Saturday, September 25, 2010

on the character actor

A nice New York Times piece on the plight/path of the character actor. The money quote, for my money anyway:

the very best character actors are made of equal parts discipline and madness

Madness, madness, where have I heard that before?

Oh, that's right, here.

H/T Zoo O.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

things I did in San Francisco

I'm leaving tomorrow, so I wanted to take a little inventory of some the great things I experienced here:

  • founded an acting school
  • got my PhD. in German literature from Stanford
  • performed at Trannyshack
  • acted in a play at the Magic Theater
  • directed The Zoo Story
  • fell in love
  • turned 40
  • started a blog
  • ate homemade salted caramel ice cream with hot fudge topping and Marcona almonds (many times)
  • traveled twice to Vienna
  • got 86ed from Bootie!
  • saw Belle & Sebastian twice, and the New Pornographers twice
  • attended Micaya's THUMPIN hiphop classes
  • hosted a total stranger through
  • got 415 tattooed on my neck

And those are just the things that are fit to print...


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Rommel's rule

Some time ago, my very wise bonvivant friend Rommel taught me a simple rule. I have been applying it, and have found it to be incredibly useful. Here it is:

If you have to say something to someone that you think will agitate them or hurt their feelings, do NOT say it in email or a text message. Speak to them on the phone or say it in person.

Rommel, being the eminently practical guy that he is, didn't speculate about why this was so. So I'll step up. First of all, there is the obvious fact that you don't have the option of using vocal inflection to soften the blow when you are writing. There is also the permanence of writing: someone once described writing as "words that stay", and this makes it harder for the hearer of the bad news to remember that the words are only your opinion, not immutable fact. But finally, there is the fact that when you give bad news or criticism in person or on the phone, you are PRESENT to the impact of your words in a way that you are not when you have expressed yourself in writing. In that way, you can take more responsibility for them. When you are present when speaking critically, you are vulnerable to the reaction from the other person, which is, of course, the danger, but your willingness to be present in this way can go a long way toward reminding the other person that you speak as a well-wisher or a friend, someone who is in the trenches with them in whatever they are attempting to do, and not a distant, evaluating onlooker.

I've been trying to practice it, and I have found that when I do, I like the results that I get. So I wanted to pass it on.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

end-of-the-cycle thoughts

My class cycles in both cities ended last week. Since then, some thoughts have been rattling around in my head that I thought were worth getting out.

I had been teaching for three or four years before I figured out that it was a good idea to have students "warm up" their scenes on Friends and Family Night, that is, do them once for me alone, before the guests arrived. I found that it made a huge difference for people to be able to walk through the scene once, say their lines, and remember where the furniture was. I would give some encouragement and a tiny piece of feedback, to give them a little challenge for the final presentation and keep them on their toes.

This past cycle, doing the warm-up round in both cities, I noticed that the note that I seemed to need to give time and again was "remember to connect to the need". It's a little ironic, since the whole course is about the need and how everything emanates from that, that THAT was the thing that students would forget to bring on stage with them, but there it is. In most cases, once I reminded them, they brought it the next time. But I found myself thinking about the fact that so often that was what they initially left behind.

I suppose nerves is part of it. And then there is the damned complexity of the scene. The practical complexity, such as costumes, setup, props, etc. And also the complexity of the unfolding give-and-take with the partner. The actor can get fixated on all of this complexity, and forget to see the proverbial forest for the trees. The irony is that if the need has been uncovered and rehearsal has been used well, then the need acts as an organizer of all of this complexity, if the actor just remembers to focus on it and to allow it to guide them. This is what Stanislavsky refers to as the "channel" of the scene. If the actor can allow herself to be guided by the channel, the rest will mostly take care of itself.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

rockstar set designer Erik Flatmo joins Uranium Madhouse

California audiences know Erik Flatmo from his work at theaters like Southcoast Rep, ACT, Berkeley Repertory Theater and the California Shakespeare Festival. He is a faculty member in the theater department at Stanford University, and is an alumnus of the world-renowned design program at the Yale School of Drama. I am very pleased to announce that Erik has elected to become a member of Uranium Madhouse, the new theater company I am starting in Los Angeles. Welcome Erik!

Monday, September 06, 2010

Friends and Family Night-- SoCal and NorCal

click to see em bigger

Thursday, September 02, 2010

theater company mission statement: a work in progress

Please let me know your thoughts!



The prospect of a madman obtaining the power that this potent metal can confer has led this country into at least one war, and that same prospect threatens to involve us in another. As theater artists, we see ourselves as the custodians of spiritual uranium: through our command of our empathic and critical faculties, we have the potential to unleash chain reactions of personal and social transformation. We acknowledge the awesome responsibility this entails, and set ourselves the task of creating work that honors and harnesses this potential.


Recognizing, at the same time, the poet's injunction that "much madness is divinest sense", we see the theater as a place for madness; that is, for passionate vitality, radical freedom from constraint, and the willingness to see what others cannot or will not. We see the actor as one who is ready to surrender her whole being to the passions, cares and extreme circumstances of another, effectively inducing a kind of madness in herself, a radioactive madness. Having entered this altered state, the actor lures her audience into temporarily abandoning their immediate personal concerns and following her into the space between habits, a centrifuge wherein new forms of life can be glimpsed. We further celebrate the destabilizing power of laughter, which can expose the rigid postures that a debased culture offers as models of fulfillment.

THEREFORE: we see both the world and the theater as a URANIUM MADHOUSE, and seek to make a home for ourselves in both. To that end, we produce plays, both contemporary and classical, that attest to the challenge and difficulty of living in such a world. We produce plays that dramatize the bombardment of the fragile, unstable isotope that is human well-being and belonging by relentless rapaciousness, aggression and cruelty. In short, we produce plays that manifest the virtue of spiritual ambition, especially in the defense of the promise of civilization.

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