Just finished reading Antony Sher's Year of the King--an actor's diary tracing his process of becoming Richard III at the Royal Shakespeare Company. I can't believe I hadn't read this before. I had stumbled across Sher's essays on playing Macbeth and Leontes in the Players of Shakespeare series. That is one of my favorite acting resources. The British acting greats share their respective processes and thoughts on playing a variety of Shakespeare characters. It's as if you've been given a chance to have a drink with them at your favorite bar.
Anyway, I finally dove in, bought Sher's book, and devoured it. I learned Sher regularly writes about his process (whether it's for a book or not). The offer for this one wasn't made until halfway through the process. Rehearsing at the RSC in the early eighties is ridiculously luxurious (they had like eight weeks to put up RIII). The squabbles, frustration, and insecurities run rampant. It's comforting to know how much Sher danced a fine line of terror and joy throughout.
Year of the King begins with the tiniest seed that he would maybe play Richard III in an upcoming season. The idea begins to overtake him and the dream state of creating a role begins (even before he accepts the part). A mountain in South Africa reminds him of Richard's deformity. An opera chorus sends him to Richard's coronation. A serial killer in the news gives insight to personality traits and actions.
This is one of my favorite times in the process. A professor of mine called it the incubation period. This is the time when the imagination and subconscious swirl around. Possibilities are endless. You read the play. You might try on a few of the lines. You might stumble across a painting or piece of music that reminds you of the character. The key is that there isn't any formal work being done. I don't say: “Oh, I've got three hours free, I'm going to daydream about playing the Dauphin.” The work and the role aren't at the forefront of the mind, but wisps are present.
I love it.
And now, I'm transitioning into the next phase. I don't know what you'd call it, but it's more active. It's that step between the incubation and memorization. This involves hearty effort in learning the play inside and out. Doing research. I've scanned all my lines of verse. I've completed paraphrasing for The Life of King Henry the Fifth and Julius Caesar. The thinking is heading toward setting down ideas completely. They will likely change, but it's more about committing to the idle brainstorm that was happening previously.
I hope to share more details about the scanning and paraphrase process later on.
It's been a while since I've felt so energized about working on a new set of plays. Part of it comes with comfort. I've been with the ASC for two full years. I get to work with four other actors whom I've shared a lot of time with on stage (a blessing). I'm going on tour again. I'll be with some of the same directors. There's an ease and trust that comes along with this familiarity. And, of course, I cannot wait to meet the new folks and tap into their energy. It's ideal.
The other thing: I'm playing some big roles, particularly Cassius and Jack (in The Importance of Being Earnest). These are dream parts. I feel an affinity for them. I also feel a big responsibility to them, but, right now, I'm pleased to say I'm not intimidated by that.
Just finished Dan Harris's 10% Happier book, which I read on Oyster Books (a great service that acts like a Netflix for books). I loved it. Here are some quotes:
...when you're moving from this project to this project, your mind flits back to the original project, and it can't pick it up where it left off. So it has to take a few steps back and then ramp up again, and that's where the productivity loss is. This problem was, of course, exacerbated in the age of what had been dubbed the "info-blitzkrieg," where it took superhuman strength to ignore the siren call of the latest tweet, or the blinking red light on the BlackBerry. Scientists had even come up with a term for this condition: "continuous partial attention."
A question to ask yourself:
Is this useful?
It's okay to worry, plot, and plan...but only until it's not useful anymore.
Picture the mind like a waterfall...the water is the torrent of thoughts and emotions; mindfulness is the space behind the waterfall.
An ice storm has invaded Murray State University (Murray, KY) where the Method in Madness tour is staying. A couple weeks ago we were on Daytona Beach! The weather wasn't all that Florida glorious at the time, but it wasn't threatening to cancel shows like it is in Murray.
Given that I'm stranded, I thought I'd share some goings-on.
For those who don't know, I'm part of the touring troupe with the American Shakespeare Center. We've got 11 actors and 1 tour manager trekking across the country with a repertory of three plays: Hamlet, Much Ado about Nothing, and Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. We've got one month left on the road before we return to Staunton, VA at the Blackfriars Playhouse. There, we'll continue the three-show rep and add David Davalos's Wittenberg to the mix.
Enough about that.
I am in love with Austin and Nashville. The food, music, and people are top-notch.
I went to the Punch Brothers concert at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. It was one of the best live music experiences of my life. I don't go to a lot of shows, so I don't have much to compare it to, but it was electrifying and effortlessly engaging. The album is on constant repeat on my wee iPod nano. The Punch Brothers offer a progressive-bluegrass-jazz-classical—oh whatever—it's not enough to label them. Listen to the music, see a show, and have your life changed.
I had a chance to see something truly weird: Thr3e Zisters by the Salvage Vanguard Theatre in Austin. It was the act of bringing zombies to Chekhov's play and smashing the whole thing with a hammer. I usually keep my theatre-going toward the more traditional, so attending some new garage band/indie theatre was a breath of fresh air. The performances were compelling and the design was wonderful. They had lights! Sound! Set! (We don't really use those things at the ASC.)
These two cities, in particular, have got me thinking more about the communities of artists across the country. One of these days (who knows when), I'll likely root down somewhere. I'm not saying it'll be one of these two (but I'm not saying it won't be either).
I'm rallying through a bunch of books. I'm reading A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons at the same time. A nerd compiled a suggested reading order for these books (they happen at the same time, but the characters featured in each are different). So now, I don't have to slog through 1000 pages before I get to a Tyrion chapter. It's gone well so far, but it's not the easiest to just pick up with our jagged touring schedule.
So when I get sick of the dragons and slaughter, I've finished The Martian by Andy Weir and Us by David Nicholls and Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby.
The Martian is about astronaut Mark Watney who is stranded on Mars. His crew thought he was dead. They left him behind. They were wrong. So, he uses his science genius to survive until some help arrives. Will he make it? The book is dense with chemistry/weather/math—stuff that actors tend to avoid. But I was able to track most of it it. He comes with some really close calls. It was genuinely thrilling at times. There's strangely not a lot of heart or emotional density.
Us packs a more emotional punch while blending in some hilarious bits. Douglas plans a European art tour with his wife and troubled son. His wife wants to separate, so he uses this holiday to bring the family closer. Disaster ensues. I enjoyed the locales (London, Paris, Amsterdam, Spain) and the voice of a pretty neurotic biologist. He manages to screw up a lot of his relationships, but it's great to get inside of his head. You understand why things happen, which I think is important for many stories (if not all).
Ten Years in the Tub is Hornby's collection of every column he wrote for The Believer. Every month (well...not every month) he wrote a list of the books he bought and the books he read (ten years' worth). Hornby's enthusiasm for reading is infectious. He's witty and has some incredibly odd reading habits. You could say this post is a riff on that.
We have a few weeks left on the tour. Let's see if the country thaws out by then.
I just read this great conversation about writing, love, motherhood, and theatre between Sarah Ruhl and Polly Carl over at Howlround. Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing. I'm putting her new essay collection on a wishlist.
I'm nearing the end of Lev Grossman's The Magician King and a third of the way into Leslie Jamison's The Empathy Exams. It's been difficult to read steadily these days. We've been working on the three shows (Hamlet, Much Ado about Nothing, and Doctor Faustus). The level of precision and stamina required to do these shows is quite high.
We leave for tour on Monday.
I'm not quite sure how I'm going to pack everything into a tiny suitcase.
While you're here, give the music of Takuya Karoda a listen. My friends Josh and Sarah gave me his latest album on vinyl for my birthday, and I've become obsessed.
Later, all. Work is going well. The people I work with are incredible folks. You can follow our adventures on Tumblr.
I don't really know what this blog is going to turn into. I've thought about making a "book blog," and the minute I started it, I loathed the process.
I've read some others and they're very careful--mostly book reporty. On the other hand, I have a terrible memory. I was flipping through some Tumblr of an avid reader/writer. He mentioned that when he wrote about what he read, it made a lasting impression. That clicked with me. I think putting some thoughts down into writing require the mind to engage with a "text" rather than skim it, which is what I do all the time. Twitter is notorious for that. I've read a lot in the past year, and only scattered images come to mind. I want a deeper relationship with the books, television, movies, and music I spend my time with. I want to have more of a conversation with them. Perhaps others will want to participate. Does that make sense? I'm not out to get a bunch of readers. It's not like that. I think I want to work a bit more transparently (a la Austin Kleon's Show Your Work).
So here we go. I'm not promising great prose.
Lost For Words by Edward St Aubyn hooked me from the premise:
"The judges on the panel of the Elysian Prize for Literature must get through hundreds of submissions to find the best book of the year. Meanwhile, a host of writers are desperate for Elysian attention: the brilliant writer and serial heartbreaker Katherine Burns; the lovelorn debut novelist Sam Black; and Sonny, convinced that his magnum opus, The Mulberry Elephant, will take the literary world by storm. Things go terribly wrong when Katherine’s publisher accidentally submits a cookery book in place of her novel; one of the judges finds himself in the middle of a scandal; and Sonny, aghast to learn his book isn’t on the short list, seeks revenge."
I recently bought an eBook version and devoured it in a few days. This book is funny and short. It's episodic. It kind of reads like a pilot to a TV show (perhaps something like Slings & Arrows with less heart). You've got a judging panel that is anything but qualified to deem the Elysian Prize to any book. You get to read excerpts from entries. They're all pretty bad (and I mean that in the best way):
wot u starin at - a gritty book of sex and violence, think of an terrible version of Trainspotting or something
A Year in the Wild - an "Into the Wild" knockoff where man and nature entwine. The epitome of purple prose.
All the World's a Stage - Shakespeare hanging out in taverns with Marlowe and Jonson
The Greasy Pole - "the story of a working-class lad from the Highlands, ends up becoming Prime Minister of Britain"
The novel drives (choppily) toward the awards dinner, where the committee cannot agree on a winner. There's some "essaying" about what deserves awards, what is literary, what is relevant, etc. I chuckled often. It's a fun read. I think, had I read a physical book, I would have made notes and underlined my favorite passages. I'd probably have more to say. It's obvious St Aubyn thinks literary prizes are crap. The wit is great. It's a light read with some sting, but nothing too acerbic. Before this, I'd been reading A Sword of Storms, so this was a great palate-cleanser.
(I am terrible at this. I don't know how critics and recap-writers do this.)
What's been more, enjoyable, however, is learning more about the author Edward St Aubyn. Recently, The New Yorker published a fantastic profile. St Aubyn is most noted for his Patrick Melrose novels, which I cannot wait to read. I expect that series will climb toward the top of my To Be Read pile.
And maybe, by then, I'll be able to get the hang of writing about my reading.
News, updates, quotes, and other miscellany.
Books Read 2020
Books Read 2019
Books Read 2018
Books Read 2017
Books Read 2016
Books Read 2015
Movies Watched 2020
Movies Watched 2019
Movies Watched 2018
Movies Watched 2017
Movies Watched 2016
Movies Watched 2015