Thursday, April 14, 2011
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
"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"!