Sunday, February 28, 2010
Unbelievably satisfying movie. A piece of pulp, no two ways about it, but pulp rendered admirably. The visuals are so rich and sumptuous, I could have sat through it again right away. The acting is serviceable to good (with Kim Catrall being the one noxious exception). Polanski should be in jail, but he is a brilliant director.
Friday, February 26, 2010
The first play in this set is one produced in the last few years by Berkeley Rep: Martin McDonagh's The Pillow Man. I didn't see the production, but I did see the later Berkeley Rep production of the same writer's The Lieutenant of Inishmore. My beef is with The Pillow Man. I ordered the script because I thought it might have potential as a new play to work on in class. I read much of it; not all, but enough to know I could put it aside. The difficulty with the play is that it depends, for much of its effect, on anecdotes told by the characters of harrowing, grizzly violence perpetrated on children, stories which may or may not turn out to have actually happened. Although I can understand someone objecting to this on moral grounds, my reservations are not moral, exactly, but rather aesthetic: a narrative that relies on this type of shocking victimization is, well, not much of a narrative anymore. This type of gesture snuffs out the atmosphere of possibility, competing priorities and painful choice that narrative art requires to operate successfully. As spectators, our reactions to horrific stuff done to children is, aesthetically speaking, utterly coerced: we are given no latitude, no room to doubt, to wonder what if, to imagine alternative ways of looking at the matter at hand. The great Richard Gilman: "Henry James once spoke of the public's inability to distinguish art from "sensation" in the theater, and in fact of it's preference for sensation." McDonagh's work, in this play at least, for all its "meta-narrative" reflectiveness, is totally preoccupied with the sensations of horror and outrage that violence against defenseless, innocent beings cannot but arouse.
Clicking through the blogosphere, at a blog called Thompson's Bank of Communicable Desire, I read about the work of Tim Crouch, and then learned he was bringing his show An Oak Tree to Los Angeles. From reading the interview with him, I got very excited, and went so far as to enjoin my current acting students in Los Angeles to go and see the show. I went in to the experience prepared to truly enjoy myself. And I hadn't even learned about the different-guest-star-every-night gimmick yet.
Crouch finds some movie star or theater luminary to be in the show every night. The guest is given clipboards with scripts to read off of and has an earpiece through which he is fed instructions of some sort (Peter Gallagher was the guest on the night I saw it). Crouch and the guest star interact and enact various situations, and eventually a sort of narrative emerges, a back story if you will, that has something to do with a child being hit by a car. I can't really remember the details now, it's been six weeks since I saw it, but I left the theater thinking, "that was a bunch of meta theatrical tricks enfolding a story about someone running over a kid." It had the playfulness and headiness of a constantly shifting theatrical frame combined with the indisputably awful anecdote of the child being run over. The evening was unsatisfying for several reasons, but the reprehensible aspect of it is the exploitation of the spectator's visceral recoil from the idea of the arbitrary and senseless death of a child. My indignation is not on behalf of the fictional child but of the very real members of the audience who were coerced into shock, outrage and sadness at the death of this child about whom we really knew nothing.
Apparently, hurting fictional children is Crouch's usual schtick, because in the blog post I linked to above, he and the blogger who interviews him discuss another of his pieces in which a child is apparently, or at least possibly, molested, again as part of the back story. It is clear that the function of these anecdotes is to add some type of weight and gravitas to the otherwise mostly gimmicky metatheatrical antics that comprise the work.
Then, just this past week, I read Will Eno's Thom Pain (based on nothing). The piece is a monologue of digression, rumination and banter on the performer, the audience, life, desire, pain, the good stuff. "Anyway. Now. I guess we begin. Do you like magic? I don't." The reviewer for the New York Times, in his review of the piece, famously characterized Eno as "a Samuel Beckett for the John Stewart generation."
The piece has only the slightest of narrative context, wisps of back story, that involve a boy's dog being electrocuted, with a graphic description of the wounds to the animal, and then the boy being brutalized by a hive of bees that "swarmed into his eyes and mouth, stung him on every skinny surface." Did I mention that the audience is instructed, when the boy is introduced, to "break his arm, give him an injury, some problem with his hip so that he stands funny, can't walk 'real good'."
Are we seeing a pattern yet?
Eno's piece shows enough promise that I want to read his full-length plays and other works. But I have to say, I concur with Peter Marks of the Washington Post who says about Thom Pain:
Yet the monologue stints on illumination; the light it sheds pours through nothing larger than a pinhole. In the end, it feels a rather ordinary, single-dimension exercise in navel-gazing.
Or this critic in Seattle:
Seattle has seen Eno's Thom Pain (based on nothing) at the Seattle Rep, and now TRAGEDY: a tragedy—getting cute with capitalization is always a bad sign—by new-to-Seattle company Satori Group. Not so much Beckett as bumptious, Eno writes loping, postmodern laments about the emptiness, alienation, and shit-slog that is modern living. Like an adolescent poet, Eno can't see past his own ennui.
I have nothing against meta. I love me some Miranda July, Wooster Group, Brecht, Peter Handke. But it only goes so far by itself, and cheap narrative gambits involving damaging children doesn't do anything to imbue the work with significance. Rather, they betray the writers' insecurity at their own ability to purvey characters and situations that will invite our aesthetic and imaginative capacities to unfurl, be challenged, and find the deeper varieties of satisfaction.
...the author of Shoplifting from American Apparel is already imagining a sequel to Shoplifting from American Apparel entitled Shoplifting Shoplifting from American Apparel from Urban Outfitters, which won't just be meta , it will be very.
Superstar acting teacher and Uta Hagen protege Howard Fine has a book out, called, Fine on Acting A Vision of the Craft. I have to say, there's a lot to like about it. He writes with real sensitivity and thoughtfulness about many of the challenges that actors face and the sandtraps they can fall into. I am going to pay it the highest of compliments and start assigning sections of it in my course curriculum. I am going to list off some of the money quotes below, but I will say first (with some relief, I confess, because that gives me at least one thing that differentiates me from him) that there is one important place where Fine's book falls short. That is in his discussion of objective, or what he calls the "why" question. Let's look at what he says:
...I use the term super objective as smaller and confined within the boundaries of the scene, so that the immediate objectives correspond to the super objective. Think of the overall objective as the spine, throughline or mainline of intent in the scene. Here's an example: You're an actor reading for a producer who is casting a part. But before that, you have to give a great reading, you want to handle the interview well and make a personal connection. Those are smaller objectives that lead you to the overall objective. The overall objective is the thing that really drives us. It can change within the course of the scene, depending on the information you learn, For example, that same producer calls you back and says "By the way, this project is non-union, there is no pay, and there is nudity." Your overall objective may have changed very quickly. So, depending on what happens in the script, your objective can change.
This is a primitive way of looking at objective. My teachers at the Drama School found a way of looking at objective that is much more supple and penetrating than this. In fact it was the problems with the view that Fine describes that motivated the creation of this new way of looking at objective (they say necessity is the mother of the invention ;)) I have written about it previously, and it is a bit involved. You really need a classroom context to make the power of it clear, but I will say a bit about it here.
Look at what Fine says above: when the producer tells you about the conditions attached to the project, he says your objective may change. What he neglects to discuss is WHY it might change. He creates a situation in which the reasons for the change are fairly intuitive, but there are many script situations where the change may not be that obvious. Moreover, when the objective changes, its power as a unifying principle, something that the actor can grab onto and RIDE, is vastly diminished. Consider Strindberg's Miss Julie. The two principal characters play long scenes in which they change frequently from being powerfully drawn to each other to being repulsed by each other. Simply marking these changes is not enough. The actor needs to get in touch with that which REQUIRES her to change what she is pursuing.
So my teachers created a distinction between plot objectives and the underlying objective. Plot objectives are outcomes that you might pursue in the world, like getting the role or extricating yourself from the encounter with the sleazy producer. The underlying objective is the the thing that you will GET FROM achieving either of these outcomes. It must be articulated compellingly and concisely, and is an expression of our universal deep-seated need to situate ourselves in relationships to others of various kinds. Another LA acting teacher, Ivana Chubbuck, attempts to write about this in her book, although her treatment of it is mostly facile and superficial.
What is also immensely important and valuable about this way of working is that the underlying objective is something that the character gets through realizing plot objectives but also at each moment INDEPENDENTLY of the long term plot objectives.
I don't doubt that Fine understands this distinction intuitively; there is much in his book that says he understands that acting has everything to do with getting in touch with the ways in which we CARE for others. But the approach to objective in his technique that he articulates is dated and limited.
Here are some thing he says that I really like:
- "Your central responsibility as actors is to affect and to be affected by, that is your job. You must affect someone else, and you must be affected by them. Any choices you make that disallow that exchange have taken you down a dead-end."
- "You must have a body that is responsive to you, that is flexible, and you must start to develop yourself physically to be a great actor. All forms of dance training, martial arts, yoga and especially the Alexander Teachnique are excellent."
- "The first common mistake that will lead you down a very bad path is judging the character."
- "Writers are not writing about someone's mundane life. They're writing about the important moments. When you look at a scene and you don't see the crisis that character is in, you have taken out what is actable in the scene."
- "So much is made of the differences between stage acting and television and film acting. I like to say to my students, "Would you study the violin for film? Would you learn how to play football for television?" Of course not, that would be ludicrous. You learn how to play the violin. You learn how to play football. You learn how to act. You learn the craft itself.
- "The goal of preparation is spontaneous life."
- "A developed mind is part of what will become your range as an actor, which means you have to develop your intellect formally through education, or you have to find a way to do it on your own. How will you understand what's going on in a scene, if you have not developed your ability to think?"
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Saturday, February 20, 2010
And in case you're lazy, here is the money passage:
"So, here again you have neurons which are enrolled in empathy. Now, the question then arises: If I simply watch another person being touched, why do I not get confused and literally feel that touch sensation merely by watching somebody being touched? I mean, I empathize with that person but I don't literally feel the touch. Well, that's because you've got receptors in your skin, touch and pain receptors, going back into your brain and saying don't worry, you're not being touched...
But if you remove the arm, you simply anesthetize my arm, so you put an injection into my arm, anesthetize the brachial plexus, so the arm is numb, and there is no sensations coming in, if I now watch you being touched, I literally feel it in my hand. In other words, you have dissolved the barrier between you and other human beings. So, I call them Gandhi neurons, or empathy neurons.
And this is not in some abstract metaphorical sense, all that's separating you from him, from the other person, is your skin. Remove the skin, you experience that person's touch in your mind. You've dissolved the barrier between you and other human beings. And this, of course is the basis of much of Eastern philosophy, And that is there is no real independent self, aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world, inspecting other people. You are in fact, connected not just via Facebook, and Internet, you're actually quite literally connected by your neurons. And there is whole chains of neurons around this room, talking to each other. And there is no real distinctiveness of your consciousness from somebody else's consciousness.
And this is not mumbo-jumbo philosophy. It emerges from our understanding of basic neuroscience."
Those of you who follow my blog know I have been reading Jeremy Rifkin's The Empathic Civilization,in which the critical role of mirror neurons are discussed at length.
H/T The Flux Theatre Ensemble Blog
Posted by Andrew Wood Acting Studio at 8:46 PM
Friday, February 19, 2010
...particularization: the making of each event, each person, and each place down to the smallest physical object as particular as possible, exploring these things in detail to discover in which way they are relevant to the character, in which way they are perceived, in which way they further or hinder the character's needs, and consequently, how they will condition "your" behavior.
By becoming familiar, in a painstaking manner, with the particularities of each person, place and thing encountered in the course of a role, the actor creates the possibility of being influenced by these particularities in the course of acting. Being influenced by said particularities is the source of the much-sought-after specificity in an actor's performance. Too many actors believe that specificity arises by making precise decisions about how they will say a line, how they will gesture when they speak, how they will walk across the room. But making decisions in this manner is a coldly analytical exercise that has nothing to do with spontaneity or authenticity: the actor stands "outside" and evaluatively shapes or crafts each moment of the role, hoping this will mean that her work will be deemed "specific."
Sadly, no. Specific work arises from several sources, but an important one is a clear perception of the world in which the character being played lives, more precisely, of the people, places and things that make up that world. By encountering or "bumping up against" these particularized people, places and things, the actor's speech, gestures, behavior and experience are conditioned and inflected by them, and the result is specificity in the work.
It's not the most sexy part of being an actor. Studying the objects that you handle in the course of a role, the furniture that you make use of, the clothing that you wear, and the people that you come across to take note of their many physical properties can seem tedious, and can seem to have little to do with the "passion" of the actor. But it is precisely by doing these things that these people, places and things go beyond being mere props or actors and take their place as an element of the imaginary world in which the actor lives. The actor becomes "attuned" to them in a way that they otherwise wouldn't be.
The resulting influence can exert a mysterious, underground influence on an actor. Consider the following experiment in psychology:
In the first experiment 34 participants were divided into 3 groups with each group unconsciously cued into a different state: one 'rude', one 'polite' and one neither. This had to be done in a roundabout way so that the participants didn't suspect they were being manipulated. What the experimenters did was give them a word puzzle to unscramble. To activate the idea of rudeness in one group it contained words like 'bother', 'disturb' and 'bold'. To activate the idea of politeness the next group unscrambled words like 'courteous', 'patiently' and 'behaved'. The third group unscrambled neutral words.
After finishing the unscrambling participants left the room to track down the experimenter but found him deep in conversation with someone, forcing them to wait. The question the researchers wanted to answer was what percentage of people would interrupt if the experimenter kept ignoring them by talking to the other person for 10 minutes.
In the group cued with polite words, just 18% of participants interrupted with the rest waiting for the full 10 minutes while the experimenter continued their conversation. On the other hand, in the group cued with impolite words, fully 64% interrupted the experimenter. The neutral condition fell between the two with 36% interrupting.
This is quite a dramatic effect because participants were unaware of the manipulation yet they faithfully followed the unconscious cues given to them by the experimenters. One group became bold and forthright simply by reading 15 words that activated the concept of impoliteness in their minds, while the other group became meek and patient by reading words about restraint and conformity.
The article I linked to above described the upshot of this and related experiments very well:
What this study demonstrates very neatly is just how sensitive we are to the minutiae of social interactions. Subtle cues from the way other people behave and more generally from the environment can cue automatic unconscious changes in our behaviour. And by the same token signals we send out to others can automatically activate stereotypes in their minds which are then acted out. As much as we might prefer otherwise, sometimes stereotypes can easily influence our behaviour and our conscious mind seems to have no say.
Got that? Our mind can absorb clues that it isn't even aware that we are absorbing, and this can influence our behavior. In the same way, by making the choice to consciously and deliberately expose ourselves to the properties of the people, places and things that make up the imaginary world in which we are endeavoring to live, we invite our unconscious to respond and adjust our own behavior accordingly, without our being particularly aware of it. Nothing could be further from the calculations of the actor who measures out every gesture and inflection to make it "specific." Specific it may be, but it is also dead. And "living truthfully under imaginary circumstances" is the name of the game, as the man said.
I don't talk a lot of smack on this blog. But Leo's a big boy. He can take it.
Leo's perpetually scrunched up forehead is supposed to register concern, consternation, irritation, something. But sadly, it doesn't. It's just a tic, and not one that anyone should be getting the kind of attention and kudos that he gets for it. I can't say that I am surprised that he's at it again in Shutter Island. It's probably become a permanent feature of his physiognomy. It's hard to think of Leo without thinking of his scrunched up forehead.
But people do scrunch up their foreheads in real life, so why shouldn't an actor? It's true, they do. The thing is that for Leo, it is an affectation, a crutch. An actor's face is a delicate thing. We want the face to be expressive, but don't want it to be used consciously to indicate inner states. I like to liken the actor's face to the surface of a pond: generally placid, but when someone throws a rock through that surface ripples are created, which eventually subside. As impulses are sent and received with the actor's partners, the face will respond accordingly, as part of the response of the whole organism, and then return to some type of neutral. But habitual facial tension is a very bad thing, for it actually makes that surface-of-the-pond rigid and inflexible, unresponsive to happenings without and within. If the pond freezes, you'll have to find something very heavy to throw at it to make any sort of impression at all.
At this point, I feel compelled to recall the great Samuel Beckett's words about habit:
Habit is a compromise effected between the individual and his environment, or between the individual and his own organic eccentricities, the guarantee of a dull inviolability, the lightning-conductor of his existence. Habit is the ballast that chains the dog to his vomit.
By the way, Martin Scorsese disagrees with me.
Says Scorsese in the article, "There’s no doubt that working with Leo—he’s been an inspiration for me."
Things are tough all over, even in Hollywood, I guess.
BTW I do wanna see the movie, I think it will be good, Leo notwithstanding. Also? Mark Ruffalo is DREAMMMMY.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
(If you only se HTML below, click the headline above to go to the blog and watch the video.)
Monday, February 15, 2010
Posted by Andrew Wood Acting Studio at 1:34 PM
(If you just see a bunch of HTML below, click the headline above to go to the blo and watch there)
I just watched this first part, but there are apparently three more clips of Glass talking about what he does
Posted by Andrew Wood Acting Studio at 11:22 AM
The one constant in all of your failed relationships is you.
I guess that's true. But the one constant in all of my successful relationships is me too.
I think it's time for a little bit of Chekhov:
"Are you a success? Am I? Was Napoleon? Is your servant Vassily? One must be a god to tell the successes from the failures without making a mistake."
(If you're seeing a bunch of HTML below, or nothing at all, click through the headline above to watch the video on my blog)
Posted by Andrew Wood Acting Studio at 12:09 AM
Sunday, February 14, 2010
A good piece at the theater blog A Poor Player, about the "indie actor", which is where most actors start out and many remain, if they remain actors at all. I consider myself an indie acting teacher, so I feel y'all on this one.
Anyway, apparently there was survey done recently by an outfit called the New York Innovative Theater Awards of actors working in Off Off Broadway in New York. It's, um, not pretty. The blogger at A Poor Player summarizes the outlook thus:
if you’re now in college studying as a theatre major at the graduate or undergraduate level planning to break into the theatre scene in NYC via the indie route, the statistics say that, for your educational and monetary investment, here’s what statistically you are/will become: a white, female, single, childless degree-holding actor holding down two or three jobs, and making $18.37 an hour at the career you educated and trained yourself for, all the while living in one of the most expensive geographic areas in the US. The stats also say that by 40 years old you will have left the indie scene at the very least; the odds are you will have moved on to something else entirely.
So you can't say we didn't warn you.
But I can also say that if you have found the thing to do in life that, after you have done it, you feel a palpable contentment, like you have done what Someone put you here to do, that's a very precious gift, and warrants a fair amount of adversity to keep on keepin' on.
And no, I don't have a Prius Plugin. It was a zipcar.
Posted by Andrew Wood Acting Studio at 5:04 PM
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Many of the renegade psychologists of the 1930s and 1940's thought differently [than Freud]. They argued that children are born with a reality principle, and that principle is to seek affection, companionship, intimacy, and a sense of belonging. The search to belong, they suggested, is the most primary of all drives. Society often tempers or represses the drive for affection and intimacy to serve socially constructive ends, but it remains the essential nature of human beings.
That's about the size of it. It is the recognition that the search for belonging and connection is the basis of EVERY SCENE is what is still not widely grasped in many acting approaches today. As Americans, with our national story of rugged individualism and frontier self-reliance, we can have some difficulty with this at first. We are, though, in the final analysis, mammals, and mammals are herd animals. When we get down to what is primitive, visceral and essential for us, it is the need to belong: to belong as a son, a mother, a teacher, a cool kid, a person of conscience, an artist, an athlete, a benefactor, there are many different kinds of belonging we can seek, but belong we must. This yearning, this passion, this appetite for belonging is the source of the energy needed to live our lives. It is this drive that is the "motivation" that acting teachers of past generations were reaching for or groping for. It is vitally important for us, and we know it is vitally important for others as well, and the fact that we know we each have it to give and receive in distinct ways gives us the clout to negotiate with others and fight for what we need. It is, at once, our greatest liability (we are miserable if we suffer from a great deficit of it) and our greatest resource (we can bestow belonging and appreciation others, and receive this appreciation from others). Acting is learning to make this need palpable and visible as we present the push and pull of these negotiations and struggles across every conceivable context. Now that's what I call a vocation.
Posted by Andrew Wood Acting Studio at 1:01 AM
Friday, February 12, 2010
Posted by Andrew Wood Acting Studio at 11:51 PM
From Constance Clare-Newman:
Hello students, friends, colleagues,
Please pass this along to anyone who you know would benefit!
Move into the spring with balance and ease!
Introductory Alexander Technique Class
This six-week class will meet Thursday mornings, 10:30am-12pm, February 25-April 8. (skipping March 25th)
Includes 6 group sessions plus one private lesson. Cost is $250.
Learn basic functional anatomy as it relates to posture and movement.
Understand how your state of mind affects your muscles and postural state.
Discover the unconscious habits that interfere with your good posture, free movement, and even mood.
Explore changing these habits in class and practicing better posture, less effort in activities and poise of your mind/body self.
Classes include mindful movement and breath explorations, practice in activities from your daily routine and individual hands-on guidance. Students leave each class feeling relaxed and revitalized. Each week offers a new practice to explore and skills you can use immediately.
This practical weekly group experience includes a private lesson in which you receive a personalized evaluation of your postural and movement patterns, and new ways to un-do them.
Class sessions are 90 minutes; private sessions are 50 minutes. Class size is limited to 6 students.
Classes are held in Rockridge, Oakland. 2 blocks from BART and just off Hwy 24.
Call or e-mail Constance for more info, or to register, 510-655-2734
Less Effort, More Ease
The Alexander Technique
Check out Constance's great guest post on this blog here.
where else in America?
Posted by Andrew Wood Acting Studio at 12:14 AM
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Posted by Andrew Wood Acting Studio at 10:45 PM
Saturday, February 06, 2010
As I wrote previously, I am currently reading Jeremy Rifkin's book The Empathic Civilization, and find it constantly...arousing, not sexually, but spiritually. So I want to share some of the juicy morsels that I come across as I read. Here's one:
If freedom is the ability to live out the full potential of one's possibilities and if the measure of one's life is the intimacy, range, and diversity of one's relationships, then the more vulnerable one is, the more open he or she will be to creating meaningful and intimate relationships with others. Vulnerable in this sense does not mean being weak or a victim or prey but, rather, being open to communication at the deepest level of human exchange.
Real courage...is allowing oneself to be exposed--warts and all--to another person. It is the willingness to place the most intimate details of our lives in the hands of another. To be vulnerable is to trust one's fellow human beings. Trust is the belief that others will treat you as an end not a means, that you will not be used or manipulated to serve the expedient motives of others but regarded as a valued being.
This is at the heart of what acting is and what we value actors for. Great actors are able to engage in the mimicry of their fellows in a way that doesn't merely reproduce their behavior, but also lays bare this vulnerability in a way that is palpable, immediate and undeniable. They bear witness to our interdependence and our capacity for reconciliation and harmony. They confront us with what we all share: a deep, visceral, unquenchable longing for connection, belonging and play.
This is why I call the "underlying objective" is the touchstone of what I teach. As actors we must learn to bring our own vulnerability to bear on the circumstances of the imaginary people we portray. By struggling (and I mean struggling, it wouldn't mean much if it were easy to find) to articulate the need which the actor can recognize the most urgent priority of the person they are embodying, in their own visceral and direct words, the actor forges a connection with the humanity of the character that can serve as the basis for everything they undertake in the role. There is a Zen koan (or riddle) which says "The ten thousand things return to the one, what does the One thing return to?" For the actor, it is her underlying objective, the thing that she is asking for at every moment, her most urgent priority and purpose.
Sacred Heart image by
Friday, February 05, 2010
Posted by Andrew Wood Acting Studio at 9:38 PM
From Twisted Sifter:
You’re the Fleet Admiral of the Navy in World War I. Your ships are being sunk at an alarming rate by the devastatingly effective German U-Boat. The traditional camouflage isn’t working because your environment (sea and sky) changes with the weather. What do you do?
You hit them with The Razzle Dazzle.
Thursday, February 04, 2010
At least according this remarkable article from the New York Times.
Researchers at the University of Aberdeen found that when people were asked to engage in a bit of mental time travel, and to recall past events or imagine future ones, participants’ bodies subliminally acted out the metaphors embedded in how we commonly conceptualized the flow of time.
As they thought about years gone by, participants leaned slightly backward, while in fantasizing about the future, they listed to the fore. The deviations were not exactly Tower of Pisa leanings, amounting to some two or three millimeters’ shift one way or the other. Nevertheless, the directionality was clear and consistent.
H/T Sydney Martin.
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
Posted by Andrew Wood Acting Studio at 2:16 PM