Friday, December 9, 2011

HUNTER GATHERERS - Blogs 1 and 2 - Angelica Howland (Pam)

BLOG 1 Embrace the confusion.

I must remind myself of this several times during the first few days of rehearsal. No matter how prepared I feel, no matter how well read I am on everything about the play... there is still that overwhelming sense of 'EEK!' once the voices of the other actors and the director are added to the equation and we get around the table to start pulling the story apart. But, truth be told, this is my favorite part -- the process of figuring out the whats. What makes these characters tick? What do they want from each other? What makes them do what they do? And, in my mind, it is the initial confusion of what the answers to these questions might be that adds the most interesting human layers to a story. So, for the next few days, I will embrace the confusion. And I will have a fantastic time doing it. Because I seriously dig playing with the big kids.

There is also the confusing juggle of family life, motherhood, cookies and rehearsal -- but I'll get into that more a little later...

BLOG 2 Grown up life can get very overwhelming. Right now, I have a lot going on. I am playing wife, mommy, actress, baker, dog wrangler, volunteer and Santa. And -- I'm beat! But here are a few things that made it all worth it:

1) Having a busy, bad day and then walking up to a dear friend, who gives a hug that somehow, makes it all better. 2) Getting up on your feet in rehearsal for the first time, looking into the eyes of your fellow actor and knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that the two of you are going to play like gangbusters together. 3) Being released from rehearsal early, going home and being greeted by your sweet family's complete joy at seeing you, which is so palpable, you could wrap it around you like a quilt fresh out of the dryer.


4) Snuggling with a little boy, who, as he is falling asleep, says, 'Mommy, you made my night. I dig you.'

Yup. Totally worth it.

photo: John Groseclose

Friday, November 11, 2011

NEXT FALL blog 7: David Dickinson (Brandon)

As an actor, you always put your heart into creating a performance, but rarely do you get the satisfaction of knowing how an audience perceived the show other than applause and laughter at the appropriate, you hope, moments. You hope no one walks out, but that is feedback too!

After two weeks of performing NEXT FALL, I have received a lot of feedback about the show from our audiences..

NEXT FALL makes no effort to preach or espouse a single viewpoint, but it is rather a social laboratory. The play places people with various viewpoints in real life situations and allows us to listen to the outcome. No one is completely right, but no one is dismissed (at least in the end). As with most plays audience members will identify with the character that expresses the viewpoint with which they are the most comfortable. But because the play is so neutral and non-judgmental, audience members find themselves open to the discussion on stage which takes all of us on a much deeper journey.

What drove this home to me came in an e-mail from someone who connected strongly with the voice of my character Brandon because of his Christian views especially on homosexuality. This is a testament to the play: Brandon's discomfort with homosexuality is a real discomfort shared by some in our community. I'm excited these friends are coming to the theatre. I'm thrilled they are joining the discussion and enjoying the journey as much anyone else.

NEXT FALL makes a case that all of the differences that separate us, our opinions, our religions, our beliefs, our prejudices are all "dinky" when you face the reality that we are only here on Earth for a very short time. It focuses all of us on what is important in life: not winning, not being "right", but loving, respecting and appreciating. Everyone responds to this.

I didn't expect this. While I was personally moved by the play when I first read it, I didn't see its universality. Every time I work at Actors Theatre, it takes me on a ride I'm glad I didn't miss. NEXT FALL is no exception. Thanks to all of you who have shared your thoughts and feelings about the play with me. It makes doing the show that much more joyful.

photo: John Groseclose; (l to r) David Dickinson as Brandon and Andi Watson as Holly

NEXT FALL blog 6: Debra K Stevens (Arlene)

I am a woman who will never wear Press On Nails in real life. I have had quite the journey with Arlene and her nails! How I wish she had had the time to get a real manicure before she had to catch that plane to New York. Here is what I have learned:

Don’t drink too much water during the show as the Press On Nails severely inhibit your ability to remove and restore your panty hose. Forget about it.

Make sure a fellow actor is standing nearby in case you want to eat an Altoid before your scene. It could take a full minute to trap the little sucker.

Forget about redoing your hair or making any adjustments to it after you apply the nails. You will end up with at least 2 dozen of your best strands stuck in the adhesive. It also hurts like a sonofabitch when they get pulled out.

I have new respect for women who keep their nails at a similar length and are still able to use a computer. How do they do that?

If your contact lens is irritating you—suck it up. You will never be able to remove, rinse, and reapply without assistance.

Don’t even try to use your Blackberry. Seriously.

photo: John Groseclose, (l to r) Debra K. Stevens as Arlene and Robert Kolby Harper as Adam

NEXT FALL blog 5: David Vining (Butch)

I can’t believe we are already in the last week of performances for NEXT FALL. If you are reading this, and haven’t yet seen this production, I hope you will be able to attend. It is a great honor to perform in a production that has managed to get everything just right—from the witty and powerful script, Matthew Weiner’s passionate direction, the perfect design elements, to an extraordinary ensemble of actors. Such experiences are rare for both audiences and “theatre makers”. I’ve been attending plays and performing in them for over 50 years—once in a great while an undeniable artistic miracle occurs, a very special combustion between audience and performers that leaves you astonished, thoroughly entertained and transformed. Those rare moments are the reason I chose to make the theatre my life’s work at the age of 8, after seeing a stunningly powerful performance of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK in guilt-stricken Germany in the 1950s. Those occasional miracles are what have kept me working in the theatre all my life. You can’t force or predict them, of course.

When we started rehearsals for NEXT FALL, I was certain it would be a great show and a terrific experience---all the ingredients were there, after all. But it wasn’t until the final dress rehearsals and the attention of the first audiences that I realized I was witnessing the birth of another artistic miracle. Actually, I’ve been kind of afraid to blog about until now, a little superstitious that talking about it might cause it to evaporate! But now the magic has become very dependable, it happens every night as the lights come up on Andi and David. NEXT FALL will close on Sunday and will live on only in the memories of those who were witnesses to it. But productions like this truly feed the souls of actors and theatre artists and keep the art of theatre alive for generations to come. I hope you’ll come and experience NEXT FALL with us.

photo: John Groseclose
(l to r) Debra K. Stevens, David Vining and Chance Dean

Thursday, November 10, 2011

NEXT FALL blog 4: Robert Kolby Harper (Adam)

I’M COMING OUT!!!! Well kinda…..

I’ve been out of the closet since Jesus was a boy. But blogging is another story all together. I’m actually pretty shy. I mean, people who know me are often bombarded inappropriately with life snippets from the trivial to the sublime. But I find it intimidating to put stuff out there for the masses but as Next Fall enters its final week, I am inspired to put my fears aside and say something.

First off, this process has been nothing but magical. The cast is full of old friends, many of which I hardly ever get to work with. Andi Watson is perfectly cast as Adam’s best girl friend, Holly. Andi and I go WAY back. She was in my first musical I ever directed The Will Rodgers Follies and Stagebrush theatre about a 100 years ago. We both are no nonsense actors who find very few topics off limits while chatting. Debra K Stevens and I were last seen together in Childsplay’s production of Time Again in Oz. She played a Chicken and I played a dancing rock. She has a fascination with my butt (Debra, not the chicken). She Iikes to touch it and I like to let her. It’s a beautiful give and take. The David’s (Vining and Dickinson) are equally amazing and set various parts of my body a buzzing. They give SOOO MUCH on stage! Vining and I may have done A Christmas Carol together but otherwise we’ve never shared a scene and Dickinson is the official recipient of my show crush. I keep pinching myself that I (this musical theatre post chorus boy actor) gets to play in their ball park of theatre. Last but never least is Chance Dean. He’s the newcomer from L.A. Let me tell you that I’m pretty shy around men. I am just deficient when it comes to flirting or even speaking with a man who I think is cute. It’s embarrassing and frankly pathetic. Chance is gorgeous (queue my awkwardness) so I was ready to be a blabbering idiot throughout rehearsals, but his demeanor and generous spirit has made feel comfortable right from the start. In fact, with this new found confidence, I think maybe I’m ready to practice some new pick up lines. Like “Hi, How you doin?” Hmmmm….maybe I need an entire football team of Chance’s to help me in that department. Adam (the character) is lucky to have found Luke. Robbie (The actor) is blessed to have Chance play opposite of him. He makes it easy for me to fall in love with him every single night. He makes every risk I take safe. Much respect goes to this man.

And then there is Matthew Weiner. Words will never express how thankful I am for this opportunity. This is perhaps the most challenging thing I’ve done and it’s definitely the most rewarding. It’s been a gift.

I’m serious when I say GET YOUR ASSES DOWN TO SEE THIS PLAY. If you are gay or lover of them, it’s a must. If you are human, it’s a must. If you’ve ever loved someone beyond boundaries or reason, it’s a must. You won’t be disappointed.

See you at the theatre!

photo: John Groseclose, (l to r) Chance Dean and Robert Kolby Harper

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

NEXT FALL blog 3: Debra K. Stevens (Arlene)

Celebrating My G.R.I.T.S. Roots

I am one of the G.R.I.T.S.— Girls Raised In The South. I have come to understand how much that status means to me, especially since I moved away from the South several years ago. There are certain characteristics, expectations, and experiences that are particular to Southerners. We say ya’ll, yes ma’m, and yes sir. We all LOVE the pig—fried, smoked, or barbequed preferably. We greet each other with smiles and courtesy whether we know each other or not. We have spontaneous, intimate conversations with total strangers (like the day I opened a door for a woman while entering the mall and she touched my arm and exclaimed “Your sweater is sooooo sweet!” We talked for a good 10 minutes about sweaters and the best places to shop for them.) There is a certain vibe about a Southern man or woman and we can detect it in each other a mile away. It is very comforting to find one so far from home.

I play a southern woman in “Next Fall.” She is not just any southern woman –she is an extreme southern woman. A southern woman on steroids. She is familiar, caretaking, eccentric, beyond verbal, and entertaining. She is also often offensive in her complete oblivion in regard to all things foreign---i.e. New York-ish. She has quite the sense of humor and is often self-deprecating, but I can’t help but worry that she could easily slip into a caricature. “Arlene” walks a fine line between being entertaining and downright offensive. I find myself cringing at some of the things that exit my mouth as I speak her lines. I have spent a good part of my life overcoming the attitudes and prejudices that permeated my upbringing—friends from school, acquaintances, even some family members. I sometimes feel I am betraying all the efforts I have made in my quest for tolerance in one swell foop! Don’t I have a responsibility to my people? Then I think of all the celebrated southern writers—William Faulkner, Harper Lee, Truman Capote (who earns an homage in the show), and The Poet of my People, Tennessee Williams. What would they think of Geoffry Nauffts’ depiction of this character? Then I remember their writings-- their take on southern culture.—the good, the bad, and the ugly. They illuminated what needed to change and they celebrated what was joyful. That word,”joy,” keeps coming up in rehearsal. Matthew is all about finding the “joy.” There is a lot to be joyful about in this play, with this cast, and this challenge. So, I continue on my journey with Arlene and strive to celebrate her with joy. So, let the Magnolias bloom, Child!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

NEXT FALL blog 2: Andi Watson (Holly)

“What are you doing right now?”

“I'm in rehearsals for Next Fall.”

“For what show and why are you rehearsing a year in advance?”

“No, the name of the show is Next Fall.”

“Oh. Hmph. Never heard of it.”

What I thought would be yet another amazing show that no one has heard of has already proven to be much more than I could possibly blog about in one sitting.

A lesson in serendipity.

I just returned from my first visit to New York. This was my first trip to the city and was somewhat spontaneous in nature, so I didn't have much of an agenda. I had picked up my script two days before leaving so that I would have something to occupy myself on the plane and perhaps in the audition 'holding rooms'.

And here's where the serendipity begins...

Holly (the character I'm playing) is a citified hippie. She's part New York business woman, part crystal-clutching, shakra-healing, master of the downward dog. Her faith is in energies and higher powers rather than specific dieties and she finds comfort and fellowship among her self-help groups and charity fundraisers. I'm not afraid to admit that Holly and I share more than a few common characteristics, not all of them healthy or 'normal' by the majority standards, but we serve a necessary, if eclectic, function in the world.

When in NYC, I stayed with a friend at 73rd and Columbus and read (with some amusement) Holly's story about walking down 74th and Columbus. Some coincidence.

I read further to Butch's reference of his driver from JFK; “Saheed was a yakker with a lead foot,” and guffawed out loud. My driver from Newark Airport was a chatty Pakistani (in the city 22 years) named Sayyed.

I could go on to include the many Jewish references in the show (most of which I had only just learned about from my friend Sandy – who bears the same last name as another character I reference)... or the shared favorite candle scents... or the pot-smoking friend named Rachel... but needless to say, I was emotionally bonded to the script (and Holly) after the first read.

But that isn't where the serendipity ends.

There is a kind of 'theatre magic' that happens on some projects that is unexplainable.

I had the opportunity to work with Matthew on Noises Off for Phoenix Theatre most recently, and further back had worked with David Vining as a dialect coach and Debra K. on a one-night reading of Lysistrata. I'd also worked at length with April Miller and David Dickinson at Southwest Shakes and Shakespeare Sedona. But the culmination of all this is Robert Harper, playing Adam, Holly's life-saver and BFF. 'Robbie' and I have worked numerous projects together. From community theatre, to corporate events, to private gigs to professional and regional theatres, he has alternately been my director, my choreographer, my teacher and my castmate. More than this, the man is my mentor and my friend.

And so it was, on the night of our first read-thru, that we sat across the table from each other as we read the final pages of our script.

“He looked at me.”

My eyes met Robbie's... and with one look, he cracked open my heart and gutted my soul.

I understood at once what this play is about. It's about faith. It's about relationships. It's about protecting the ones we love. It's about loyalty and acceptance.

It's about serendipity and believing in something bigger than yourself.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

NEXT FALL blog 1: David Dickinson (Brandon)

First Day of Rehearsals:

My over all feeling coming out of rehearsals from our first day was that I had laughed more in that rehearsal than any other first rehearsal I've ever been a part of. Our cast is really funny, and we got on a roll at times.

Matthew led a table discussion of the script that got completely side-tracked at one point. One of the blond members of the cast (there are only two of us… you decide) assumed that the script was correct in saying that all Jewish doctors had hook noses and wore beanies. Matthew, being Jewish, was a bit disturbed about this. He then asked if there were any other assumptions about Jews and New York we may have taken from the script. This began a tirade of comments that included Abraham parting the Red Sea, mezuzahs, the ten plagues and Mongolian goat herders. The tirade ended with this assumption about retirement. (see video below).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION blog 3: Maren Maclean (Theresa)

An actor without a voice is like a...

For the past five days I have had no voice due to illness. When I say no voice, I mean barely squeaking out tone. It is beyond frustrating. And it makes for an interesting rehearsal for all involved. But I wanted to share an exercise that was really quite wonderful which happened at rehearsal on Friday and Saturday this past week.

I was already beating myself up and feeling pretty embarrassed about not being healthy enough to work at 100%. So when the idea was presented to me, I was just grateful that I wasn’t being re-cast. Very simply, our incredible stage manager, April S. Miller, read my lines for me as I moved about my blocking with my fellow super star cast mates. My intension was not to move my lips at all, just in case I attempted to whisper, which we ALL know is worse than actually speaking when your voice is gone. April was familiar with much of my inflection already and what she was not familiar with, her own actor instincts kicked in well.

What a wonderful experience filled with discovery! Of course I couldn’t tell anybody how valuable it really was to me, and I simply couldn’t write on my pad of paper fast enough. With my lines and voice coming from somewhere else, I focused on things you don’t get to focus on this early in rehearsal. I looked directly into intense cast mate’s eyes, not having to struggle with remembering lines and experimenting with delivery. I could move freely concentrating on blocking and transitions, which in this piece, is a gift. I heard April say certain lines clearer and more understandably than I knew I had delivered previously, and I found things in my own body that needed attention, like my stance needing to cheat out and the thought “oh wait, I can’t do that cuz I’ll be on a raked stage”. It was just an eye opening exercise that I truly wish each of us could experience such a thing in all our rehearsals. I will remember it always, while secretly praying I never HAVE to do it again. Thanks Paul and April.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Sunday, April 3rd 2011

James suddenly enters, exuberant, with a water bottle. “I hooped. I hooped for over a minute.”

Art imitates life. James, the 60 year old character I’m currently playing in Circle Mirror Transformation, briefly rediscovers an intoxicating feeling of youth and vigor when he finally manages to keep a hula hoop aloft for more than a few seconds. I experienced the same sense of triumph last Friday, during a rehearsal break, when I decided to give the hula hoop one more try and discovered I could actually control the damn thing! You see, I’ve been fretting about my ability to keep the hoop going since I was first cast in this play, back in December. Every role brings new and specific challenges, of course. That’s one of the things that makes acting such great fun. But when I first read the script and discovered that James had to hoop—and hoop well enough to inspire other characters to applaud and exclaim: “Oh my god! That’s awesome!” and “That was amazing.”—well, I immediately recognized how fraught with the potential for public humiliation the “ hula hoop moment” truly was. I quickly began a Valley-wide search for a hula hoop so I could begin practicing; however, I soon discovered they weren’t nearly as available as they were the last time I had any interest in hooping (of course, that was during the hula hoop craze in the late 1950s, when I begged for one for my 10th birthday). My 6 year old granddaughter, Mina, generously offered hers for practice—with free instruction. Alas, the petite pink plastic circle was far too light for an old geezer like me. So, I made a half dozen fruitless hunting expeditions to local malls and shopping centers; finally. I found a large purple hoop that looked promising. I resolved to practice twice a day, in the morning and evening.

For legal reasons, I won’t reveal the name of the store where I discovered that wretched object (I will merely mention that the logo is ironically reminiscent of a big red hula hoop), but this purple piece of %$&@ became the singular focus of my frustration and wrath for months. No matter how steadily, vigorously or voluptuously I rotated my hips or pulsated my pelvis, it clattered to my feet in seconds. And let me make this clear, this was not an inexpensive item…okay, it didn’t break the bank, but ….it was advertised as a top-of-the-line and indispensible piece of feminine athletic equipment. What it was, actually, was an exercise in humiliation. I became obsessed, gyrating for hours at a time and getting absolutely nowhere. The whole exercise was made even less endurable by the fact that both of my dogs decided that the purple hoop was trying to cause me bodily harm and therefore began a cacophony of protective and enthusiastic barking as soon as I was encircled by the horrid thing.

In spite of my best efforts over the winter months, I began rehearsals last week feeling like a total Hula Hoop Failure. It was all the more galling because when I was ten (and yes, I did get the coveted hoop for my birthday), I had quickly become a Hooping Wunderkind. I used to hoop for hours every day-- I hooped on my knees, on my arms, up and down my torso, hooped around my neck (and developed a nasty case of eczema for my efforts), I hooped up and down our apartment stairs. And even though I was a very shy little boy, I managed to snatch the crown of victory from dozens of hopeful, hooping girls and win a neighborhood contest! However, although I may gained a lot more confidence since 1958, I have also completely lost the narrow waist that made hooping such a snap. I might also mention here that although one often hears the phrase, “Oh, it’s just like riding a bicycle.”, I can’t recall ever hearing anyone say, “Oh, it’s just like mastering the hula hoop!”

So, imagine with what trepidation I approached the prop hula hoop waiting for me in the corner of the rehearsal room on the first day of rehearsal. But I should have known that Actors Theatre’s wonderful stage manager, April Miller, would have scouted out the very best hoop available. After only a few false starts I was able to find the proper pelvic momentum and I kept the hoop going almost effortlessly! Thank you, April---I swear the hoop you found almost rotates itself! Does anyone know of any hooping contests coming up?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION blog 1: Rusty Ferracane (Schultz)

"Embrace the silence." "Resist the urge to pick up the pace." "The minute you feel yourself acting...stop!" These are not the words you expect to hear from your director, but that is exactly what we were told our first week in rehearsal. Annie Baker's "Circle Mirror Transformation" is written in a naturalistic manner that shows characters using everyday speech and affectations. In order to be true to the script, we have to be able to bring these characters to life in a genuine way. It sounds easy, but it's proven to be a bit complicated. Our first two rehearsals were spent doing detailed table work, analyzing every detail of our dialogue to the point where we were counting out how long each pause is (and there are LOTS of them!). Then our director, Paul Barnes had us put every scene up on its feet without telling us any blocking. This really helped us move around organically as though we were the characters experiencing this acting class for the first time. Of course it's still "theatre" so the challenge will be to create a theatrical piece that is interesting enough to hold an audience's attention, yet make it seem like their watching or even intruding on a very real interaction. Believe it or not, when we do it right, it's magical! We were rehearsing one scene the other day between two of the characters and it was so real, so intimate, and each awkward pause and painful silence was so honest and touching that I started feeling uncomfortable just watching them, as if I shouldn't be eavesdropping on them. I'm really eager to see how the audience will react to this "play of pause". As Annie Baker has said, many people are not comfortable with silence. I have a feeling though that audiences will be touched by the simplistic power of the play. So embrace your silence and come see us "not act" in "Circle Mirror Transformation"!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

THIS - blog 4 - Yolanda London (Marrell)

I have a THIS is share.
I cried on Saturday.
I cried on Sunday too. I was sitting on the couch with my husband, playing video games.
I cried on Monday, listening to the Moment of Silence on NPR.
Last night, I left rehearsal, I sat in my car and I cried some more.
I've been crying a lot these past few days.

Why so sad?

Well, because of all of THIS. I don't have to say it, you know what it is. Look around. Take inventory.
All of that stuff, all of that crap, all of that noise. That's it. We all see it, we all know it's there, but we don't want to talk about it. No one wants to take hold of it, clean it up, show it off.
No one wants to tell the truth about it.

The truth can be ugly sometimes. THIS, all that stuff, can get ugly. And we're not always comfortable with being ugly.
We're afraid to be associated with the UGLY.
We'd rather deny the UGLY, change the UGLY.
Keep the UGLY private.
It's a shame too, because sometimes ugly can be beautiful. Like with Nicolas Cage, or rusty metal, or...scars.
Or, with the way something senseless and stupid, something sick and unjust, can make people stop and offer kindness and support.
Soft words and understanding. Be Nicer.

The ugly truth. THIS. Sitting in that car, this was all the crying. The sadness and the anger. The lack of control and the fear that comes along with having none.
Where's the beauty in that?
I don't know that there is any.
But I don't believe I'm alone in any of THIS.
And sharing THIS, is what makes it beautiful.

Friday, January 7, 2011

THIS - blog 3 - Ron May (director)


Ah, titles.
The jokes never die.
“So, Ron what are you working on?”
“This what?”
“THIS. The show is called THIS.”

At auditions for THE VIBRATOR PLAY last summer...
“What show is Ron directing?”
“OH. I didn’t know he was directing THE VIBRATOR PLAY, I thought he was doing something else.”
“No, THIS. The name of the play is THIS.”

Har har.
Mildly confusing title.
But a gorgeous play.
I spend a majority of my time directing at Stray Cat. There, a lot of what we traffic in are existential crises of people in their teens and 20’s. Something we’ve been doing since we started the company 10 years ago.

Needless to say, 10 years later – I’m not that age anymore.

I read THIS in American Theatre magazine in one sitting last winter while I was at Stray Cat babysitting the building (it sounds weird, I know...but I really was). The second I finished it, I texted Matthew (Wiener – Actors Theatre’s Artistic Director) and said he should read it.

I’m really glad he did.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have been afforded the opportunities I’ve gotten at Actors Theatre the past 5 seasons. It’s not just any professional theatre who will take in a maverick director with virtually zero pedigree and let them do their thing.

THIS, though (pun not intended, though, inevitable) is the first work I’ve ever had ownership of from the word go. I’ve never selected the shows I’ve directed for Actors Theatre before. Which, to be frank, is frightening and exhilarating all at once.

But the million dollar question is always, “What the hell is THIS?”

I’ve read that it’s Jerry Seinfeld-like.
Which I kind of get.
There’s no PLOT, per se, but the show is not about “nothing” and plus I think it’s crazy funny. I never thought Seinfeld was. (Sorry.) Though to be fair, if you DID think Seinfeld was a riot, I’ve been told you will absolutely LOVE this show. Who am I to argue?

I’ve heard it compared to thirtysomething.
Which I’ve never seen so maybe it is. Somehow. (especially since thirtysomething was based on THE BIG CHILL which brings me to…)

Ollie (in his blog) compared it to THE BIG CHILL.
Which on a number of levels I agree with.
Dramedy – check.
Amazing cast – check.
Fractured marriage – check.
Death of a member of their group – check.
But the death happened a year ago.
And thematically it certainly traffics in similar territory – the reconstruction of hope, the discovery of how all your idealism of the past has real life limitations…blah blah.
No Kevin Costner, though. (Which I’m more than OK with.)

It’s always muddy, for me, addressing what it is about a show that ‘speaks to me’ or whatever. I’m just not that good at it. Sure, I write down a bunch of stuff before I go into rehearsal so I sound smart when I talk to the actors for the first time but I think it was Peter Brook who talked about his “formless hunch”. There’s something in the play that catches me totally off guard and moves me to laugh, cry...whatever...and I may not be entirely sure what that is…or why…but it’s something that says I have to do it...cuz maybe it’ll help me figure it out.

I know, cerebrally, that the play speaks to me on a number of levels:

- I, much like the characters in the show, am fumbling towards middle age. Seriously I’m like a year off. Am I really where I thought I’d be? Am I doing what I should be doing? Can I tell you how many people I tell them what I do for a living and they look at me like I can’t possibly be serious or ask “So why don’t you do movies?” It’s exhausting.

- I, much like Jane in the play, have dealt recently – not with the death of my husband – but with the death of a peer – someone the same age as I am – as well as my mother – who was always my strongest support system. My rock. All within the span of like two months. And it all happened about a year ago. Exactly like the timeline in the play. Trust me. This kind of stuff pulls the rug out from anyone at any stage of life. But there really is something a little more profound when it happens during middle age. I think.

- I, much like Alan in the play, am gay, about to turn 40, and terminally single…and wondering how much hope there may or may not be for some kind of fulfilling relationship in the future. I’m not a Debbie Downer “waaah no one thinks I’m pretty. Waaah.” I have self-esteem. I know I deserve someone amazing. I know I have the capacity to love beyond measure. But. I have an insane schedule. Youth is still valued above most else in society. I don’t make a ton of money. I could afford to lose a thousand pounds. I have a co dependent cat. Plus, I’m also a picky bitch. what?

- I, much like the entire group in the play (save Jean-Pierre), have a very close knit group of friends that I have known since college – (many of us actually started Stray Cat together – and yet over the course of 10 years, as of this season, I’m now the only “founding” member left.) So we all are now approaching middle age and babies are introduced and relationships are splintering off, and I sometimes wonder what it is that keeps us together. There is obviously that common denominator of what we all were doing together in the PAST…but we’re all such different people now. We became friends under very different and younger circumstances and now it sometimes feels like we’re hunkering down together and just praying we’re dressed for the storm. Or whatever’s coming. Or something.

All that?
Is my...THIS.
That...stuff that you so urgently want to address but words always seem to fail when you try.
It’s my THESE, really.
We all have them.

And that’s what the play is.
A group of close friends – people who have spent arguably too much time together – all with a rolodex of “THIS”es – trying to navigate their way into middle age and wondering if the hand they thought they were dealt are actually the cards they’re holding.

I don’t know that any of what I’m saying illuminates what the hell the play is. Or what it’s about.
But I do know that no play in recent memory has affected me as immediately and deeply as this one has.
And I don’t say crap like that lightly.

I don’t know that anyone will like it or feel the deep ache I feel watching certain scenes or laugh as hard as I do at certain scenes or well up like I do at certain exchanges or get goosebumps like I do hearing certain things in the play...

But I’m hopeful.
Because THIS...has it all.
And I look forward to sharing it with you in a few weeks.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

THIS - blog 2 - David Dickinson (Jean-Pierre)


(To see the French conversation tied to this blog entry, visit here.

One of the things I enjoy the most about being an actor is doing research on a character. It is work that forces you to delve into the lives of other people and learn about places you've never been. I've learned so much about the world around me from the characters I've had to play.

A script will give you a lot of clues about who your character is, but often will not give you many specifics about details of a character's life. You have to fill that piece in yourself as the actor. So, in this case, my character is Jean-Pierre, a French doctor who is currently working for Doctors Without Borders. The script doesn't mention anything about what he does with the organization, who he works with or where he works. However, I have to have answers to all these questions in my head to fill out my character's life. So I have decided that Jean-Pierre has been working in a IDP camp (Internally Displaced Persons) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This is a French speaking country and would most likely be staffed by doctors from the French branch of Doctors Without Borders or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Civil war in the area has forced thousands of people from their homes and MSF fights not only with the casualties of the war in terms of wounded civilians and soldiers, but also malnutrition, TB, cholera and malaria that often break out in the displaced populations.

For those of you who couldn't make it to our fabulous First Rehearsal Party, the actors put up the first ten minutes of the play in which I have a phone call with a colleague at MSF. I then proceed to mention the name Bob three times. So after finishing the scene, I got the question, "Who is Bob?"

My answer at the party was slightly incorrect because I got my titles wrong. But knowing who Bob might be is really important to my story as the character even though it is trivial to the play. So I answer the question of "who is Bob" in the following way for myself.

The script mentions that an ambulance has been attacked breaking an agreement that had been put in place with the local military leader, Adou, who is also mentioned. This is a big deal and very upsetting because it puts the entire project's safety and existence at stake.

So I have decided that Bob is the Head of Mission for MSF in the DRC. Jean-Pierre is talking to the Field Coordinator at the IDP Camp in the DRC. It is important to talk to Bob because before a project can be pulled from the field, which I threaten in the speech, the Field Coordinator has to talk to the Head of Mission to make the decision. Because the jobs on a mission are so demanding a staff member's missions is usually less than 6 months in duration. The positions are continually being refilled by fresh staff members who may not know everything about the job. Because of this turnover I'm assuming that the Field Coordinator is new to his job and needs to talk to Jean-Pierre who actually has more experience on the ground as a doctor although he isn't actually in charge of the site administratively. Many of the people working at MSF do multiple missions and I'm assuming from Jean-Pierre's age (the script says late-thirties) that he has done multiple missions and is a rising star in the ranks of the organization. Every staff member at MSF gets a much needed vacation mid-mission. Jean-Pierre has chosen to use his vacation to attend a high profile conference and do fundraisers in New York City and will be returning to the field in a few days after the conclusion of the play. A large portion of money that supports the French branch of MSF comes from the United States. MSF United States is actually a subsidiary of MSF France so it would make sense that Jean-Pierre is in New York to raise money and awareness.

To set the record straight for those a the First Rehearsal Party I said that the decision to pull a project from the field was between the "Head of Project" and the "Chief Medical Officer" instead of "Head of Mission" and "Field Coordinator." So that was inaccurate! However, my source for these titles and the functions they serve is actually from page twenty-seven of the book "Six Months in Sudan" by James Maskalyk. The book chronicles a six month mission to Sudan. It is a highly entertaining book and I would recommend it to anyone. It is a fun read because of the personal nature of the storytelling about some really tough people doing a really tough job. If you need some instant gratification, he also has a blog about his time in Sudan at Enjoy!