Mark Rylance on Directing and play
"I'm very keen that [the actors are] always speaking to try and affect the other person...to affect, to try and change the world--either by affecting what the other person is doing or wants them to do, or by releasing something that's pent up in themselves, which needs to be expressed. But they're never saying anything in order to illuminate you about 'ooh, that's a big theme, or that's what the play's about.' It's a play. It's a play. "
Mark Rylance - Approaching the Play / The Old Vic Conversation
I look forward to reading updates by Regina De Vera. She occasionally blogs about her "Julliard Journey." And this is from the latest reflection:
During my late teens and early twenties, I had bought into the notion that a "leading lady" or an "ingenue" was a soprano. I might have unconsciously forced myself into being a soprano because I wanted to be a "leading lady." Much of my Juilliard journey (which includes my casting and my work in scene study classes) have challenged all these ideas of "leading lady," "ingenue," "character actress" and so on. "All acting is character acting," one of my acting teachers said. I am very happy to have begun letting go of this hold to become of a particular mold and embrace my voice and my self and my soul as IS. I love that I am an alto. I love that I can sing deep notes. And I love that I can sing high notes, nevertheless. Having range is good.
Type is something actors obsess about. I have mixed feelings about it. And I won't go into all of that right now. But I love the "All acting is character acting."
Ali Smith's Autumn is the first of four seasons novels. I understand they are independent novels, but I'm sure they will talk to each other in fascinating ways. Critics have considered it the first major post-Brexit novel. While it does cover some of that territory, it's much more than that. The dread about the results of "The Vote" can be directly applied to America. It's immediate and expansive. No wonder it's shortlisted for the Booker.
This is a book that has an extremely dense thread count. It's not linear. It read like a long prose poem. I don't know that I've read too many novels that are this "experimental." But Smith is being careful as much as she's being playful. Nothing feels capricious (except when it's inentional). The quotes I've copied below are fairly bleak, but I promise you, there is a pervasive "stop and smell the roses"/"rise above the muck" element that I adored. The autumn here is often hot and humid. Leaves are falling. Winter is coming, but there are wondrous bursts of color and life. Much like the autumn I'm experiencing right now.
The primary story involves the close friendship between Elisabeth, a young art professor and her old, dying neighbor Daniel. There are imagined conversations, dreams, flashbacks, and cringe-funny passport renewal scenes at the post office. We also get to see Elisabeth working on her dissertation on Britain's pop artist Pauline Boty.
I was able to finish this in a couple days. I've never read Smith, but I'm keen to try others.
The opening sentences:
"It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. Again. That's the thing about things. They fall apart, always have, always will, it's in their nature. So an old man washes up on the shore. He looks like a punctured football with its stitching split, the leather kind that people kicked a hundred years ago."
(Elisabeth frequently reads to Daniel. One of the books is A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens.)
And it continues with lines like these:
"Can you be hungry and dead? Course you can, all those hungry ghosts eating people's hearts and minds."
"Someone killed an MP, she tells Daniel's back as she struggles to keep up. A man shot her dead and came at her with a knife. Like shooting her wouldn't be enough. But it's old news now. Once it would have been a year's worth of news. But news right now is like a flock of speeded-up sheep running off the side of a cliff."
"Anonymous people start to add tweet-sized comments about Daniel beneath Daniel. They are commenting on his ability to change things. The comments get more and more unpleasant. They start to make a sound like a hornet mass and Elisabeth notices what looks like liquid excrement is spreading very close to her bare feet. She tries not to step in any of it."
"The pauses are a precise language, more a language than actual language is, Elisabeth thinks."
"He had a voice off old films where things happen to well-dressed warplane pilots in black and white."
Interviews with directors
We opened Love's Labour's Lost last week.
Here's an interview with Matt Davies, the director for that play.
"Romantic comedies work best when the audience is playing catch-up, just one step behind the love trysts and the comic shenanigans, and panting in excitement to keep up. Put on your running shoes, and tune your ears: you’re in for a frantic feast of wit, wisdom, and waggery."
And here's an interview with Jenny Bennett, who directed Much Ado about Nothing.
"Another thing that I love about this play is the notion that since we’re all invented out of nothing, we can reinvent ourselves out of nothing, too. Several people in this play are confronted with a rebuke of who they are, or how they’ve been behaving – they overhear people talking about them or are directly told they’ve made a terrible error. The real mettle of a person is revealed by what they choose to do with that information. Grace is available to those who take action to repair what’s broken, to be available to Love, to be ‘good men, and true.’ Along these lines, I’m quite fond of our 5.3 Tomb scene. Chris Johnston, Music Director, wrote the most beautiful song. I won’t spoil it here, but I hope you love it as much as I do."
These are two smart folks with lovely things to say about these Shakespeare comedies.
Both plays are running in rep with Peter and the Starcatcher at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA.
Never give up the part.
"Never give up the part. Never give up the play until it's played you out. Never let go. Well, let go, but don't let go, if you know what I mean. Never be satisfied. No work of art is ever done, it keeps on going long after you're dead. You personify the person and the play for a brief time, then step out of the character's shoes and the character keeps on going and you keep on going and you are ships that have passed in the night. So use all the time and breath you have to make your creation more alive, more real, more human, more interesting, more shocking, more whatever's required to wrap yourself in the blood and bones of a brief ghost who's here and gone and never was and always will be, a person more real to you than staring in the mirror, because you do more than see them, you feel them inside of you, fighting for breath and words to speak and someone to listen. You listen, until you feel their heart beating inside of you and they know they're home and you know you're home and you're breathing as one and. time. stands. still. And you look at the person across from you and you're looking and you're talking and you're listening and you're breathing together in a world all your own, that you truly believe in. And, so, the people watching you believe. And the outside world is gone and there is only this world, there is only this time, and it all stands still and it's all gone in an instant. And you breathe."
- Actor/Author Ray Chapman
From the University of Houston Professional Actor Training Program on Facebook
"Making it" / "Doing it"
The following is from an interview with Lucian Msamati.
He's currently playing Salieri in Amadeus at the National Theatre.
What advice would you give to aspiring actors?
'Making it’ is for magazine covers and talk-shows; here today, gone tomorrow. 'Doing it’ is what you always wanted to do, are doing or will do. You can always 'Do it.’ So get on with it. Don’t be discouraged or pressured by the 'Make it’ brigade. Excellence and passion have nothing to do with 'Making it’ but absolutely everything to do with 'Doing it.’ So get on and 'Do it.’
Janet McTeer in The New Yorker
This is more for me than anything else. But here are a variety of quotes that struck me in a John Lahr's profile of Janet McTeer in The New Yorker.
She wants to be known for the parts she plays, not for who she is. As she told the Daily Telegraph in 1996, “When I take off my stage makeup and walk out of the door, my obligation to the audience is over.” To me, she said, “There’s a reason I live in the Maine woods, where nobody knows what I do for a living. I think you can be better if someone who’s coming to see you perform has no idea who you really are.”
“I was incredibly self-conscious about the way I looked.” The year she was fourteen, she grew seven inches and had to bandage her legs to ease the growing pains. “I was half an inch taller than the boy I liked. I remember I was doing my piano practice, and I started sobbing. My father couldn’t cope with it. He gave me a tot of whiskey and ginger until my mother came home.” But the moment was a kind of emotional watershed. “After that,” McTeer said, “I stood up tall, and I never slouched. It was a sort of act of defiance, really. And, when I went to college, I realized that my height was an incredible tool. I could really use my body in a way that I felt was theatrical: you can stoop, you can be big, you can be galumphing, you can be nineteen-thirties and elegant. You’re much more malleable.”
McTeer sees acting as a form of jazz—a performance in which each player makes new music from a familiar tune. “I want to see live theatre,” she told me. “I want to not quite know where it’s going—so, when you see performers, you feel like they’re inventing it as they go along, rather than doing something that’s polished.” Once, she sat in the audience at what she describes as a “controlled, grownup, well-presented play.” Afterward, a man in front of her turned to his companion and said, “Wasn’t that marvellous! Gin and tonic?” she recalled. “I thought, I never want to be in that play, to do something easy that doesn’t challenge you. The idea of being in something competent—well, watch television.”
Coleman [McTeer's husband, on the night he first saw her] wrote in his journal, “She slips through air like a harbor seal in an icy green sea.”
In “The Dressing Room,” a poem about this first encounter with the inner workings of McTeer’s craft, Coleman bears witness to her shape-shifting from ordinary citizen to extraordinary performer:
She throws her head
back and guzzles a Diet Coke, turns up the
volume on her stereo and curses, howls
sways her weight from one foot to the other
the room getting smaller and smaller
and the air suffocating
“Janet feels a connection between fearlessness and great work,” Rourke said. “In the rehearsal room, in performance, she drives herself to the edge of what frightens her, and jumps off.” Working at that level of intensity requires reserves of energy, especially in a play like “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” which places enormous demands on the actors’ verbal dexterity and mental focus; sometimes McTeer pushes herself too far. “I hate being tired for shows,” she told me. “I’m not one of life’s great sleepers. I work quite hard at sleeping.” She believes, she added, that “you have to be fitter than the play you’re doing.”
McTeer follows a vigilant regimen. For a very physical show, like “The Taming of the Shrew,” she spends the afternoon before an evening performance at home. At three o’clock, she has a salad and perhaps does some reading. At four o’clock, using “my Paul McKenna hypnosis tape,” she said, she naps for half an hour, then for another half hour lifts weights and takes a hard spin on an exercise bike. After a shower, “I’d hum, get my voice started warming up, and I’d bike to work,” she said. While playing Petruchio, she never looked in the mirror, but for Merteuil, she said, she’d “maybe put on a face mask, check my nails, because I want her to have nice nails, nice moisturizer.” She explained, “You’re as vain as your character.” She also always listens to music before a show: baroque for Merteuil; for Petruchio, “anything loud.”
McTeer’s characters may change and her routine may vary, but one part of her ritual stays the same. Before every performance, especially when she’s tired, on matinée days, “just for a second,” she peeks out at the audience, “to see people’s eyes.” She tells herself, “That person wants to be moved, that person wants to be excited, that person is here to see a bit of magic. All right, I can do this.”
I toiled around with sharing my thoughts on the Globe production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. When I got going (there was a lot, and it was very exciting), I realized that what I had to say was a lot of sound and fury. It didn't mean nothing, but it was pretty...petty...? I don't know. Maybe I'll sort out those ideas some day. But for the moment, I'd rather spend my energies on making my own work and helping others with their work.
For the record, there were so many things I believed to be a great success, but there were some other things that stuck out and wouldn't stop stabbing me. And they were arguably pesky details.
Details matter. And my voice does matter.
But I was exhausting and boring myself in the process of ranting. So that may never see the light of day.
So, in lieu of today's auditions for All My Sons (I'm the director), I'll post this quote from Joseph Haj.
He's the AD at the Guthrie Theater and I can't wait to see his work live.
But the question I will post to all of us is: "Are we making the work that we most want and need to make?" Or are we making some other kind of work while waiting for the economy to recover, the audience to come, the Board to step up, the Foundation to embrace us, the NEA to recognize us. What are we waiting for? Better times? These ARE better times. This might be as good as it ever gets. Right now. And a fear-based, scarcity mindset that invites us to hunker down, think small, share nothing with anybody, have no courage until some imagined "better day", in fact pushes us towards the very demise that we are trying to avoid."
"I think it’s that thing of wanting to bash things apart a little bit and break through some stuff. And I needed it to sound a little radical to feel good about putting something out in the world. For me, it’s not embarrassing, but the old records are of this kind of sad nature—I was healing myself through that stuff. Being sad about something is okay. And then wallowing in it, circling though the same cycles emotionally just feels boring. For this one, there’s still some dark stuff and whatever, but I think cracking things, making things that are bombastic and exciting and also new, and mashing things together, and explosiveness and shouting more, I think that was the zone. I think shouting. Whispering was maybe the thing before. But this time--[hits his keyboard and makes a loud robot sound]"
Read more about his new album here.
Some Things I've Read This Week
How Daveed Diggs of ‘Hamilton’ Spends His Sundays
How to Be Rejected
Justin Taylor at HowlRound
An Interview with Jessica Hecht and Alexandra Silber
(currently playing mother and daughter in the 2016 Tony-nominated revival of Fiddler on the Roof)
Creativity Is Much More Than 10,000 Hours of Deliberate Practice
Scott Barry Kaufman at Scientific American
A Writer's Room: Irvine Welsh
New York Times
The space itself is really four areas: a library-type room with a large desk I can cover with a manuscript; an alcove with my decks and music; a smaller office with a whiteboard and reference books; and a balcony where I can sit outside and write in the sun, counting my blessings that I don’t have a real job to do. As much as I like this place, I try not to get too attached to it, and I therefore do a lot of work in coffee shops and on public transit. It’s important for me to be able to write anywhere and not get too precious about trying to chase the fool’s gold of optimum conditions.
Books Read 2022
Books Read 2021
Books Read 2020
Books Read 2019
Books Read 2018
Books Read 2017
Books Read 2016
Books Read 2015
Films Watched 2022
Films Watched 2021
Films Watched 2020
Films Watched 2019
Films Watched 2018
Films Watched 2017
Films Watched 2016
Films Watched 2015