Friday, February 26, 2010
OK, so this really has nothing to do with Actors Theatre, or Cancer, or how much Matthew can make me laugh during rehearsal, but it DOES have to do with my source of transportation. The Phoenix Light Rail System, bringing together the sane and seemingly insane one ride at a time! I thoroughly enjoy taking the light rail everyday to rehearsal because of the fantastic people (characters?) and the awkward situations they put me in. I often wonder if they think our conversations are normal, or if they KNOW they are awkward and thats why they start them -- to humor themselves. Being that it's about the third week of rehearsal, I have been able to meet a lot of riders, but I've got to say my favorite person so far is this man I got to meet on February 12th. It was on that infamous night ride home I got to meet a man that referred to himself as "Party Marty". I met Party Marty because as soon as he came into the light rail. He stood in front of my bike (which I had been standing behind) and parked his bike in front of him, literally creating a bike-gate in front of me. Being that it was the beginning of my ride, I didn't really care, I was sure that he would get off the light rail before me. As soon as he settles himself, he turns and the first words out of him mouth are, "I'm bipolar and I'm wasted, no one can f@%k with me." My comfortable ride home instantly turned into the most interesting conversation with a stranger that I have ever had. There were a lot of people on the light rail that night so I was never nervous, I actually felt quite safe, so I decided to keep the conversation with Party Marty going (I mean, how many times will this happen to me?? Take advantage!) Party Marty asked me what I had been doing that night, and I told him that I had just ended a long night of rehearsal and was making my way home. P.M. continued this conversation by telling me that he did a play once in grade school where he played Huckleberry Finn because "somebody had to!" He continued with the fact that he hated that play because it took all of his time which meant no basketball. That somehow led into the fact that he has an IQ of 180 and is a professional horse trainer, karate black-belt, certified carpenter & plumber, he built his own house, is a champion golf player, and that he can (again) kick anyone's ass, but people don't "f%$k" with him because they know better.
Jessica: "Wow, well it looks like you've really done it all!"
Party Marty: "I didn't do it all, Jesus Christ did it all"
Jessica: "You know what, you're right, you really can't beat that guy"
Party Marty: "No, you can't just think about what he did for us . . . "
(This is the part when Party Marty was with himself, thinking about Jesus I suppose, and then he started to cry)
He then noticed what was happening, so he offered to spark up the joint he had in his pocket and share it with me. A couple of teenagers on the other side of the train heard this and started cheering. I said, "no thanks, but it looks like you might have a fan club that might be interested." Party Marty shrugged and responded with "well, someone's gotta do it".
Shortly after Party Marty looks at me and says, "you know what? God Bless the light rail, if it wasn't for this light rail, you and I would have never had this conversation. Jessica, I am going to go to work now, and I hope you have a wonderful night." And just like that, Party Marty was gone.
The best part is, he is completely right.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
OK I have been acting for a while now but I have never blogged about the process so here are some thoughts after two weeks of rehearsal on Secret Order...
Working on this play is rewardingly difficult...came home from rehearsals on Saturday and Sunday had dinner with my family and then went to bed exhausted.
I have been reading and thinking about this play for the past six months. As part of my homework I deliberately learned some of the script sequences while only becoming familiar with the rest of the text. I then improvised the human, emotional aspects of the character (Bob Brock) in my daily life (I am lucky to have a wife that has so good-naturedly put up with my acting behavior for 29 years now) so that I can meld into the playwright’s character. I don’t do a lot of character research as ultimately every character I play is some aspect of me, with a beard, with an accent, with glasses, sometimes physically fit but more often just a chubby 50-ish man.
I tend to be very technically oriented as an actor, working from the top down; how should the line be phrased, where do I stand, where’s my light, where are the laughs etc… an actor that views the rehearsal process as a tunnel with a light on at each end and a great stretch of darkness in the middle. I generally prefer to eschew the rehearsal chit-chat of meaning or intention or whatever in favor of doing it again, and again, and again until it comes together in the room and then ultimately in front of an audience. At this point in the process I am trying to move the performance from my head and into my body and in several scenes, mostly in Act One, I am feeling the electric, visceral connection of text and performance with Cale, David and Jess.
I am struck though by the level of focus and energy required to lift this text toward performance—our Chihuahua Chester gets very concerned when I try to work on the role at home. I look forward to week three.
Monday, February 22, 2010
“In nothing do men more nearly approach the gods than in giving health to men” Cicero
We are approaching the end of the second week of rehearsals for Secret Order – until now I’ve been so focused on rehearsal preparation and learning my words that I haven’t been able to find the time to sit down and blog about the show. Tonight I find myself with a little breathing room and will put a few thoughts on paper. My head is full of so many thoughts about the play, the character, this particular company of actors…but I’ve decided to write tonight about how I look for pieces of the play and the character within my own experience, as a step towards fully identifying with the character I’ll be performing.
Once I had been cast in Secret Order and first read the script, my imagination was primarily excited by the idea of the possibility of a cure for cancer. The quest for a cure starts off the play and permeates it. I started thinking about what it would be like to be involved in that quest at such a high level, to devote one’s life to it—to experience the incredible excitement of each incremental step in the the right direction and the devastating disappointment each time a promising line of scientific inquiry dissolved in failure. The character I’m playing, Dr. Saul Roth, Chairman of Toxicology at Hill-Matheson, has been deeply involved in cancer research for over 33 years. At 67 I (Saul) have certainly had more than my share of disappointments, but I am still eager to do daily battle with the disease. It’s the passionate hope that a cure is possible that keeps me from being able to retire and leave the battle to younger colleagues. It may be a little confusing to anyone reading my blog, but I (David) often refer to the character I’m playing in the first person, as part of my acting process—until the “I” of me and the “I” of him create a blend that has the ring of truth. I (David) think I (Saul) have the Cicero quote above nicely framed and prominently displayed on my office wall.
In looking for ways to relate to all the emotional ramifications of what a cure for cancer might mean to the characters in the play, I’ve been thinking back to my youth, when both polio and smallpox were still deadly diseases that killed, crippled or disfigured thousands and thousands of people every year. If you are near my age, you may remember, as I do, the terrifying effects of a local polio outbreak. It seemed like there was an epidemic every summer when I was a boy in the 1950s—since the disease attacked children and was spread by them, small towns in the U.S. and Europe would sometimes have signs at the city limits refusing entry to anyone under the age of 16. Public swimming pools were considered particularly dangerous, and were closed immediately if a polio case was reported. All of us had some friend, relative or acquaintance who had either died or become crippled by polio. And smallpox, although mostly under control in the US by the 1950s, was still a major killer in many parts of the world; since my family lived abroad much of the time, we were often in areas where smallpox was still a real threat and I certainly remember seeing lots of terribly scarred and disfigured faces. I vividly remember the relief and joy we all felt when Jonas Salk’s amazing vaccine became available in 1955; equally amazing was the incredible announcement in 1980 that smallpox had finally been globally eradicated. I (Saul and David) have very powerful emotional connections to the horrors of polio and smallpox. It’s why I became a doctor in the first place. Remembering the excitement and exultation I felt when those two Goliaths were slain, just try to imagine the reaction of the world when the cure for cancer is found!
I’ve written about this at some length to share a little bit of how I start to build a bridge to the character and his world. I enjoy playing roles that require research; but wherever I can find personal connections that allow me to identify with the character I seize on them, because they are so rich—they are short-cuts which deepen my understanding and help me inhabit the character with conviction and passion.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Jessica, a graduate student at ASU, plays the role of Alice Curiton in Actors Theatre's upcoming production of Secret Order
Prior to Actors Theatre, I have felt that my acting assignments at ASU have been based on my personality. I was cast into certain roles because my own personality had fit the character's personality. And not to saw that I don't enjoy that, those assignments are ALWAYS a ton of fun . . well, acting is always fun so . . . but anyways. After I had found out that I got cast in Secret Order and read the script for the first time I was . . I dunno, shocked . . excited even. I had been cast into a role whose personality and demeanor was nothing like my own:
Jessica - Seattle
Alice - Boston
Jessica - West Coast
Alice - East Coast
Jessica - Rock Climb
Alice - R-cells
Jessica - Cat-lady
Alice - "1000 poodles"
Jessica - Actress
Alice - Scientist
. . . but it was at that last comparison I started thinking differently. I remembered last summer when I got to spend some time in Barryville, NY studying with Kari Margolis. Kari's "Margolis Method" bases actor training off of the laws of physics. More and more, the worlds of art and science are coming closer together. The science of acting, the artistic quality of science. And it is here when I start to see how similar Alice and I really are. For goodness sake, Alice is working as a lab assistant for an internship. Secret Order is my internship for ASU!! Every time I walk into the rehearsal hall, my blood just starts pumping because I get so excited to start working. Alice is the same exact way. Although I may not understand the excitement between r-cells and graduated cylinders, I can understand the enthusiasm a person gets when they get to do the thing they love most in life. Passion makes the world taste better, not Dr. Pepper.
But . . . Dr. Pepper is pretty damn good.
Friday, February 5, 2010
After weeks in the rehearsal hall of yelling over recordings of thunder, lightning, wind, factories and tribal drums, not to mention extensive musical underscoring, Matthew is excited about getting into the theatre and pumping up the volume while I’ve damaged my vocal cords before we’ve even gotten there. The earnose&throat doctor suggests a microphone and a prescription that my insurance company refuses to pay for.
At first we are reluctant to go with a mic because it makes me feel less in control of the performance and there are technical hurdles. For one thing there isn’t anyone to sit in the house and mix the sound live so levels will need to be preset and consistent. Also I do an awful lot of rolling around leaving no place to put the mic-pack on my person.
Finally, the kinks are worked out and we try it for the final rehearsals. Mathew gets excited with the possibilities the microphone affords especially in being able to boost the sound cues again and really rock the house. Which brings us to Opening Night…
About 10 minutes into the show, the microphone (probably dripping with my sweat) starts randomly popping and (stage manager) April Smith makes the call to turn it off. I am not consciously aware of the situation but sense that I have to talk louder and so end up shouting over the newly beefed up louder sound cues. The audience is forgiving and the show is a hit. The next day (Sunday matinee) the mic gets fitted with something to keep it dry and the show goes on as planned.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
I will now answer the most frequently asked question at every audience talkback, organized by any theatre for any production since the beginning of time. If you attend a performance of Shipwrecked! and stay afterward for a talkback and ask this question, I will know that you did not read this blog.
The answer is … Repetition. Why do you know all the words to “White Christmas”? Not from recent personal experience certainly but because you’ve heard it a thousand times. So, I needed to schedule a thousand run-throughs of Shipwrecked! (the words) for myself, even though the audience will only be present for numbers 985 on. This however requires a level of discipline akin to a vow of silence (if only!) and a lot of time.
I set a goal of learning 15 pages a month starting in Sept. in order to be totally memorized by New Years. On 9/28 I realized I had memorized a total of … three pages.
Time for Plan B: the carrot and the stick. I will not be allowed alcoholic beverages until I successfully negotiate the entire play, knowing what happens next and saying the lines perfectly. Don’t hold your breath, people. While I enjoy the benefits of sobriety, I have yet to get through the entire 90 plus minutes without help, but we’re getting closer. Sometimes I think I'm not going to have a drink until after the closing performance. The upside for the audience is that the show will be different every time – a real live event. And I’ve learned that to accomplish one seemingly insurmountable task, take on another. Hey, maybe I should become a motivational guru, write a book, help Oprah lose ten pounds and retire rich and famous.
By the way the closing performance is a matinee on Superbowl Sunday. So if you have feedback you want to give me after THAT performance you’ll find me at the nearest bar to the backdoor of the Herberger. Hmm. I think that would be Hooters.