Monday, May 31, 2010

we can all only hope to go out like this

I have written previously about the theater teacher I had for my senior year in high school who passed away last year. The video of her extraordinary Memorial Service at the school in Chicago where she was teaching when she died is now available. The tribute given her by her daughter Jenny is as inspiring as it is beautiful. In two parts: (if you just see HTML below, click the headline above to visit my blog and watch the videos)

And then there's what this guy said:

Visit the Robin Bennett online memorial.

Friday, May 28, 2010

must-see acting TV

Jeremy Rifkin's The Empathic Civilization is, which have written about several times before, is the gift that keeps on giving, in a good way. Here's a great video summary of it:

(if you just see HTML below, click the headline above to watch the video on my blog)

H/T Ari K

Thursday, May 20, 2010

life imitates surrealism

Especially in Bangkok, right about now.

On the cover of the New York Times today.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

the Thomas Jefferson you never knew.

“We will be soldiers, so our sons may be farmers, so their sons may be artists.”

– Thomas Jefferson

Unfortunately, it hasn't really worked out that way.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

look at me!!!!

(If you don't see a video below, click the headline above to visit my blog)

Television is a drug. from Beth Fulton on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

you are not alone

H/T Rocco at What's Good/What Blows In New York Theater

sometimes I feel like this when I teach

Like the mother cat, that is. I guess sometimes I feel like the kittens too.

(If you just see a bunch of HTML below, click the headline above to go to my blog and watch the vid)


Good actors listen. Meisner teachers will tell you that good actors "really listen". But like most things in acting, there is more to this than meets the eye.

We know our way around our own lives. There are people we know well, and we have a good sense of what to expect from them, both in the way of satisfaction and of grief. This expectations mean that we don't just listen to them, we listen for something when we listen to them. Other people are strangers, but as fully socialized adults, we are past masters at reading context clues and knowing what we can expect of others based on our knowledge of the world. We know that when we are wandering around Best Buy, people dressed a certain way (store uniform of sorts) are answerable to us as shoppers, and we can prevail on them of help.

These expectations are not just about what will happen, but also about how these expectations will affect us. We are looking for needs to gratified and vulnerabilities to be handled with care.

So when we listen in our real lives, we always immediately know what we are listening for.

As actors, not so much.

As actors, we are attempting to be someone else, and that someone else has a view of their own needs and expectations about their world. So not only do we need to take in what happens around us, but we need to understand the needs and expectations that we bring to those events. No easy task.

In my class, we always look to articulate a visceral, gut-level need that the character is pursuing and that shapes their expectations about the situations they encounter and the outcomes of those situations. This need lives in the belly, and one consequence of this is that we see listening as something that happens not only with the eyes and ears, but also with the belly button. I had an opportunity to speak with a psychiatrist recently who told me that recent brain science suggests that that there is actual processing that goes on in the belly, so this is more than a metaphor. He told me about a book called Mindscape that I am looking forward to checking out.

When I am acting and have managed to connect to that need in the belly, the sensation is always that I am generating some kind of suction in my belly as I listen to my partner, I am "sucking in" what is coming at me in the scene. This is a much more active process than is commonly imagined. Because I am bringing needs and expectations to what I see and hear, these needs and expectations prompt me to "suck in" what I encounter, so that I am not merely observing the events around me, but measuring their significance to me.

An additional complication is that if the actor is attempting to "listen" with the need in the belly, it's possible that other parts of the body, particularly the areas of the body below the belly, that is, the groin and the legs, may go to sleep, because of the hyperfocus on the belly. This is remedied using Uta Hagen's notion of destination. If an actor knows what the possible spatial outcomes are of what is transpiring around them (someone may come closer to attack or to show affection, or someone may leave, or it may become necessary for the listener to leave), then the actor is listening not only with their gut and upper body faculties, but with their faculty of locomotion, with their hips and legs as well.

Some actors don't listen at all, some listen with their eyes and eyes, some listen with their eyes, ears, and in their chest (heart), but it is listening with the belly and the lower body that attests to the visceral importance of what is transpiring in the scene. And that kind of listening, no one is going to be able to look away from.

So go one and get your suck on! Your acting will never be the same!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

the full spalding

Well, now that the dissertation is in the can, I figured that it would be good to get out more, so I started knocking on doors at Bay area theaters and sending out directing resumes. And opportunity has knocked back, in the form of San Francisco's Custom Made Theater Company. They have asked me to direct the play Stories Left To Tell, a play created from the posthumous writings of Spalding Gray at the instigation of Gray's widow. The script is terrific and I am really looking forward to working on with a group of fantastic actors. It opens in late January. Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

all hail David Cronenberg

I watched Eastern Promises the other night. I guess I have to eat my words from a few days ago about American filmmakers not knowing how to make movies. Cronenberg is a master.

I particularly admire a director who is able to achieve a high level of acting skill across a cast. Achieving this demonstrates a real understanding of what acting is about, and it's reassuring to see that there are people out there with that kind of understanding making movies. All of the principals deliver in this film. I have put History of Violence in my Netflix queue. I am not sure how far back into the Cronenberg ouvre I'll be able to go. Scanners and Videodrome may be beyond what I want to deal with in a movie. But it's great to see an enfant terrible grow up without losing his edge. It doesn't always work that way.

And for the gay guys in the house: you REALLY don't want to miss this movie. Trust me.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

what a star makes possible

I saw a movie called Harry Brown last night, starring Michael Caine as genteel English retiree and former Marine Harry Brown who takes up arms against a sea of gangsters who are terrorizing the housing projects in which he lives. While Caine has received accolades for the role, it was clear to me after seeing the film that the filmmakers included Caine as a way of getting the film made and distributed, and then used the opportunity to make the best movie they possibly could around him. The denizens of the gangster underworld that Caine breaches on his errand are the true pleasure here: they are gritty and real, but the filmmaker imbues them with an otherworldly hue at times that gives the film resonance beyond its immediate sociopolitical context. When the hooligans set fire to something at the entrance to the apartment of Brown's best friend, the sequence is shot in a way that evokes an evil that is erupting into a pervasive and suffocating presence.

Caine himself is remarkably lackluster, and much of the opening 10 minutes of the film are painfully dull as a result. I attended the film with a filmmaker friend of mine who was inclined to the lay the responsibility for this dullness on the script, but I believe that had Caine found a deeper, visceral connection to the griefs and fears weighing on Brown at the outset (the impending death of his hospitalized, comatose wife, the loneliness he is facing, and decline of his surroundings), these sequences might have been more compelling.

Intellectually, the film does not ultimately cohere: it raises the specter of the necessity for vigilantes without providing any meaningful answer to the problem. Nevertheless, I give the filmmakers props for their achievement: they made a significant compromise in using Caine (it is clear to me from the quality of nearly everything else in the movie that they could not have seen it any other way), presumably in order to overcome various logistical hurdles of production, but still told a vivid and harrowing story. This is director Daniel Barber's first feature, and is an extremely auspicious debut.

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