Saturday, September 27, 2014

a higher standard of discovery


I have been thinking a lot about the value of this blog. I am interested in the discoveries made throughout the process of creating. I am interested in what someone learns about the craft of an art while they are making art. Creating theater seems to be the best way to learn about theater. I view this blog as a way to document what is being learned.

The Ashland University cast of 'In the Event of my Death' have a Facebook page that is there for them to share thoughts on their roles and the play and anything that is relevant to the process. It does not have to be right. It is not the product that they are selling to an audience. It is the process which includes inspiration, mistakes, and discoveries. The discoveries rarely happen without inspiration and mistakes. Learning rarely happens without trying something new.

I am grateful they are sharing their discoveries with us. Here are a few.

 De'Andre who is playing Trevor,
"Trevor and I have really become good friends. I have been nothing but open to this characters emotional life and putting aide preconceived thoughts of how I think he feels. My thought has changed from “the character coming to me, but me going to the character” and letting the script Lindsay has constructed share who Trevor really is. Which to his core, is the spouse who lost his lover and NO ONE knows about their love and Trevor CAN’T tell anyone because it was Freddy’s wish to wait until he was ready...*SPOILER ALERT* Freddy is dead! Because Trevor threatens post pictures of the two of them on Facebook… are you catching the “Oh Snap, Shit just got real” moment, yeah. So what we have here is man ready to burst with so much hurt, remorse, and guilt that just about anything will break him down literally to the ground. So as an openly out man myself and actor this role has posed such a challenge for me (one I’m excited to have in this educational setting) because it’s so close to home for me and dealing with places I as just De’Andre do not won’t to go, but have to because well Trevor needs to get his message out!"

I love the understanding that he is not playing himself in this situation. That he is drawing from himself. That through the process of respect for the details in the character Lindsay has created and the need for the authentic story that they are telling he has a committed sense of being faithful and discoveries that are specifically about Trevor.

Natalyn, who plays Amber, shares a moment of connection that grew out of the process.
"We were sitting around the table doing lines and trying to reach the emotional connection for the beginning with Amber and Peter. Scott told me to get angry, not act it, but to truly get angry. I went into another room, and well I got pretty dang angry. After feeling that emotional life connected to the text, whoooo what a feeling. All kinds of raw emotions came out. Tears, snot, all that gross stuff. And it was AMAZING! I've had emotional connections with my character before, but never like that."

Scott's post identified their growth and commitment to the process.
"The actors are working impulsively in accordance to what is being set up inside of them. Their consentration on really achieving their intentions through precission based actions are acutely surfacing. We have an ensemble now. We speak a laguage of acting that is effective and efficiatant and it is a joy. It has come at the cost of intense concentration and a discipline to remain open to the process and above all to one another. Tonight was a dance between directing and acting and we move with a playful dramatic ease to Lindsay's words."

The Facebook page of the Ashland cast is marked private. It is for their ensemble, Lindsay, and I am grateful to be invited to join. I asked the students and Scott if I could share some of their postings from the Facebook page. They said, 'yes, that's why it's there.' Not specifically for me to share on this blog but for us to share with other artists about the process. To be clear that answer was not shared with any sense of vanity. It was about the idea of being in discussion with other artists about the process of creating. I was wondering then why is it 'private'. 

Scott and I talked further about the idea of process. It has to be at a safe place. Not safe from 'judgement'. We all judge in one way or another. We are making judgements on what is more useful in the story process. It is vital to be safe from the expectation of product. The product is where we invite the audience in and share with them what we have created. Even then it is part of the process of us learning about what has been created. However, most of the time they are coming in to see what we have created through the process. Not necessarily to be a part of it.

I will write at another time about the desire for the conversation about the creation of the play and the subject of the play to expand beyond this blog, the casts of the three universities, and their audiences - but for now I am interested in the process and our relationship with you - the reader of this blog. You are part of the process. Part of the dialogue. You are listening. Baring witness to the mistakes, inspiration, and discoveries along the way. I read this quote from Sarah Ruhl in an interview with Polly Carl on HowlRound
 "It’s like that physics principle, the observer effect, where the observer changes the object. I’ve seen it with really brilliant directors just by the act of their listening and watching, the actors are brought to a higher standard without them saying a word, and the notion of the brilliant dramaturg is the brilliant listener is the brilliant question-asker, it’s very hard to teach that and in a way that’s why we don’t see it as much."

Your listening holds us to a higher standard with our work.

Thank you.

Talk with you soon.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"Don't play the problem"


Ashland is on their feet in the rehearsal room. I am grateful for the conversation with Scott Hudson after rehearsals to hear about the process. Scott has a commitment to specifics of the given circumstances that help the actors behave truthfully. Hearing them confront the circumstance of the play is a true honor.

An important part of the college collaboration project is the development of the playwright and the play. Equally important is the opportunity for students to discover the craft of acting while working on roles that are relevant to their life experience. As I hear about the students tapping into the emotional specifics of the events leading up to the play and finding connection to it I am so grateful for this project and the play. Acting is hard. Not a question. Finding the nuanced details of a character and connecting them to your personal experience is incredibly challenging. When I hear about the process of the actor playing Becky connecting to her character's fears through her real life experience I realize how this connection has to be easier to tap into than the circumstance of the aristocracy in the Cherry Orchard. The Cherry Orchard is a great play - but to connect to the nuance of a character's experience in a play has to be easier to start with someone closer to your life experience.

The play is giving the student artists that opportunity. They also have tremendous ownership of these characters. The actors are protective of their characters and from what I hear and read they have a commitment to honor them. When I say hear - I have had the honor of receiving a text or two to see if I can take a call during rehearsal to talk about a certain beat. The conversation sometimes is questioning the text or the given circumstance, but mostly it is seeking out another perspective on the need of the character. Most recently the discussion was about why Trevor, an 'out' gay man - would be in a relationship with a 'closeted' gay man. Why would he put up with that? What was wonderful was to recognize that in the text there were clues to tell us that that relationship was going toward the direction of becoming more public. That actually causes the character of Trevor more pain ultimately. It brought us to the conversation of the pain of not being able to mourn publicly with his friends and family. The given circumstance of the play are very thorough and tight. But the fun thing that was discovered conversation is that it is up to Trevor to discover what he loved about Freddie to have him maintain a secret relationship with the love of his life. The conversation pointed out that love is truly personal and incredibly powerful - and it is  the personal that connects the actor to the character.

Each of the actors are finding depth in all of their circumstance. Which tells me that Lindsay has fully loaded each of the characters with a need and an accurate detailed past that got them to the moment of the play. One is for the character of Pete to recognize that there is a depth in the reconnection with his high school girlfriend the night before the funeral. He cheated on his current girlfriend. Why? What does that mean? It could be minimized into just sex - but he discovered something much deeper about the need of the character. That act met a deep need of his - which isn't being met in his day to day life. This realization was excited because the actor and director didn't come to the conclusion that he is unhappy with his life, they looked at what need specifically wasn't being met. The detail of that fueled the behavior for the next beats of the play.

As I mentioned the actor playing Becky is connecting to the need of the character. Dramatically, early on, her role is very funny because the other characters don't like her. They make fun of her. She is trying to redeem herself from her poor behavior during high school. Listening to Scott talk about the rehearsal process reminded me of something very simple, but vital. Scott was reminding the actor to not play the problem and to focus on the action. They don't like you. They playwright has done that for you. You don't have to play that - the character is trying to fix that, not embrace it. It was a reminder to stay focused on action. In our conversation alone it made the opening seem much more alive and vibrant.

It reminded me that theater often has is a good model for life. Don't play the problem. Focus on the action.

Talk with you soon.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Process Through Social Media


Ashland is in rehearsal and digging deep. They are drawing out details of the story and each of their character's experience specifically leading up to the event of the play. Each night after rehearsal I get a text or an enthusiastic call to talk about the discovery or question of the day. Mostly, it is about the ownership the students are claiming on their roles.

I appreciate hearing about the discoveries of the needs of the characters and what interests them. It is also a pleasure to hear their questions. I like hearing that the actor playing Connor, for example, is mining the clues in the text for the need of why he is at the gathering. Not settling for the simple - to mourn, or be with friends, or get laid. All of which he is doing. But the actor is looking for the strongest need. Hearing from Scott that there is a recognition from that at this point of the development it is not brought out as clearly as some characters - and because of who this character is, and how he behaves in the world, it may or may not be brought out more. However, the need is there. And the clues are there...and they are working at and enjoying bringing these characters to the world. I am hearing that about each of the actors about their character.

Tonight there was a photo shoot for the poster of the play. The school photographer had the set up in the studio theater. Scott played some Justin Timberlake  - and he said he saw the actors commit to their characters. He spoke of two things that were really exciting. One is that each of them had a unique appreciation for their character and that they were behaving like an ensemble. I look forward to sharing with you the photos from the shoot.

Trevor photo shoot option
The ensemble is using social media to develop and research their characters, as well as bond as an ensemble. They formed a private Facebook page for the production. At least one of them is tweeting in character: BexFarrell08 if you want to follow. They have created a spottily play list where they are each contributing songs that feel like the play. They are posting videos. They are posting job searches for possible jobs the characters might have. They posted clothing options for advice regarding what to wear for the photo shoot as well choices they are making regarding the hair they think is most appropriate for the character.

I'm posting these photos with permission from Scott. In these photos there are examples of what the character might wear, as well as how the hair is different from their own. I love their enthusiasm and commitment to the pursuit of these characters.

Becky's Hair
The external pursuit is something tangible to grasp. To bring themselves into the world. The external is the most immediate way to connect with a character. A little dye, the right shirt or tie - all of it starts to separate the actor from the character. It also connects them to it. To get to experience the world differently. Or they get see what it is like for the world to experience them differently. That is really valuable when wanting to understand and empathize with the character. My impulse is to say it separates the actor from the character - however, I want to acknowledge it also connects them because it gives the actor permission to do something they may have wanted to do for a while. Dye one's hair, or wear a certain style. Those choices that are in line with how they perceive the character is a step toward connecting personally to the work.

I can share photos of the external work. And I look forward to seeing all of that. However, I also know that they are each delving into and connecting with the inner need of their character. Scott shared with me the multi-level conversation that the two actors had when discussing the discovery of when one friend discovers the other is sleeping with the Prom Queen. The multiple options - but also the detail of work: were there clues on Facebook prior to learning this? Why does this person's name come up? What does this discovery mean to how the entire night is going to go? The examination was from all aspects of the moment. Hearing about the exploration that is happening for each of them is fantastic because it is clear that they are taking nothing for granted. There is a true respect and appreciation for bringing these characters to life.

On the Facebook page they are sharing their thoughts on hair, jobs, apartments, and all things about their characters. They are also planning social gatherings as a cast, and it is where the stage manager shared that her mom would pick up a specific prop on her way up to visit. They are quite an ensemble. It is exciting to watch them begin this journey together.

Talk with you soon.