RESPECT THE WORK on July 8

Respect the WorkFriends,

I have an event on Sunday at Shadowbox Studio in Durham, NC. See the publicity blurb below, and below that some of the notes that I’m making for the opening remarks. Tickets are still available and if you are local, I’d love to see you there and get your input!

Thanks, t

PUBLICITY BLURB:

For artists and artist-supporters, this is an opportunity to come together in conversation about what it means to RESPECT THE WORK that we and other artists make. What does that respect look like, feel like, sound like? What more can we do? What kind of respect are we seeking as artists?

Tamara Kissane, the host of the Artist Soapbox podcast, will lead a conversation around the topic of respecting our work as she tries out material for Part Two of her podcast series WHAT I LEARNED FROM 40 YEARS OF NOT BEING FAMOUS. She’ll also gather the thoughts, words, and voices of the people in the room to include in that podcast episode.

Tickets are free for the patrons of ASBX via Patreon.com/artistsoapbox. All others are asked to make a small $5 donation at the door to off-set costs.

Give your input. Challenge yourself to identify roadblocks, devise solutions, and get inspired with a spirit of generosity toward yourself and other creators in our community. See you at Shadowbox Studio at 7pm on July 8.

There will be snacks. :)

www.artistsoapbox.org

NOTES FOR OPENING REMARKS:

As people in the artistic community, I think we want to extend respect and we want to receive respect   — respect feels good, we like the sound of the word and the feelings it inspires — when I bring up the importance of RESPECTING THE WORK most people are like YEAH, YEAH OF COURSE. But I’m wondering about the second layer of that — what it actually means and looks like and sounds like and why it’s important and I’m thinking perhaps we need to be more intentional about our approach. As artists, it is difficult to ask for something if you can’t articulate (even to yourself) what you want or what your expectations are, and in our very fast moving world, it’s easy to assume that we are contributing in ways that perhaps we are not. I don’t know…these are wonderings….

My goals tonight are to get a sense of what people ARE experiencing (a lay of the land of and what is). Based on that and the conversation we have, I’d like us to consider what COULD BE or what we’d like to be. Ultimately, here’s what I’m looking to answer: If we want to promote a culture or a practice of RESPECTING THE WORK what responsibilities do we need to take  — or could we take — as audience members and as artists? What do we need to do in each of these roles to create a culture and practice of RESPECTING THE WORK of artists in our community?

 

Putting the ‘fun’ in Acting Fundamentals

I taught my first Fundamentals of Acting class last week. I think it went really well – everyone left smiling and feeling jazzed and saying things like “Looking forward to next week!” I felt that way too. Oh, happy day!

I drove home after Class One. Couldn’t sleep. Too excited.  My mental skywriter was writing fluffy, looping “grateful grateful grateful” in the landscape of my mind.

Now it’s Sunday night, and I just finished my lesson plan for Class Two of Four (which has eaten considerably into the time I have for crafting a blog post). And I’m excited again, and nervous again, and grateful again.

I feel lucky and grateful for the opportunity to share my love of the theatre* while offering practical acting skills and advice (hopefully). I’m grateful for all of the wise and fabulous teachers/directors/actors who’ve taught me what (little) I do know, and I’m most especially grateful for the wise and fabulous folks I’ve partnered with to co-teach prior to this class. I feel lucky  to have observed so many great teachers at work. Do you feel like you carry those people into the classroom with you as resources? I do. Hmmm, what would Cheryl do? What would Nathan do? What would Rachel, Jay, Mary, Jeff, Ellen, Bill, Devon, Chris, Jody, Dan, Melissa, Dina, Adam, Lorm, Nancy, Johnny, Greg, Rafael, Laurie, Sumi, Tom, Jenny, Janice, Beth, Dana, Enoch, Dave, Hope do?* What would my Mom, a former kindergarten teacher, do? Thank you, my teachers! What gifts you are to the world.

As I mentioned, this is a four-part class on (trumpets, please!The Fundamentals of Acting. Huh. Initially, when I sat down to hammer out text to describe/advertise the class, all sorts of questions were triggered – like, most importantly — What are the Fundamentals of Acting?

So, I brainstormed the list below (not in any particular order, and no doubt, incomplete).

Brainstorm List of Acting Fundamentals:

  • Creating a character (external) – body, voice
  • Creating a character (internal) – given circumstances, relationships, motivation/tactics/intentions
  • Script analysis, world of the play, story
  • Basic stage etiquette, terminology, job descriptions, etc.
  • Basic vocal work – diction, volume, pitch, tempo, resonance
  • Basic physical work – gesture, neutral, weird actory things
  • Ensemble building — being with other people on-stage and off-stage
  • Performance experience – scene work, monologues, auditions
  • My list of acting pet peeves; list of acting favorites
  • Actor mind — Focus, relaxed concentration, memorization, openness, creativity, improvisation. Something about authenticity?
  • Fun? Acting is FUN.Yep.

I also spent an evening with my best friend Google, and added more to that list. A long long list with a lot of words and eight hours of teach-time. Huh. I got myself tangled up with prioritization and the fact that all of the items on the list overlap and intertwine and that it’s all much more subtle and nuanced and that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Ack, imposter syndrome. I searched my house feverishly for undergraduate readings by Uta Hagen and Sanford Meisner and Stanislavski and etcetera. I couldn’t find them. Have you seen ’em?

There’s a looooonnnnng list of items to accomplish in order to be a an ACTOR. It’s more complicated than I first thought. And of course, my fear is that if I’m not ticking most of those items off the list, then I’m just ACKIN’ up there on stage. Or worse, being a WHACKTOR. Geez. Been there, done that. Hopefully, not recently.

But I digress….the question here is What is Fundamental?

This is the final text that was distributed to the public about the class:

The purpose of Fundamentals of Acting is to give older teens and adults an opportunity to further explore and develop acting skills on a more advanced level, regardless of experience.  Participants will learn or build upon drama skills, including voice, movement, vocabulary and character development and scene work.

Through low-stress, structured exercises and performance, students will:

·         Review basic theatre terminology and etiquette

·         Examine voice, speech, and breath as acting tools

·         Build characters from the inside-out and outside-in

·         Learn to make clear and well-informed acting choices

·         Develop confidence and relaxation on-stage

Please bring water and a yoga mat or towel for gentle warm-up exercises. Wear clothing and shoes that you can move in.

My basic plan (subject to change) for the class is:

  • Class One: Body
  • Class Two: Voice
  • Class Three: Mind
  • Class Four: Performance

Now, what do you consider to be (trumpets, please!) acting fundamentals? I’d love to hear your thoughts and have a conversation with you.

Like most things, acting (good acting, any kind of acting) is very subjective. I don’t know if we could easily devise a short list that everyone would agree on, and I haven’t asked my friend Google if such a list exists. However, as an exercise for myself, I tried to boil everything down to five essential bullet points.

Actors need to:

  • Be heard (project!).
  • Be understood (diction!).
  • Make specific choices that hang together coherently.
  • Develop a particular character for a particular play.
  • Be a team-player.

In the broadest sense, do those cover the ‘must-dos’? Fundamentally?

In the end, however, I keep coming back to the phrase  — actors need to be alive on stage. In this moment, that idea seems essential.  Actors need to be alive on stage is sophisticated and fundamental — yikes, I don’t know exactly what I mean by it (another blog post) — but really, I think that there’s something about electric-focused-energy-aliveness that is directly related to a compelling performance and somehow naturally gathers up all of the other items on the list. Maybe it’s a chicken or an egg thing. I don’t know. What do you think?

Well. That’s what I’m working with and that’s where I am. To be continued….

Wish me luck.

Wishing you many alive moments on the stage.

*This class focuses on acting on stage, rather than on film. Based on my limited experience with film acting, there seem to be a few key differences of style and skill. I’m not a film acting expert, but I can become one if you want to put me in your film. Hee.

*This is not the list of all of the teachers I know and love — not even close. It’s just the list of people I can think of in the time allotted to write this in my somewhat distracted state, and it includes folks I’ve actually seen do some teaching. I have a long list of  ‘excellent teachers-I’d-love-to-see-in-action’ on my to-call list. Here’s hoping I get to that one day. Also, although I am really enjoying this solo teaching experience, I have a real heart for co-teaching too. 

Saying goodbye to RICHIE

On Saturday night, we concluded our nine performance run of RICHIE. Now, I am launched into catch-up mode. Catching up on sleep, on cleaning, on emails and phone calls and appointments and Candy-Land and cooking, catching up on the life that resided outside of the theatre bubble that I rolled around in for six high-speed weeks.

I feel relieved. Now I have my evenings back and I can sleep – oh, a blessed bedtime of 9:30 pm! Now I can pay more attention to my child and my husband and my family and friends. Now I have more space in my life for so many things – because in my experience at least, theatre takes up a lot of space. When I’m involved in a show, even when I’m not physically there, I’m mentally there. I am a person divided until the show closes. Well, actually I’m always divided; it’s just more obvious when I’m in rehearsal.

I’m really sad to say good-bye to RICHIE and all the trappings associated with that production.  There’s a mourning period at the end of every show for me – a sense of loss and disorientation as I transition back to “real life” and to all of the many tasks and people who were banished to the back-burner during weeks of rehearsal and performance. So I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m a little teary-eyed as I type on a Sunday afternoon – we did have our final performance last night followed quickly (by me) with a grilled cheese sandwich, two gin and tonics, a few hours of frenzied dancing with castmates and five hours of sleep. That’s a recipe to get my tear-factory started!

Yeah, I’m not surprised that I’m having a hard time saying good-bye to RICHIE. This show was just what I needed at this time in my life, arriving when I was open to learning some things that I’ve needed to learn for awhile now. And it was fun. Really, really fun.

Look, it’s awesome to be on-stage. It just is. It’s an honor to walk into an amazing story as another human being, onto a stage where people pay to see you perform (You can see me! I exist!), and applaud when you finish – it’s fantastic. It’s a gift. Bathing in all those chemicals that rush around your body and brain when you are on a tightrope of anxiety and exhilaration, plus the deep and focused concentration that it takes to sustain a performance over two hours, plus the feeling of accomplishment that comes after you’ve worked so hard alongside other people of like-minds and hearts – the combination is seductive, it’s addictive, it’s being seen, it’s incredible. It’s exhausting, but whew, what a rush!

Not to mention that I was lucky enough to play a character with her own freaking fan club. How sad am I to give that up? Really sad. Here’s a recommendation – if you can, play a character who assumes power over the course of the story surrounded by a group of women who chant her name and do her bidding. Do this because you will feel really super unusually cool. No matter how much you remind yourself about the difference between real-life and pretend, some of those feelings of bad-ass coolness will bleed over and you will feel more powerful and more affirmed and more alive than usual. Give this gift to yourself with the understanding that you will be bummed when it’s over and that you will feel slightly ridiculous when you return to reality. Actually, we should all be each others’ fan club in real life. Let’s just do that for each other, ok? Wouldn’t that be great?

People seemed to like RICHIE. Performances sold out. The audience was packed. That’s all great stuff, but I don’t have the perspective to know what RICHIE was like for audience members. I don’t have enough distance at this point to know if it was ‘good’ or powerful or entertaining or if I was any of those things. We can’t ever really know that across the board since so much depends on each individual’s experience and expectations and point of view. I sure think it was good (what a silly word to apply). I’m very proud of our work. This show, an all female adaptation of Richard II, a pub-crawl thru Durham, a Paris Hilton/Britney Spears/Lindsay Lohan homage, got a lot of attention and that was fantastic. It’s a lot more fun when your show gets good reviews and people say good things and you get a lot of attention in the press, but for me as an actor, that’s the icing, not the cake. (Side note: For producers and theatre-company-directors, reviews/word of mouth/press are more than just icing since those things can have an impact on the financial health and viability of the company. Just a reminder that if you love a show, spread the word, share the love and encourage people to see it.).

As an actor on this show, my ‘cake’ was the experience of being inside the process and the world and the show of RICHIE.  That’s what I’m sad to give up. In the world that we created, I felt able to push the boundaries of my experience of being a woman, well, a human, really. I don’t know if others in the cast had this experience…gosh, I’m having a hard time articulating this….but I felt, more than ever before, the freedom and ability to be simultaneously beautiful and ugly, girlish and wise, aggressive and fierce and profane and vulnerable, sexy and powerful, muscular and lyrical, charming and dangerous and silly and funny, superficial and deep deep deep WOMAN. This is big for me. This open-source complexity is something I believe in, but have never fully owned.  In the world of this play, serious gorgeous Shakespearean verse could co-exist with four-letter-words as tools wielded by women doing business and living life. It was warrior and princess, madonna and whore, a mash-up of masculine/feminine without compartmentalizing or categorizing. I don’t know if this was due to the absence of male characters or the overwhelming presence of female characters (19 of us), but there was some heady female alchemy present.

So, in my mind, my character chose her costume because she liked it (short-shorts, tummy-showing blouse, a wig, false eyelashes, knee-high boots, a metric ton of red lipstick) and not because some dude might think it was hot. There were no dudes in the world of RICHIE. And no offense, Dudes, but it was nice to have some play-time in a land without you for a little while.  It was fierce female power on-stage (how liberating!). And off-stage, the women (and the few fab guys too) were generous professionals who brought their ‘A games’ and were all bent on telling a kick-ass story.

That’s what I will miss –what I always miss —  the people and the joyful community of theatre-makers that form like an extended flash-mob before disappearing again. They’ve become my friends, and I will miss seeing them regularly. I will also miss the deep and physical witness of powerful women (even deeply flawed fictional women) who were in charge of life and death without second-guessing their right to do so. It’s hard to know when we will see another cast of 19 women on-stage together. I’m so lucky to have been a part of that.

I will miss living the language of the Bard. I haven’t felt so invincible since I was a senior in college acting in Measure for Measure. Something about speaking Shakespeare’s language…the words offer electric insight into the power and complexity of the human experience. It’s like drinking from a fire hose — in a good way. William Shakespeare, I salute you.

We know that the beauty of theatre is the impermanence of the art-form. It’s also part of the gig — projects blossom and end, then the next one comes along. Next Thursday, when I’m sitting on my butt on my couch at 8 p.m. with a plate of nachos, relaxing with a doofy action movie, I will be happy to be there. I will be holding my hubbie’s hand (when I’m not shoveling nachos) and I will be grateful to be at home in my cozy house. I will be excited about my next creative project. I won’t be thinking so much about RICHIE. But right now, frankly, I’m damn sad to say good-bye.

How I want to be as an actor

This week we begin rehearsals in earnest for Richie, Little Green Pig’s all-female version of Shakespeare’s Richard II. I want to get everything I can out of this experience, and I want the people involved to get the most out of me, so I thought it might be helpful to set down some intentions for the rehearsal and performance process. Partly, this is an experiment to see what will happen if I start with an intentional list of ‘how I want to be as an actor in this show,’ and partly it’s an ongoing effort to clarify how I want to be in the world and how I want to spend the art-making time that I have.

You’ll see the list below. [It’s at the bottom in case you’d like to think for a minute about your own intentions before seeing mine.]

As I sat down to write, I discovered that most of these intentions have been floating around in my mind as a ‘personal code of acting’ for many years, and this list has been very heavily influenced by my time spent on the directing/production/writing side* as well as acting teachers, cast-mates, etc.. Since I’ve never written this stuff down before a show, I’ve been lazy and hit-and-miss about following the ‘code’ from project to project. As we all know, committing words to paper is helpful for accountability, intentionality, and mindfulness, so I’m hopeful this list will keep me on track. Writing it down also helps me sort out what I really mean and what’s important to me. I’m thinking of it as a work in progress…

I also wonder if most of the bullet points below are plain ol’ obvious and duh! — is this stuff everybody knows and everyone is trying to do? I’m really curious to know what other theatre-folk would include on their intention list going into rehearsal.  Do your intentions change every time or pretty much stay the same? Like mine, is your list really a combination of intentions and a code of honor/philosophy of acting? How has your list changed over time? Would you be willing to share?

And what do you think, people-who-don’t-consider-themselves-theatre-folk? Do you make a list of intentions before beginning a specific project or process? What might you include on that list?

As an actor and member of the ensemble, I will:

  • Arrive on time to rehearsals (Note: On time = 10-15 minutes early).
  • Get it done and move with a purpose – after all, we are on a short time-table. Learn my lines as quickly as possible so I can be off book. Learn my basic blocking as quickly as possible, so I can dive into more nuanced work.
  • Take care of myself and my health as best I can (eat well, sleep, exercise, etc.).
  • Have fun and laugh lots. This is a play, after all. It’s important work, but it’s just a play.
  • Take responsibility for developing a multidimensional character with a back story and relationships, and commit to clarity of intention and meaning.
  • Inhabit my character in the most truthful and believable way I can. Also, endeavor to be a bad-ass. [I don’t know exactly what I mean by that, but I think there’s a certain amount of bad-assery that needs to be present for actors. It’s certainly not arrogance or even confidence — maybe it’s about striving to be really solid and specific and fiercely focused. Or maybe it’s just a mind-trick to make me feel brave enough to get on-stage. I don’t know. It feels silly to write ‘be a bad-ass’, but it’s on the list.]
  • Use my body as an acting tool rather than as a source for actor-inhibiting-physical-hang-ups.
  • Stick to the words the playwright chose.
  • Be mindful of vocal variety in pitch, tempo, volume, emphasis and rhythm, as well as diction, diction, diction. And more diction. And communicate.
  • Be brave and honest. Stretch beyond what I think I’m capable of as an actor. Be open to direction, new ideas and improvisation.
  • Be generous with my scene partners and seek out opportunities to connect as characters.
  • Have meaningful conversations off-stage with everyone related to this production. We are a team, on-stage and off.  Strive to maintain and cultivate relationships with everyone who has a heart for this work.
  • Do my best to solve problems that are mine to solve. Try not to create problems for other people. Ask questions and ask for help from the appropriate folks at the appropriate time.
  • Remind myself that I am one piece of a complex and complicated work of art. Given my part in this process, lots of stuff will go on that I won’t be able to see. I will trust, be patient and manage my confusion if it arises.
  • Be thoughtful and aware of the message this play is sending to the audience; be mindful of how my values square with that.
  • Maintain a positive attitude throughout the entire process, even when I am tired, even when I am worried that it won’t ‘come together in time’.  Manage the anxiety that accompanies being vulnerable, being uncertain and being on-stage.
  • Always remember that I also have an identity and an important life outside of the rehearsal room with people who love me and need my attention. Be present, available, attentive, and loving to family, co-workers, and friends. Make this process manageable for those around me.
  • Say thank you out loud to everyone at every opportunity. Thank the actors, designers, director, production team, audience, my husband and daughter. Appreciate the gift this is, appreciate the gifts.
  • Aim to do my best, strive to learn and become better. At the end of the performance run: I will feel proud of my contribution, people will want to work with me again, and I will want to do this work again.

Whew! As I re-read the list above, it feels daunting to even partially realize every bullet point. Yikes, can I do all that? Well, we’ll see. I’m game to try this experiment and see if having a pre-rehearsal list of intentions will make an impact on my experience. I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks in advance for your support.

*Cheryl and I do give our acting ensemble a document that outlines our hopes and expectations during our working-time together. (That document also includes a list of what the ensemble should expect from us as directors/producers/playwrights.) However, it occurred to me that I’ve never created a personal list of intentions for myself as an actor…until now.

How did you memorize those lines?

“How did you memorize those lines?” I heard this question for the first time as an undergraduate sitting in the audience during a post-show conversation with the actors.

The “How did you memorize those lines?” question elicited eye-rolling, sneers, and ill-concealed laughter from my theatre-major friends and me. (We experimented with a lot of things back then, but compassion wasn’t really one of them.) Of all the questions in the world, that was the most boring, and even disrespectful. To us, asking an actor how she memorized her words was like asking a chef how she learned to boil water. Like, who cares? Ideally after all, by the time the play is performed, the actor has been wrestling with characterization, motivation, physicalization, concentration, comic timing, emotion, back-stage politics, the arc of the show and the journey of her character. Performing in a play is the most fun and wonderfully addictive experience ever, but it’s also an enormous amount of work, requiring the ability to take risks, manage fear, play well with others, jump into the unknown and surrender to the art. Memorizing the words is just the crappy scut work that you do to get to the good stuff. Put in the time, pound it out and memorize your stuff. It ain’t fun, it ain’t glamorous. And like,why would we want to spend time talking about it?

As a side note, I’ve heard the ‘memorize-lines question’ in post-show discussions many times since then. For plays with complex language sequences, that question can reveal interesting tidbits about how shows come together in rehearsal. However, I think it generally surfaces when audience members don’t know what else to say. If audience members don’t have something to say after 90-120 minutes of live theatre, then that’s very interesting, right? Perhaps they need guidance, guidelines, or a new configuration of people to dialogue with (content experts, designers, the playwright, the artistic director, etc.)? For a fantastic article about post-show discussions, check out Brant Russell’s article on HowlRound. Yes, I’d like to lead your next post-show conversation. Contact me and we’ll talk.

Back to the subject matter at hand….
So, friends, the karma-machine has struck again, kicking me well and fully in the butt. Because now I am asking that same question….of MYSELF.

I’ve been cast in Little Green Pig’s production of Shakespeare’s Richard II which will be performed this September. Hurrah! I’m extremely truly grateful for the opportunity. I’m super excited. I’m going to work my tail off. But holy cow, how am I going to memorize these lines? I am now fantasizing about a post-show discussion when someone will ask me, “Tamara, how did you memorize those lines?” and I can say, “Well, friend, this is how I did it…”. And I will have done it. Can we skip to that part?

The good news is Willie Shakes gave my character lots of rhymes and a fairly consistent iambic pentameter. So at this point, I know when I’m missing words, and I know the ending words for two sentences back-to-back. However, I don’t so much know the words in between. Hopefully, the audience won’t mind when I say, “Shall I da DUM da DUM da DUM da sight? Or with da DUM da DUM da DUM da height?” Impressive, yes?

The language is beautiful, lush, evocative, and in my character’s case, rather bloody. So inspiring. So damn tricky to memorize. Here’s an example:

O God defend my soul from such deep sin!
Shall I seem crest-fall’n in my mother’s sight?
Or with pale beggar-fear impeach my height
Before this out-dared dastard? Ere my tongue
Shall wound my honour with such feeble wrong,
Or sound so base a parle, my teeth shall tear
The slavish motive of recanting fear,
And spit it bleeding in her high disgrace,
Where shame doth harbour, even in Mowbray’s face.

What the what!? Are you feeling sorry for me or sneering like the 20 year-old undergraduate me? Regardless, the fact remains that I must memorize these lines or else. Fear = the best motivator!

So what’s the plan? It’s not complicated, but here it is:

  • Start now. Work everyday. Carry my script wherever I go in case of unexpected downtime.
  • Work with my eyes, ears, and mouth and mind. This means reading the words and picturing them on the page. Listening to myself saying them over and over. Feeling myself speaking the words so I get them in my mouth. Mapping the words in my mind thru various associations and word games. Eventually, I’ll get the body in on it when we’re in rehearsal and can connect the words to action and location.
  • Reconcile myself to the uncomfortableness of this process. Training for a marathon doesn’t feel like skipping-to-the-lou. It’s going to be hard, get over it.
  • Enlist the help of my sweet husband and any other person who will help me run lines. There is no app for this (well, there is, but not one exactly like what I need). For me, there’s no substitute for a live someone who will work patiently with me over and over again.
  • Indulge in a large quantity of profanity without judgement. I don’t swear much, but learning my lines gives me potty mouth. Not good creative swears either, but clumsy ugly strings of mumbled curses. It’s embarrassing, but it happens every time and I just can’t sweat it.
  • Use the power of positive thinking. Yes, I’m a gigantic super-dork! But seriously, if I can’t cheer-lead myself through this, then that’s just self-defeating, isn’t it? I’m going to be doing some powerful positive visualizing and self-talk.
  • And lastly..it’s painful even to type this….I’m going to start running (um, jogging). The last time I performed Shakespeare (a long time ago), the rhythm of running helped me learn my lines and build the breath control to say them. I really hate running, but I’m going to try it. Please, wish me luck.

What works for you when you are facing a challenging task (memorization or otherwise)? How do you motivate yourself and organize your work on a specific project? Are you wondering why I spent time writing this post instead of working on my lines?