wife". I suppose that is noble in its way...but directors and co-stars should not be required to re-write scenes to accomodate this. People that uncomfortable should be very picky about the roles they will accept.

Those of us who act, and who take it very seriously as I do, know that not everyone we come into contact with is going to understand the nature of our art. Nor are all actors going to feel the same way about being on stage. This is natural.

Yet an actor cannot exist in a vacuum, no matter what some people will tell you. They must be able to interact freely, to engage in that dance of envoking a character with others doing the same thing. If they are forced to do so with someone who insists on "The Meeting", or refuses, out of "devotion" to never put their lips to a fellow actors, one cannot achieve maximum comfort. And of course comfort is crucial to a great performance, and a great production is made up of a series of great performances.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Speak the Speech...

Just some short thoughts this week on the old conundrum of which is more important for a fine performance...good acting or good writing.

Obviously, the ideal performance will have both. But a surprising number of actors will say that a good script is the main cause for a great performance they give at any given time. And while I agree that having good material is crucial, I am really not sure I have ever been prepared to give the script as much credit for great acting as my colleagues do. (To hear some talk, its 80% of a performance.)

I would be charitable if I said it was 55-45 in favor of script. I say that si true with the best of scripts...there are certain lines and certain speeches that naturally bring out a better performance from an actor.

But note that I say "bring out". Not "create". For no matter how greatyour script is, it has to be brought to live be someone who has some semblence of what they are doing. Otherwise, it is literature, and not drama.

True. We have seen some of our best actors of both stage and screen in embarassing roles. Roles that are embarassing because, in the parlance of many a film critic, the actor is "given nothing to do", or "too little to work with". And certainly I can agree...being saddled with a bad script can make the process of a good performance more difficult. script is just words. It, by itself, cannot bring life to a poor performer. Ifyou do not believe me, which anyone, anywhere try to perform Shakespeare, without posessing some sort of acting prowess. Some of the greatest words ever written for the stage become down right painful to listen to and observe, when they come from the mouths of those who have no idea what they are doing. To me, a good script inbad hands, is worse than seeing true talent trying to being a bad script to life.

Indeed, I think the latter can be the sign of an actor who goes the extra mile...insisting on finding real life and depth where there is none provided.

In truth, writing and acting are equally important. But when one must be missing..give me a deciated talented actor with "little to work with" producing unexpected magic, through sheer will, then a hack trying to deliver a brilliant scene with another hack.

There is a reason they call the stage the actor's medium. That is it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Creature of Habit

There can be all sorts of reasons a person may have a very specific routine before a performance of some kind. (Superstition being no small reason for many actors, believe me.)

There are also physical reasons some may have a very precise set of activities before a show. Vocal warm-ups. Stretching exercises. Medicines, and the like.

And of course, some have no routines, (or perhaps rituals is a better word) the precede a stage appearance. I am not one to knock this, but I am here to advocate routine/ritual for the actor. Even if the ritual has no deeper symbolism or practical need.

For those with insomnia, and other sleep disturbances, professionals often recommend establishing a bedtime ritual, which wavers very little from night to night. Brushing one's teeth at the same time, getting a final drink of water, and those similar things. The body and the mind work as one to recognize that sleep is about to take place, and patterns of subconscious "shut down" before sleep begin to take place.

The therapy for a great number of mental disorders has as a vital componant, some sort of routine, to help bring about perspective and clarity.

Religious ritual, and its purposes are obvious.

All of these things apply to the actor about to perform, and I highly recommend either routine or ritual. It will center your focus, activate parts of your mind and subconscious, and in general put you into a place that your whole self knows is "the performance zone". Your performance cannot help but improve in 99% of the cases.

Exceptions exist for every rule, but my observations over the last 9 years of being an actor have taught me that the best performers I have worked with have, at some point in time, engaged in some kind of consistent routine, either in public, (jumping jacks in one case) or in private. I cannot get inside the heads of such people, but my guess is that even if they are not aware of it, the reasons they engage in ritual is that puts their whole being, almost automatically into actor mode. Every facet of them is aware that when these actions are being taken, a performance will follow soon after.

They key of course, is to avoid extremes. Leave room for the unexpected. Do not become a mental slave to a specific song on the MP3 player, or a certain breathing exercise. For routine can turn against you and become an obsession, and obsessions, when not obtained, can actually lead to a very distracted actor.

Still, if you do not have a ritual, get one. Even if it is nothing more than deep breathing 5 minutes before curtain, or always leaving your shoes off until a certain time before the opening of a show. You cannot force superstition o emotional significance into a ritual, but once any given focusing technique starts to yield it's obvious benefits to you in rehearsals and performances, I am willing to bet you won't want to be without it again afterward.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Skills from Shortwave

About a month ago, I purchased my first shortwave radio. It's not very big, but it can pick up quite a few so called "world band" stations. These are exactly what they sound like...special frequencies that carry radio broadcasts from all parts of the world.

There are many advantages to owning one of these devices, outside of the entertainment value they posses. One, obviously, is getting another perspective on events. Even news broadcasts originating from countries with which my own is not and the best diplomatic terms have English broadcasts on the shortwave bands. Hearing familiar stories from a different approach can be enlightening, even if one does not totally trust the sources. (Though sometimes they are more trustworthy than domestic news sources.)

Secondly, one is exposed to human interest stories in other countries. These are not exactly mind breaking, but are very culture specific events. Listening to what other nations and cultures find to be interesting, if not important, offers a very uncommon insight into other peoples and how the proceed within their world.

I have no directory to tell me what stations are found where on the dial. So when the commentary is not in English, I enjoy trying to guess what language I am listening to, based on cadences, words, pronunciation, etc. Even those broadcasts in English are often delivered by natives who speak English, and hence maintain a certain accent, which I try to guess. (Until they identify where they are, of course.) Either way, listening to other stations, both in English and in foreign languages offers great exposure to linguistic nuances such as cadence, accents, and in English broadcasts, varying word selection.

So, to review briefly, shortwave radio provides me with...

1)Different perspectives and thought patterns.
2)Glimpses at what makes other cultures tick.
3)Exposure to how foreign languages and their accents affect English.
4)An over all broader exposure to the differing cadence of language itself around the world.

What other possible endeavor might benefit from this kind of knowledge, I wonder...

Of course, in this context, the answer would be acting. I have said many times, as have others, that acting is, in essence, reflecting some aspect of the human experience. The more of the human experience we as actors are exposed to, the more depth any given performance can be. Shortwave is bit another venue which provides this.

Not that listening to shortwave in its own right makes one a good actor, of course. However, the listening to of dialects, linguistic rhythms, and more importantly, understanding of personal motivations from all sorts of different individuals as well as entire societies that I might not otherwise have much exposure to can, if embraced in the proper way, increase the well of humanity, if you will, from which I can draw to create future characters in any number of productions.

The world of the Internet and all it's cousins has made the world a smaller place, and connection to all of these things can in fact be made through same, there is no question. But there is something about radio broadcasting which gives that foreign connection and edgier, more humanistic quality which I enjoy. And acting is nothing, if it replaces simple daily human communication with endless, flashing graphics and websites with no meaning behind them.

So, once again, another endeavor has proven, (and will continue to prove) itself useful in my never ending question to become a better actor.