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!