Friday, October 30, 2009

The Approaching Holidays

I have some theatre plans, and things to ponder as well, for the upcoming Christmas Season.

To begin with, I have committed to a reading of "A Christmas Carol" at the Full Circle Theater Company. By reading of course I mean it will be more like a recital. It will be for the audience as though a story or book where being read to them, except with several people reading different parts. In fact, the script that will be used for this two weekend Christmas event is the adaptation that Charles Dickens himself drew up based on his novel.

In the wake of A Christmas Carol's wild popularity, Dickens was often called upon to read the piece to large gatherings, in both Europe and North America. To make the piece more palatable, (not to mention the evening shorter), Dickens adapted his novel to script form. It is obviously abridged, but nonetheless take about an hour to perform. At least there can be little argument that the author would be pleased with the adaptation!

I participated in a reading of this very script, under the very same director, 6 years ago, as part of a Christmas celebration. That was a one night only affair, while this will be two weekends, and will include music and other festivities. I look forward to it, despite it being a reading. This tale is this tale, and few things bring the holidays more into focus than taking part in any telling of this story. (Those who follow the blog know that just last year, I was in a full fledged production of A Christmas Carol, which was Full Circle's inaugural production in their new building.)

Yet there is more to my holiday oriented staged reading plans. Perhaps.

The Winchester Little Theater, for whom last year I appeared in a staged reading, will be holding auditions for a live radio play version of "It's a Wonderful Life."

Every year this theater puts on this Christmas reading. It is a reading, like others I have described, but with something extra. It is staged like the old classic radio plays from the golden age of radio. Complete with a sound effects guy on stage. Last year, they managed to get the thing broadcast live on real local radio, and this year will be doing so again. I am giving very serious consideration to auditioning for this experience.

I like most aspects of the Winchester Little Theater, despite being treated poorly there, one time. Yet the drive for me is an hour an ten minutes, and it is not a pleasant drive for me. After my last experience, I decided that I wouldn't make Winchester a very regular destination, but would consider it again if something about a production really spoke to me. I am a fan of the venue itself, and have been hoping for a chance to perform there again someday.

That is the case with this. I am not a huge fan of "It's a Wonderful Life", (sacrilege to some of you, I know.) But I do know the director, and am intrigued by the possibility of performing live on radio. (I have been a radio personality before and loved it.) Plus it is a reading, so fewer rehearsals are required, and hence less travel. So I do believe this would be a good time to give the WLT another chance.

If I do try out, and get in, it will go on one week after the Christmas Carol reading finishes. It would also mean that I would have to schedule rehearsals for one around the other. Normally I would not do this, but given that both are readings, I feel comfortable with the possibility. And taking part in not one, but two well known Christmas tales would make for a very festive Christmas season for me. The holidays aren't worth much if one is not around people, after all.

Keep checking back to see what I decide to do about the WLT. But at this point, believe me, I am leaning heavily towards going for it.

A Brief Voice Over Foray

This is predominantly a stage oriented blog. It's true purpose though is to discuss my acting adventures, and sometimes those do not fall into the standard theatre dynamic. Yesterday I finished up once such example. I would have mentioned it here on the blog sooner, but the whole thing absorbed so little of my time, I thought it would be best to post one single entry about it.

I peruse Craigslist quite a bit. For jobs, and once in a while when I am looking to buy something on the cheap. If you are familiar with the site, you know that there are sections dedicated to "creative" and "talent". It was in one of those two sections, a few months ago, that I found an ad seeking voice over actors.

It was obvious that they were not able to pay big time Union compensation, but not being in a performance union this didn't bother me.. They sought someone to create a spoken word file for a podcast tour of Manhattan they were creating. I was interested, and contacted them. I wasn't needed at the time, and I forgot all about it.

Then about a week ago, this party contacted me, explaining that their initial talent had dropped out of the project. They wanted me after all. I agreed and the script was sent over to me, via e-mail.

It was only about 90 seconds long. A New York man from the late 19th century describing his experiences on the commuter train. Very simple, but a lot of fun. To come up with a usable character, voice, cadence, all based on a small bit of copy, and the little time I had to work with.

I asked the director if he wanted a standard thick New York accent, or no. He told me that the advantage we had was that nobody is sure when the standard New York accent that we know today came into being. It may have been present in the 1880's, but is more likely it was not. So he told me to go with something that suggested it, but not "Archie Bunker".

I had not attempted a New York accent of any class since college. And even then, I didn't end up using it much. So I read the piece out loud to myself over and over for about an hour. And to my surprise, a New York accent formed, almost naturally. One or two words like "Fourth" and "New York" itself served as anchors, as anybody knows how most New Yorkers would say such things. But those words led to an understanding of other words. And each time I would read the piece, I felt more and more familiar with the accent, even though I am no expert on that particular dialect. Yet the all the memories of the movies, shows, and people I have listened to over the years that had such an accent began to coalesce in my performance the more I read the piece out loud to myself. It was quite satisfying, and rather intriguing, to just suddenly know instinctively how a New Yorker would pronounce certain things. What cadences suddenly made sense with the sentences.

Don't get me wrong. A linguist expert, or a native New Yorker would probably be able to tell right away I was an actor. Yet I wasn't trying to faithfully replicate exactly what New York accents are today. I was trying to create a reasonable theatrical suggestion of a New Yorker, and i think I achieved that. More so than I thought I would when I started.

As mentioned, I was aided further by the mists of time which makes modern people unclear as to what exactly New Yorkers of the time period would have sounded like. The result? A passable New York accent that hopefully will entertain unknown people in the future.

The director said he was pleased with the accent I came up with. Called it a "sort of Upper crusty" New Yorker. He would know more than I. I only care that he was pleased with the work that I did. I know that I am.

The whole thing was learning experience for me, and not just in regards to accents, and how to perfect a voice over reading. I learned more about my own potential as an actor. Paying strict attention to the words, syntax, and accents of all kinds of people, especially performers, is something I have always done. Experiences like this prove that it works, and is worth it. I can always learn more, and professional training in certain accents is still something I would love to take part in. But today, my keen attention to linguistic detail shines through, and I am pleased with my efforts.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The New Look!

Well, Loyal blog readers, I have done something very small and insignificant to most people, but actually rather large for me; I have trusted in the blogger system enough to upgrade my template! Behold the new Always Off Book!

I realize that those of you who know code would say there is not much of a template. Boring. No new ground being broken. Cooky cutter. But you know what? I don't care, because I am very happy not only with the new look, but also with the new functionality. I am going to be able to post pictures and video, and rearrange things much easier, (and with much more confidence) during future renovations.

Expect some smaller cosmetic changes here and there in the near future, as I play around with the template a bit to see what suits me the best. But overall, a friendly, more concise archive, customizable fonts, (which I used to have but recently lost in the old matrix), picture and video posting, and a more minimalist color scheme all are conspiring to make me a very happy blogger.

I still can't change the font size, for some reason. In my test blog I had that option on the tool bar above each post. Here I do not. But I suppose it is a small price to pay, given everything else that I have available to me.

What do you think, blog readers? Feel free to leave (nice comments). And of course check back regularly as usual, as the content itself remains as it always amateur actor sharing his not so amateur thoughts on the world of acting.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Techie Explorations

And no, I don't mean back stage people in black that get in your way while you try to perform. (Harmless jab, guys, don't flip out if you are on the techie side of all things theatrical.)

I am however referring to techie issues with the blog itself. As I mentioned on the blogs 4th birthday a few weeks ago, I would be slowly but surely initiated changes to the lay out and over all look of Always Off Book. It is time, and it has become, in some way, unruly for new people to navigate. (See the Archives.) Yet I fear the untimely destruction of this, my online pride and joy, that screwing around with code could cause. (I have no grasp of the concept, despite trying a few times.) I remember how dry my mouth got just cutting and pasting code when this blog was new. Simply adding dates and a links section, (as you see on the left of the home page as of now) had my scared out of my mind I was going to wreck everything.

That fear has not gone away. Nor has an understanding of code evolved within me. However, (and somehow I missed this) Blogger does offer an updated account, still for free, which allows people to make changes with a point and click interface that formerly required knowledge of code. This is very good news for me, and my desire to update the look and feel of the blog, (without altering the content.) It is in fact out of fear of losing any or all of my content, built up over 4 painstaking years of writing and acting, that made me decide to open up an anonymous new blog, under the new format/rules of Blogger, to see how easy it is to navigate, and more importantly, how difficult it is to screw everything up. If, as I play with it, I am satisfied that I can rebuilt Always Off Book with the new format, I will bite the bullet, and hit the "upgrade" button on my account...hopefully leaving room for all sorts of oohing and ahhing later next month.

But until then, I dare not experiment on the offspring. So I will keep testing it, and until I feel my feet are on the ground with it, I will keep the format here just as it is.

(Anyone who happens to come across my new anonymous and totally utilitarian blog which I created today just to test all the new features, and KNOWS they have found me, gets a free t-shirt. But no hints!)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Acting Workshop Day "6"

Ok, for the purposes of clarity, we are going to call last night, day 6. And I am pretty sure according to most definitions that is what it was, though believe it or not there are multiple definitions.

Last night I delivered the monologue again. I incorporated some of the suggestions made during the previous class. I felt more at ease, because I knew more of what to expect.

Ironically, most of what I prepared for did not occur.

There were more people present this time then had been in weeks, so the group I spoke to was larger. Also, no specific instruction had been given as to how they should react. So I did my best to read the reactions on the faces of those watching me. My perception was that they were not playing characters that were as angry this time. I did sense some of them not turning, but as a whole, everyone seemed to be more open to what my character was saying, from an earlier moment in the speech, than they were on Tuesday night. (Either that, or I didn't do as good a job reading them.)

I opted to start off serious, and then soften things up by making the reading more humorous, and light. This is a combination between how I had originally prepared it on Tuesday, and they alternate way I performed it on Tuesday as a part of an excercise at the end of Tuesday. Though I never did feel totally off book for the piece, I felt much more at ease giving it this time. Part of it was because it was because I had done it several times. Part of it was because I was prepared for what (I thought) would be coming after). Either way it went very smoothly.

I was given the chance to go again if I wanted, but I didn't feel the need. I didn;t think I could improve upon it, given the mission of the assignment at that time.

I thought I would be in for another round of interview questions. But instead, he made some brief comments to the group, and asked how I made them feel as members of "the congregation". One said she felt I was being "holier than thou". (That coming from her character.) I didn't sense that when I was looking at her as I gave the speech, or else I would have changed my tactic.

And that, in the end, was the purpose of this assignment. The idea of having an objective for a scene or a moment, and doing things to attain it. To be open to the stimuli from other actors, (or in my case, the audience), and to change one's tactics to counter anything that may be an obstacle.

One thing the instructor did mention, that I may have missed before, but was glad to hear him say that night, was that objectives are far an actor, but that the character may not always be aware of the actor's objective. This was a small moment of clarity for me, because it matches more what I do when I am on stage, than what I thought he had been insisting upon before. Whereas before I thought he suggested our character know every moment what their objective is, and reflect it in every action, last night he made the distinction between the actor knowing the objective and the character knowing. I still do not 100% agree with the micro-motivations and constant objectives that the instructor advocates, but I think they fit in more with my style of acting now that the distinction has been made between actor and character. (Or, as I said, perhaps it was made before, and I missed it.)

Then I was done. I was a little surprised at how little I had to do, but he thought it was a good presentation, and there were no more question from anyone. I realized later that we were nearing the end of the class period, and that my scene maybe had been less discussed because of that. I wasn't offended by it, and I am sure that had I been struggling, the time would have been taken to help right me. But I felt, good, the instructor felt good, and the lion's share of deep discussion had already taken place on Tuesday.

I will say that my objective the second time was still the same as it was on Tuesday. Some may have changed it, and given enough time maybe I would have come to change it as well. But in the time allotted for the assignment, I still felt a strong pull towards the objective of Father Flynn trying to be closer to God in everything he did. That was, in the instructor's words, my "hot choice."

As for future meetings, there will be one on the 5th of November. (The Gunpowder Treason and Plot!) That is when my new scene partner, a friend of mine, and myself will do our first presentation of our scene from Chekov's Three Sisters. That same day, the rest of the class who has not yet gone a second time for the scenes from Doubt will do so then. So I have two weeks to get a new scene up and running with a partner. But it is a very short scene, and I know the woman well. I feel all will be well with that. Keep checking back, of course, to be sure.

The whole class, near the end, seems to have finally hit on an agreeable stability, in both scheduling and objective. This pleases me.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Acting Workshop Day...Who Knows?

I am a writer, obviously, and while I enjoy doing it most of the time, once in a while things are so convoluted and complicated that expressing them in the written word becomes somewhat tedious, if not impossible. The nature of the acting class as it stands now may be one of those things. I will try to explain things, and see how it goes.

To begin with, I want to say that each of the last three meetings have consisted of at least 30 minute sessions of trying to rework the schedule to everyone's satisfaction. There have been about 8 different schedules for the future of the class, and there have been 4 in the last 5 days. Tonight we must once again meet to discuss what the future of the class will be. One major problem is that there is a stretch, passed the original ending date of the class, during which almost nobody is available. In an effort to make sure we have all 8 classes, (and a 9th bonus class in order to "make up for all the confusion"), many attempts have been made to secure proper days and times. Most recently, this included extended this class, which started September, into mid December. To put is mildly, this did not work for me, nor does it work for a few other people. So the nightmare continues, and I am not sure it can be worked out to everyone's satisfaction. I would not burden readers with talk of schedules under normal circumstances, but in this case, it is so inextricably linked with the success and feel of the class that I included this brief synopsis of the problem.

As for my actual presentation of my monologue on Tuesday, (which I will be performing again tonight, since all scenes go twice), things get complicated as well.

Ideally I would describe here the nature of the character, what I was trying to do, and what I was instructed to do, etc. But as I look back over the entries covering this class, I realize that I have not really provided a great deal of detail about the nature of my performance, because I myself have spend so little time being sure of it myself. And I do not mean how I will do it, but WHAT I would be doing. Between unruly ex-scene partners, canceled classes, other obligations, and a plethora of circumstances out of my control, I have not had much time to truly delve as deeply in as I would for a production. So I don't know if it makes sense now to try to catch all of you up, loyal blog readers, with the intricacies of the character. (Which I kept broader than usual anyway, in order to prepare for the inevitable evisceration that would receive in class.)

But I must try to describe the nature of my first real performance in the class (!) in some way. So allow me to say that I approached the monologue in a certain way. Not with the assumption that it HAD to be that way, nor with the idea that they were anything more than broad strokes. Strokes on which I would have honed in more if I were actually in a production. But one thing I didn't understand was that my fellow classmates would be pretending to be characters observing me when I gave this monologue.

This was not clear until I was actually finished my first presentation of the speech. (A sermon being given.) At no other time in the class have those of us watching been instructed to be characters that interacted with the people performing. And though I knew my situation was unique, (having no partner) I misunderstood the nature of what I was to be doing. Had I known that the rest of the class would be silently portraying other characters within the play as I spoke, I perhaps would have been more prepared for this.

And yet, I do not think I would have presented the speech much differently, even if I had known this. I just would have liked to be aware of the dynamic. I still think my interpretation of the speech, given the character and the plot of the play, was a fair one. Buy my giving of the speech became an exercise in responding to an audience, and knowing how to give and take from them, and I was not prepared for that to be the focus of what I was doing that night.

You see, I am very much in tuned to and aware of the synergy between an audience and a performer. (See this article I wrote for recently.) And I am also aware that one must be ready to give and receive from other actors while on stage. But there is a distinction between the two. One generally knows who is the audience, and who is the cast mate. Yet in this case, my "audience" consisted of castmates, playing roles themselves. I took the script literally, and performed my piece as though I were speaking to the house of a theatre filled with paying customers.

What is the difference? A very significant one. At least from my perception. When addressing an audience, I am more free to interpret a speech, and present it, in the way that makes sense to me. I feel the audience should be moved by what I say, and if not I can adjust what I am doing. Adjust to cause "something". But that something is not always in my control, because the audience is not "in" the play.

Yet if I am to give a speech in character, to other people also in character, than the nature of the speech takes on a different sort of power. It may or may not be different in it's interpretation, but it will certainly be different it the subtleties of it's execution. Because when addressing other characters within the story, I have to take their story into account, whereas when address just the audience, I need only take myself, and my view of my own character into account. (At least in my school of acting that is true.)

In short, when I act, my character has specific agendas when dealing with other characters portrayed by other actors. But when it comes to the audience, my agenda is more broad. I want them to be sad, to laugh, to be uncomfortable, to applaud. The line is fine, but it is distinctive, and in class last time, that line was erased. Partly because of the nature of the instruction and how it differs from my views, and part because I misunderstood what my mission for the evening was.

This is cerebral stuff, I know. And I am paring it down without specific examples from my experience in class in order to make it as general an observation as possible. Yet despite my confusion as to my mission, and my disapproval of some of the the instructions I was given later in the class, (which I will get to), it makes for an important conversation, with myself, and with any of you. I hope that I have made the distinction clear to you. Even if you do not share it, understanding what I am saying will give you great insight into the way I approach the craft.

Now, to be a tad more specific.

Setting aside the idea that I gave the speech with the impression I was talking to an "objective" audience, I also assumed certain things about the circumstances of within the play. At this stage, (SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN DOUBT ) Sister Aloysius have suggested that Father Flynn has done inappropriate things with a student. My speech is the Father's first sermon after her insinuations. I was approaching the speech from the perspective that the whole church was unaware of the allegations. But eventually I was told, as an exercise, to give the speech with the assumption that everyone I was talking to was not only aware of the allegations, but believed them. Obviously this required a drastic shift in the way I would present the monologue.

This threw me off a bit, and made me somewhat uncomfortable, at least at first. Not because of the interpretation, but because it was not what I had prepared myself for. If you read this blog you know that in a show I believe one must always be prepared for just about anything, so at first blush it would seem that this is hypocrisy on my part. But least in a show, there are norms that are established, and interpretations that are worked out and tried over time, so that by opening night, there is at least a working consistency within the play and the performances. It is that solid base that allows one to be prepared for unexpected shifts.

Yet with the class, it was an extreme shift not just of an expected circumstance as a performer, but a total 180 in regards to interpretation of the scene. Had this been a real scene, I would have known by then if my fellow actors were going to portray angry people, passive, people, or what have you. That night, it was all an arbitrary sort of decision.

Granted it was an exercise, and he said so. And for my part, I did it well. Not as well as I could have done it had I had some more concrete time with the character, but I did meet with success by and large. But I felt it was a long way to go to simply make a point that is honestly already clear to me. And what is that point?

That performing a role is a fluid activity which can and should be influenced, if only in subtle ways, by the actions of cast mates, the reaction of the audience, and changes that we cannot always anticipate. And that to optimize our ability to do this, we must remain open, flexible, and sensitive to the psychic and emotional energies that surround us when we perform. We must make sure we deliver those things to others, and make sure we are getting them from others ourselves.

Valid? Again, if you have read my blog over the years, you know that I fundamentally agree with this notion at the heart of acting. It is not that I find it to be an unworthy destination. (Though the degrees to which it is adopted is going to differ depending on the actor and the production. There is no one set degree at which this must work.) But as I have mentioned several times during this acting class experience, I just don't think I need to jump through the specific hoops of this class in order to understand that truth. As a result, I think sometimes I am trying to crack a specific secret code to these exercises. To try to master a secret riddle or game that once understood will allow me to complete this class successfully. But the problem is, there is no secret code. There is no great mystery that I need to be solving. I have simply found myself in an uncomfortable car, filled with strangers, traveling down a road that is bumpy, on my way to someplace I am already familiar with. I am not above learning new things. I just don't always like re-learning old things. I think that may be what this class has been in many ways to me.

I could go more into detail about the specifics of my monologue, but I won't. I could also go into the nature of the half hour hostile interview I had to go through in character, (which everyone in the class must face.) But I don't think I will get into that either. I seem to have interpreted the character, and answered the question in such a way that I am not, to the instructors satisfaction, coming to the conclusions that he thinks would be best for me to come to. I think one of the problems may be that I refuse to accept any other interpretation of the characters I play. Perhaps I don't. But that is not a rejection of someone else's interpretation. That is a rejection of the notion that it is MY interpretation. Sometimes I come at characters from a very different, unexpected angle, and more than once in my career that has confused and frustrated people, especially directors.

Yet I don't do it to be contrary. I do it to be true to an interpretation that speaks to me, obscure and off the wall as it may be. I do it because I feel it is my job, and I feel I am good at my job. (Though always hoping to improve.) I think that is what my class mates and the instructor want as well. I just think, once again, we may be dealing with square pegs.

But then again, sometimes one learns just as much from something that doesn't work, as they do from something that does. By that metric, I think, in the end, I will get something memorable out of this class.

Tonight I run my monologue again. I will be going over it shortly. More on that, of course, can be found here on the blog either tonight, or tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Prep for Tomorrow

Today I spent a great deal of time working on my monologue for the next meeting of the acting class. I feel prepared as much as I can be, given the short time, and the nature of the class.

I do feel off book for the speech, though given that I only just got off book today, I worry a little bit about being totally off book tomorrow. Though being off book so quickly is not the main concern for me right now. Most of my concerns involve the format of the class, and how my presentation will fit into same. (I have discussed those issues in the last several entries of the blog.) I have no reason to believe that it will be a disaster, I just happen to know that I sometimes am less productive when I am not permitted to go straight through something.

Yet the very fact that I have seen how it works in the class has fortified me against being taken off guard by the proceedings. I know what to expect by and large, and I prepared my monologue accordingly. Though not totally different from how I would otherwise prepare a piece, I have to say there were some significant mental differences in place as I went over it today. (And when I do so again tomorrow before class.)

Most of the difference has come in regards to depth. I have not really allowed myself to tailor my performance to the impressions of the character, and the moment, that I have in my head at this time, having read the play and the speech several times. Normally I am planting that mental seed within my mind right away, and everything I do from there on out springs forth from it. An inside-out approach. This class, it seems pretty clear to me, is based mostly on an outside-in approach, which is not my preference, as any loyal blog readers will know by now. But such is the task at hand, and I am not going to surrender in the face of the challenge.

As for more practical class issues, it looks like the Saturday meeting will not be taking place, so a make-up day, as of now, is still up in the air.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Acting Workshop Day 4...and Not.

I never expected my updates on my acting class to end up being so complicated, because I never expected the class itself to be so. However...

The class is somewhat up in the air about a few things. And in fact until Friday night, the it's very continued existence was questionable. Again, I don't want this blog to be about anything but acting and my thoughts thereof when I can help it, but so much has gone on with this acting class that I feel a brief overview is due.

We were scheduled to have class this passed Thursday as well as Friday. On Thursday I arrived to be told that the instructor was stuck in very heavy traffic over an hour away. It could be quite late before he showed up.

Those of us in the class then began a discussion as to what to do. It seemed a universal sentiment of those present that the schedule and timing of the class had thus far been a total disaster. Some even spoke of asking for refunds do to the perceived lack or organization on the part of several parties.

The confusion continued in that not everyone knew we were also supposed to meet the following day. This turned out to be odd, however, because this day was agreed to weeks before, despite the fact that meeting in the theatre was impossible on that day; the theatre's next play would be opening that night. So there was confusion and irritation about the fact that this was not known. The discussion moved to how and when to next meet, and how to possibly make up for the lost evening (which Thursday was turning out to be, most doubting the teacher would arrive in time to do anything.)

After much discussion, someone's private home was secured for the next evening's session.

As for Thursday, there was little that could be done. Some wanted us to work on our scenes alone, but two of the actors opted to not come to class that night, which left their scene partners unable to present their scene, even informally. One member of the class was not in a scene, and I had just started work on my monologue that day. (More on that later.)

One of the actresses who had no scene partner read the missing parts for the one group's scene, while the other scene practiced on their own. (All this while the final dress rehearsal for the theatre's next show was taking place in the next room.)

I, along with 2 others, left early. There seemed to be little reason for me to remain there. I could have offered opinions and advice on the other scenes that were being independently practiced, I suppose, but given that I have so little grasp on the way the teacher thinks acting ought to be, I didn't think my advice or observations would contribute anything. So I abandoned the "class" and went home.

The next day, this last Friday, I had my doubts as to weather I was going to make it to class, for various reasons. I wasn't even sure if we were having the class on Friday or not, as an email had not yet been sent out to confirm same. An email did come around 1PM, just after an email from one of my classmates expressing a great deal of disappointment and frustration about the organization of the class. It was not a vicious email, and in my view many of the frustrations were understandable. (This is where to continuance of the class was called into question.)

But we all met at the agreed to private home, the teacher somehow managing to not get stuck in rush hour Friday traffic. (Miracle.) Five of the ten students in the class opted to not attend this session for various reasons. (Including some who had missed the previous night as well.)

A discussion ensured as to the future of the class. I kept a low profile for this chat. I didn't think i had anything different to offer than what had already been offered, and I was prepared to go with whatever the consensus turned out to be.

What happened was that in order to make up for Thursday, (and possibly add a bonus day in order to repay everyone for their patience) THREE sessions were scheduled for next week. One on Tuesday, one on Thursday and one (Tentatively) on Saturday. During this time our new scene assignments for our second scene will be given out.

Everybody following me so far? No? Don't feel bad, I am barely keeping up with it myself.

It all comes down to several examples of poor communication and organization on the part of multiple parties, I dare say. I don't really have much more to say about those aspects than that.

So, what about the actual acting involved in this whirligig? It follows below...


As far as the acting aspects of the class, I continue to struggle with some aspects of the curriculum. For those not presenting a scene, the sessions consist mostly of watching the small fragments of scenes that the performing group gets through, before the instructor stops them and engages in what he calls "interviews". I mentioned these in previous entries. This is where the instructor addresses the actor, in character, and asks them numerous stream of consciousness questions. One question ;leading to another, with no option for the actor to take a step away and look at the material or the performance objectively.

Indeed, at one point, when an actress referred to something in her script she had not followed, the instructor replied with things like "what is this script you are speaking of? I see you talking to the couch as though there were people sitting on it...(which I happened to be at that moment.) Sometimes these question sessions to one individual character can go on for 30 minutes at a clip. All I can do is watch it happen. I cannot engage in the process.

Then the scene will continue, only to be stopped a few moments later with either some more interviewing, or some instruction as to specific moments. (The "Good or Bad" exercise, which I also mentioned before. Here.)

All told it was several hours of this. (We took a small break at the halfway mark during which the instructor talked to each of us about the progress in our own scenes.) I cannot stress enough that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of this. But I must stress with equal zeal that 85% of the time I get little out of proceeding in this fashion. In fact, to some cast mates I have come to be known as someone who is "learning nothing" from the class. I do not think that is entirely true, as I have picked up on some overall broad concepts that I like. But it is the execution of those concepts, and the straitjacket that is put upon me by the format of the class which bothers me. It prevents me from exploring any of those previously mentioned agreeable concepts. I don't feel I have enough freedom to explore what I am doing. I feel distracted by technique at the expense of developing character, and that is worrisome to me.

I don't think it would be of much use to talk more in depth about the specific things that were said during these sessions. It was, after all, in most ways not my session. It was the session of my fellow students who were doing there scene. And while there were theatrical concepts that were discussed during the time that would provide interesting and relevant material here, I think I will hold off until after I have presented my own scene. All of those concepts and questions and methods will be present for when I run the gauntlet myself. I will get into more of that when the time comes.

I can say that after watching a few of these sessions with my fellow students, I have a better idea of what to expect from my own. I am comforted by that. I am at least learning the nature of it.

As to my actual presentation, I have chosen not to go with the first monologue of the play, but with one of the later ones, wherein Father Flynn is delivering a sermon on gossip. I think it is more charged, and I can do more with it. I don't know how useful it will be to invest in one particular interpretation right now, as I know I will not in all likelihood be able to present the sermons in one single presentation. But I am going to try to etch out some general directions for Tuesday. (When in theory I am supposed to be able to deliver this.)

The final thing that happened during class in Friday was the assignment of our second scene. (Which seems very odd to me, as I never really actually ever worked on a first scene, given the split with my ex-scene partner, and the short time I have for this monologue.) But the good news is he allowed us to choose partners this time, and I chose to work with a theatre friend of mine that I have known for several years and am very comfortable with. I would have been alright with a new person, but given the choice I certainly prefer to work with people I know. So, it would appear, does my friend. So that is a go. We do not have the scene yet, but it looks like it will be from Chekov's Three Sisters.

So at long last that is the overdue and long update on the acting class. What an experience it has been so far.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

State of Class

I have not forgotten to write, blog readers. The class has been on hiatus for over a week. We will get back to it on Thursday. And when we do so, there will be a significant difference.

I will not be doing a scene with my now ex-scene partner.

I don't wish to dwell on personal issues here. It is not professional. Yet given that the turn of events is relevant to a subject of this blog, I mention at least the broad strokes here.

You may recall that I had expressed some concerns over the fact that I had not yet heard anything from my ex-partner in regards to rehearsing. Those concerns mounted, and when they were brought to said ex-partner's attention, much rudeness and name calling occurred. From that moment it became clear that myself and this individual could not possibly work together in any civilized manner. So, upon informing the leader of the class of this fact, I was told I could, instead of doing a scene, perform one of the monologues from the play that the Flynn character gives. (The play being, for those who you just tuning in, Doubt.). I accepted this fair offer, and though I have little time, I will be reviewing one of the monologues over the coming two days until class, making use of the exercises, as best I can, adapted to a single person.

I don't quit often, loyal blog readers. I am not especially proud of having to do so now. And indeed, I am very relieved I shall not have to leave the entire class. But so offensive was the way I was treated, and in such a one sided personal manner, that I would have had no choice but to do so had I been forced to continue working with the person in question. Thankfully, I have been given the chance to avoid that contingency. I still regret having to quit the scene itself, but given that I have the option to continue with the class, and that I have now given an explanation as to how/why my assignment has changed, I will dwell no more on this unpleasant personal incident.

So now, I must choose which of several sermons, (they are literally sermons, as Flynn is a priest) to use for my first assignment. One takes place before the unfolding action of the play. In fact, it opens the play. I think I find this moment most intriguing, and I will probably go with that piece. It will be a more pure examination of the character, because the status quo is still in tact.

So, more on that decision, and my process as the days/weeks go on. In a way I welcome this sudden change. Adapting the group exercises to a solo presentation will present a unique challenge.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Always Off Book Turns 4!

That's right loyal blog readers. Four years ago this very evening I started this, my much beloved theatre/acting blog. It all started with this entry.

For those who have been reading since the beginning, I thank you for staying with me. It has changed a bit here and there over the years, but remains important to me, and hopefully entertaining and informative to all of you. Much thanks.

As of now, there have been 403 posts. A few hundreds comments here and there. And by far the most popular entry, in terms of comments received is one of my first ever from four years ago...A Kiss is Still a Kiss. People still leave comments on that one. How proud I am of that. Only a handful of audio posts, which I really enjoyed, but which Blogger discontinued. I have been looking for a workable substitute ever since.

Since the blog started I have been in ten productions. (Counting staged dramatic readings.) I was in Miracle on 34th Street when I launched it, and was only this summer in Romeo and Juliet. Depending on how you choose to define ensemble work, I have portrayed 15 different characters of various sizes in that time. Performed for four different companies under six different directors in six different venues during that time. I auditioned for four shows that I did not get into. (In one incident, I was initially denied a part, but offered one as a replacement for someone who had quit. I did not take it.) I went to one audition, but had to pull out before hearing anything due to a sudden scheduling change. I quit one show after a single rehearsal that I should not have agreed to be in in the first place. (I accepted the role out of peer pressure. Rare for me.) Quick estimates based on venue and averages tells me that I have performed for about 3,000 audience members in that span of time. I won't even begin to guess how many lines. The biggest role was probably Geoff from the Lion in Winter, though as I said I have not counted lines.

I wore the exact same pair of black Oxfords in EVERY single one of those productions.

Probably some other fun facts in there somewhere that I left out. If you are curious about some other trivia pertaining to my acting since the start of this blog go ahead and ask me. I will try to figure it out.

I am also looking into a few style changes here at the blog. Different colors, and a few other things. But that will take me a while, so don't hold you breath just yet. But I am hoping to make it more efficient, and possibly more eye-catching.

So much has changed in my life over that time, and so much has changed in theatre, both locally, and within my heart. But some things never change, my friends, and I want to end this anniversary post with a theatre quotation that I first encountered 6 years ago, and one that I have posted here on the blog before, in the first few weeks of its existence. Like no other quotation that I have yet come across, this one expresses my unchanged deeper sentiments about acting for the stage. Read it below. And thanks for all the readership! Here's to more years of Always Off Book.

And now the timeless quotation I mentioned.

"There is no one kind of theatre, and no one solution to all its problems. That platitude needs to be repeated. The theatre exists by compromise and feeds on contradiction. It exists to explain life and to deny it, to decorate it and to strip it bare. Man goes to the play to understand himself, God, or his neighbors, but he also goes to pass the time. He goes for uplift and amusement, a bit of fun and a moment of catharsis. The theatre is a weapon, a magic, a science; a sedative, an aphrodisiac, a communion service; a holiday and an assize, a dress rehearsal of the here and now and a dream in action. It taxes all senses, holds all worlds in one. It is the most conservative and the most ephemeral, the most opaque and the most transparent, the strongest and the weakest of arts. It is everything and nothing, all or none of these things. The theatre is what you make it..." --Richard Findlater