Tuesday, October 30, 2012

OPUS - blog #2 - David Dickinson

Beethoven’s Silence

photo: David Dickinson, photo by John Groseclose

During my day off I took the opportunity to watch the movie Copying Beethoven. I was curious how a modern actor, director and writer would flesh out a historical figure we can also feel through the music he left us.

At first when I saw that Ed Harris was playing Beethoven, I admit skepticism. I have images of John Glen in The Right Stuff imprinted on my brain. However Mr. Harris’ performance mesmerized me.

The movie was set in Beethoven’s late period when he was writing his Ninth Symphony and his late string quartets including the Grosse Fuge, Opus 130, and his fourteenth quartet, Opus 131.

In OPUS we play segments from both of these quartets. It was fascinating to see what Stephen Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson, the writers, interpreted as Beethoven’s ideas about these works. Here are two quotes I found poignant:

Of the Grosse Fuge: “Of course it is ugly, but is it beautiful. It is meant to challenge your sense of beauty. I'm opening up music to the ugly, to the visceral. How else can you get to the divine except through the guts of man. [The gut] is where God lives not in the head. Not even in the soul. But in the guts, because this is where the people feel it.”

Of the Opus 131: “When does the movement end? It doesn't end, you must stop thinking of beginning and ending. This is not a bridge...it is a living thing, like clouds taking shape, or tide shifting. [But musically how does it work?] It doesn't work; it grows. You see the first movement becomes the second, as each idea dies a new one is born. In your work you are obsessed with structure or choosing the correct form. You have to listen to the voice speaking inside of you. I didn't hear it myself until I went deaf.... The silence is the key: the silence between the notes. When that silence envelops you then you then your soul can sing.”

The ideas of the visceral and silence resonate very strongly in OPUS. In fact, there are four different types of silence written into the script for the actors to observe almost like rests in a score of music: Beat (shortest), Pause, Long Pause and Silence (longest). Mr. Hollinger, our playwright, accentuates every scene with each of these silences. But perhaps more importantly, the writers were getting to the point that an artist has to shut out the daily noise to listen to inspiration. This is a theme we’ve been working on from day one in rehearsals. Robbie Harper, our director, pointed out on day one that this play is about life getting in the way of our art. Our challenge as actors and musicians in the play is to get through that noise, deal with it and still arrive at our Opus. In that fight we find the visceral as well, exploring the guts and grit of the creative process.

As for the movie, the passion portrayed moved me...music as life and death. And, yes, I cried. Twice.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

OPUS - blog #1 - David Dickinson

photo: John Groseclose

The Emerson and Me.

At the first rehearsal party last night, I mentioned the Emerson String Quartet. I felt a palpable excitement when I mentioned that name. Certainly they deserve the adulation. They are state of the art at this moment and worthy of the respect I felt last night: rock stars of the chamber scene, if you will, as their nine Grammy Awards attest.

Their famed cellist David Finckel is so busy with performance he does not take students. However, living in a digital age, Mr. Finckel has decided to start creating a legacy online by creating a series of short instructional videos called Cello Talks. In essence they are master classes for cellists filmed in hotel rooms around the world as he tours. The topics range from what to carry in your cello case, to optimal vibrato speeds to bowing technique. They are short master classes for cellists that are infused with a curiosity that surprised me. This has not only helped me with the cello on stage but also helped me to be a better violinist, which I play in real life.

This interaction via the Internet with Mr. Finckel has made me feel as though I have a personal mentor who is at the top of his career and the top of the world of music. It highlights Mr. Finckel’s generosity and his awareness of his place in the music world. These videos in no way replace a teacher or music program, but they add a depth of understanding to the topic that you can only get from a great mentor. The Emerson String Quartet will soon be losing David Finckel after over thirty years together. The group will no longer be the same. You can’t change a member of a tight ensemble and have the same product. It will certainly be outstanding, but never the same.

I have no grounds for this next statement, but I personally, perhaps romantically, believe that the playwright, Michael Hollinger, had the Emerson String Quartet in mind when he wrote this play. The long standing relationships between players who studied together at conservatory (Juliard in the case of the Emerson Quartet, Curtis in the case of the fictitious Lazara Quartet in the play), the veto power given to members, and their national stature are too reminiscent. It is the fraction of those deeply developed relationships that are the fodder of our play. The Emerson String Quartet has planned for a smooth transition to its new member. The Lazara’s transition is abrupt and haphazard and leaves plenty of room for dramatic intervention hopefully to the delight of our audiences.

I had the fortune of seeing the Emerson String Quartet live in Westchester County, New York in 2002. They were every bit as good if not better than their reputation. They played Bartok that night. It was insidiously beautiful. The Bartok jarred your ears and then began to seep under your skin. You couldn’t help but be seduced by the playfulness and ruggedness of the interaction. The pure joy of the group playing the notes seeped under your skin as well. No matter what was happening in their lives outside of that room, nothing but pure joyful energy went into those instruments.

The Emerson String Quartet members are an inspiration for me. Through the Cello Talks and via that one evening’s live performance, they remind me as an actor to bring passionate curiosity to my work and nothing but that pure positive joy to my audiences.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

TIME STANDS STILL - blog 3 - Kerry McCue

Matthew Wiener makes me laugh. He is really smart director with a lot going on in his head, and sometimes when he wants us to pick up a scene from a particular line, he paraphrases that line from the script. It is one of his little quirks and it can be hilarious. I have recorded for posterity just a few of his adorable misquotes (with his blessing). Below I have quoted the ACTUAL line from the script followed Matthew’s version. Enjoy!

Script: “Your pictures are beautiful.”
MW: “I love your polaroids.”

Script: “Who could possibly love her more than I do?”
MW: “Who could possibly love me as much as I love me?”

Script: “I wish you had let us help. The magazine could’ve pulled a few strings.”
MW: “You should’ve let the newspaper help you. The newspaper boys could have carried her down the runway.”

Script: “…a good barometer for the political climate of their day?”
MW: “A good barometer for apples.”

Script: “I guess you can say I’m into events, too. Wars, famines, genocide…”
MW: “I’m into events, too. Garbage, gingivitis…”

Script: “Oh, I almost forgot… They wanted me to give you this.”
MW: “Oh, look what I found in my pocket.”

Script: “Sleeping on Richard’s sofa can’t be as comfy as all that…”
MW: “Richard’s couch can’t be tasty.”

Script: “[She has] One kid. A son. Twelve years old.”
MW: “I have a ten year old son.”

Script: “Hey!” “Hey!”
MW: “Hey, Hey, we’re the Monkeys.”

Script: “You talk out of both sides of your mouth, you know that?!”
MW: “You talk out of both sides of your mouth. You’re a mouth talker!”

Script: “Days of Wine and Roses. Blake Edwards. 1962.”
MW: “Guns & Roses.”

Script: “I never thought I’d have to compete with a dead man.”
MW: “I never thought I’d have to fight a dead man.”

Script: “I’m afraid to ask: Is she a grown-up?”
MW: “I’m afraid to ask: Does she have her driver’s license? Is she old enough to buy liquor? Cigarettes? Can she get a tattoo?”

Script: “I just want to be comfortable, does that make me a bad person?”
MW: “I just want to be comfortable, does that make me a diabetic?”

Time Stands Still runs May 12-27. Please join us!

Friday, April 27, 2012

TIME STANDS STILL - Blog 2 - Kerry McCue (Mandy Bloom)

We had our “First Rehearsal Party” for Time Stands Still on Tuesday night. That’s where we invite patrons to come to the theatre for an introduction to the play in progress. When this tradition started, it was actually on the night of the actors' very first rehearsal. Nowadays, we do it after we’ve been rehearsing for a week. Matthew Wiener hosts the event and introduces the actors and designers and they speak about their roles in the production and about the play itself. Then we perform the first 15 minutes of the play with an improvised set, and a few props. Then we have a discussion where the audience can ask the actors and the director any questions they have about what they’ve seen. And then we eat some good food (Thank you, My Big Fat Greek Restaurant!)

My discussion topic was “The Oeuvre” of Donald Margulies. My apologies to the 40 patrons who have heard this already, but I got a really good response so I thought I would do a recap for the rest of you. Here it is:

I am an avid reader. Novels, plays, and some non-fiction. When I read something and like it, I will often go back and read everything that author has ever written in chronological order. I love it when I can see how the author has evolved as a writer. When I was cast in Time Stands Still, I gathered all the Donald Margulies plays I could find and dove in. So, with a very few exceptions, I have read all his plays. Here’s what I discovered: Margulies writes what he knows. This is classic author advice and with good reason. And what the writer knows changes as time passes. Here is his progression:

Margulies started with his childhood. One of his very first plays is called Found a Peanut and it cast is composed entirely of children. It would be REALLY hard to produce this play, hard to find that many professional child actors and then there are all sorts of rehearsal restrictions and special circumstances when working with children. But it is a great play. The children show this microcosm of the adult world in the roles that they adopt in their little gang.

His next phase dealt primarily with Jewish family life. What’s Wrong With This Picture?, The Loman Family Picnic, and The Model Apartment fall into this category. He examines the relationship between parents and children, usually between father and son. Margulies admits that he used his plays to work out issues that he had with his own father growing up.

By this time in his career he had started to achieve some renown in the theater world and his work reflects that. In the plays Sight Unseen, Collected Stories, and Brooklyn Boy, he began to explore what it means to be and artist, a writer, and the affects of fame. But the through-line in ALL of his work is relationships. He writes relationships really well and has a knack for nailing the dialogue. The greatest example being Dinner With Friends, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Incidentally, Time Stands Still is the 4th Margulies play that Actors Theatre has done. They previously did Sight Unseen, Dinner With Friends, and Shipwrecked!, which is a total departure from all his other work, so much so that I don’t have time to go into it here. So I won’t.

So is his career he has explored childhood, family, Judaism, art, and fame. And now with our current show he opened up to topics that affect society as a whole. He has kind of reached out and embraced the world with his themes in Time Stands Still, while still maintain his attention to relationship because the play is essentially a love story.

For me, personally, the most interesting insight I received from all this research has to do with my character, Mandy. In three different plays, Margulies has written three completely different young women that all have something in common. The have a tendency to end perfectly good declarative sentences with question mark. It is so poignant. The older woman in Collected Stories has a monologue about it. She describes us as having evolved “a non-regional accent of American youth.” It is disheartening to hear perfectly intelligent girls begging to be listened to. Seeming to say with every sentence “Can you hear me? Am I being heard?”

Donald Margulies has some great plays available at your local libraries. Come see our show and join us for one of our post-show discussions.

photo: John Groseclose

Thursday, April 19, 2012

TIME STANDS STILL - Blog 1 - Kerry McCue (Mandy Bloom)

Once again, I find myself pregnant. My character, I mean. In a play. I'm in a play and my character is pregnant. This is not new for me. I've played pregnant at least 5 times before, at three different theater companies and in an indie film. I think my favorite was playing the pregnant goddess Ceres in Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses, regally displaying a huge belly, scarfing pickles dipped in ice cream (really) while deciding the fates of puny mortals. My upcoming role in Donald Marguiles' Time Stands Still is my second pregnant role for Actors Theatre. Last time I was "Izzy" in David Lindsay Abaire's Rabbit Hole. When the costumer heard I was cast this time around, she simply pulled my former pregnant belly out of storage. A "belly pad," as it's called, is an interesting costume piece. It looks like a flesh-colored, one-piece swimsuit with a round pillow on the front and extra padding in the bust. My favorite touch is the snap they sew on to simulate an "outy" belly-button. You pull it on over your head and it snaps at the crotch. Too much information?

I've played pregnant women before, but have never actually BEEN pregnant myself so the the physicality is something I have to work hard on. You don't want to be stereo-typical or have your role come off as a caricature. You can only stretch your back and rub your bump so many times. You must re-learn how to carry yourself, how to walk without being able to see your feet, how to sit, and (my favorite) how to lever yourself up from a low couch. And you have to find a way to make "actable" the protective feeling that mothers have about the life they are carrying inside them.

But my character is more than just a pregnant lady. She's a ray of sunshine, funny and open and honest. And she briefly touches on the highly charged working vs. stay at home mom debate that has been in the news so much of late. It adds an up-to-the-minute vibe to this play with is already very topical and highly relevant to what's going on in the world today. Plus is essentially a love story, the most universal of all themes. Don't miss it.

Friday, March 23, 2012

BODY AWARENESS - Blog 1 - Will Hightower (Jared)

As actors, we are already very body conscious, and with a show like Body Awareness, we are even more so. So what do we do? Step up our workout routines? Start a healthy diet? Start a daily push-up and throw-up contest?

Those are all great options, but actors think a little differently. We think in terms of objectives or desires. What's our objective? To look healthy on stage.

Not to be healthy--that is far too difficult! Instead we just want to be perceived as healthy. Because that’s what matters most, right? How other people see us? Well, I have discovered the best way to achieve this objective with one simple mind trick.

Make the other actors fat!

Easy! Genius! If I make all the other actors fat, then I will look healthy by comparison and thus be perceived as healthy.

I started off the battle right by bringing chocolate candies to rehearsal on the second day. Since then, the rest of them have caught on to my scheme and brought in their own weight-weapons.

Here is the current list of the Weapons of Mass Digestion:
Dove Chocolates – Milk and Dark
Chocolate-Covered Ginger
Sticky Buns
Cinnamon Rolls
Blueberry Muffins
Everything Bagels with Cream Cheese
Homemade Mac and Cheese
and something known only as the “Blarney Scone”

The culinary conflict causes delicious destruction as these tasty terrorists cause flakey fatalities. As the good fight continues and the weight wars wage on, stay tuned for the self-conscious caloric-conclusion!

And more importantly, come see the show on March 30th to see who won the epic food fight from the front(waist)lines!

photo: Will Hightower as Jared; credit: John Groseclose