Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Call for the Classics

An informative and sharp article about how, despite the flash and bang and occasional astounding qualities of some modern shows, Disney-esque crap has diluted what once was the crown jewel of theatre. A look at the pre-70's musicals that worked, why they worked, and why they aren't working now. A look at when theatre was theatre and not a decidedly inflated cash-cow.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


I know I just posted, but today (Wednesday, even though technically it's Thursday now) was such an artistically successful and personally satisfying day for me. I'm on the right track again, I can feel it.

I had my first experience acting for film today, and it was delightfully new and exciting. It was a short scene for a communications class studying filmmaking and their project involved having to create a short film for their class, so they recruited acting students to help out. I played the wife of a wonderful friend of mine, Billy, who is just a darling and very good at what he does, so we had some very fun chemistry in front of the camera. We were in someone's house a town over from the school, set up in the kitchen with a few lights and a boom mic and a camera and other equipment that was just really really cool looking. The scene itself was only about 8 or 10 lines long, total, very short, but we shot it over 20 times to get the right sound levels and the right overlapping sound cues and different angles, and it was absolutely fascinating. I had always written myself off as a stage girl, film wasn't for me, but this was a very interesting taste and I liked it. It's much more personal, very intimate, and getting the reactions from the crew was lots of fun. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I'll hopefully end up with a copy of it so I can take my scene and start a film reel, like an audition selection to send in for if I ever want to do film work. A sampling of my prior experience sort of thing. I'm dying to see how it turns out, too - it certainly isn't Oscar worthy or anything, but it was so much fun.

Later in the afternoon I got to brush up my modelling skills as well - my friend Alisha is a photography student and has a "mockumentary" project to do, which she has chosen to do on abused women. Guess who was Abused Woman #1?

She painted a black eye onto me with blue, purple and black eyeshadows and eyeliner, and we created a bruised and puffed up lip with some really cheap spirit gum knock off stuff that was basically wax with cotton fibers in it, so it was disgusting but ended up serving its purpose. The film was black and white, and, in a moment of genius (and a tribute to old Hollywood), we made some badass fake blood with Hershey's chocolate syrup. It has better consistency than store-bought fake blood, and for the purpose of photographing it, it stays put and drips slower, but makes really pretty smears and drips. We made an absolute mess of her bathroom in the process, but when we were done I looked rather battered. (Though it is very, very difficult to look miserable and in pain when you have chocolate syrup in your mouth and up your nose. I did a bloody nose myself for an extra touch of pain.) She also hijacked a Parcan from the theatre, so we had some intense lighting as well. It's on film, so they haven't developed yet, (I saw some of the negatives this evening, however, and some of them look quite delightful) but when they are, I will certainly get myself a copy of at least one, because everybody needs a photo of themselves being beaten up by friends. (Poor Dean - I started to cry when Alisha had him grab my hair and raise his hand to hit me, and he couldn't even look at me he felt so bad. The make up was disturbing, and he's such a nice guy, haha.)

Now I'm up at 1 am doing homework for my theatre classes in the morning. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day - Class, class, painfully frustrating practice with professor for class, voice lesson, homework, Vagina Monologues. And Respect For Acting at every spare moment. :)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Respect For Acting

Excerpts from the Introduction of Respect For Acting, by Uta Hagen:

"I used to accept opinions such as: "You're just born to be an actor"; "Actors don't really know what they're doing on stage"; "Acting is just instinct - it can't be taught." During the short period when I, too, believed such statements, like anyone else who thinks that way, I had no respect for acting."


"Many people, including some working actors, who express such beliefs may admire the fact that an actor has a trained voice and body, but they believe that any further training can come only from actually performing before an audience. I find this akin to the sink-or-swim method of introducing a child to water. Children do drown and not all actors develop by their mere physical presence on a stage."

"More than in the other performing arts the lack of respect for acting seems to spring from the fact that every layman considers himself a valid critic. While no lay audience discusses the bowing arm or stroke of the violinist or the palette or brush technique of the painter, or the tension which may create a poor entre-chat, they will all be willing to give formulas to the actor. The aunts and agents of the actor drop in backstage and offer advice: "I think you didn't cry enough." "I think your 'Camille' should use more rouge." "Don't you think you should gasp a little more?" And the actor listens to them, compounding the felonious notion that no craft or skill or art is needed in acting."


"One of the finest lessons I ever learned was from the great German actor Albert Basserman... He watched us, listened to us, adjusted to us, meanwhile executing his actions with only a small part of his playing energy. At the first dress rehearsal, he started to play fully. There was such a vibrant reality to the rhythm of his speech and behavior that I was swept away by it. I kept waiting for him to come to an end with his intentions so that I could take my "turn." As a result, I either made a big hole in the dialogue or desperately cut in on him in order to avoid another hole. I was expecting the usual "It's your turn; then it's my turn." At the end of the first act I went to his dressing room and said, "Mr. Basserman, I can't apologize enough, but I never know when you're through!" He looked at me in amazement and said, "I'm never through! And neither should you be."


And neither should you be.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sleeping Giants

In my quest to figure myself out and center myself and further my craft through experience, I find myself wondering if I'm doing all right. Not just from an acting standpoint, but as an individual. I like teetering on the edge, but I'm worried. Trying to keep my health up, keep up with my work, balance everything. I think I'll manage. I just went a little overboard recently. Wearing myself down. I've got to cool my jets. Think some.

Focus. Possum breathing. Center myself.

Monday, April 13, 2009

When I Say That Something, I Think You'll Understand

I seek to understand so much about myself - it's the only way to learn to twist my mind and my body and my soul to create what I need to create. It's far too late to be doing this right now.
A different voice to HIM.

ME: tell me - could you see where you were going to be eight years ago?
HIM: no way... i had no idea. my drive and ambition for performance is all coming from years and years of innate practice, just living a crazy life. but i know what i am supposed to do, in order to make my mark in this world. the fact that you know now, is amazing, its fucking fantastic.

HIM: because now all you have to do is LIVE. and while you live, you can experience everything with that lens, storing it all and computing it in your mind and muscle for theatre. the hard part (intelligence, education, work ethic, drive, etc) is already there.
ME: sometimes living is the hard part, yeah? haha... it's a funny road we walk, but I like my shoes just fine.

ME: whenever i think about what it is to be an artist and what I've unintentionally but willingly started to do with my life, I get such a wierd, existential, second-minded passion going on
HIM: isnt it awesome? it can be frustrating, but at least you know you will never work for the sake of working, marry for the sake of will never be mundane
ME: I could never live a mundane life - it would kill me
ME: the very thought of it threatens to kill me
HIM: you will always be passionate, and everything you do will always have that weird existential crazy reason behind it. and it is that that makes life worth living.

I'm stuck in place right now, I feel. Frozen in time, suspended while part of me runs around creating a chaos to live in and ease the emptiness of that waiting sensation. No amount of confidence or knowledge can make that feeling go away.

I was told in simple words what the emptiness in my heart was, a long time ago. I was fifteen years old, I think. Four years isn't that long, in the grand scheme of things, but a lot of shit went down in four years. Life altering things. But I'm understanding the depth behind those simple words.

There are people I miss very much right now. I don't think they even realize how much I miss them, or why.

I never considered myself a Fatalist, but I believe in Fate with all of my being. I'm holding her hand and I won't bother fighting this time - she hasn't let me down yet. All things in time, she says. Her sound is a dream, her words a coincidence.

I need to go to bed. Right now.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Unrelated: The Ballad of Growltiger

I met a new friend today, a small, dusty little stray cat called Scruffy who apparently lived on our porch all winter and has adopted our house as his home. It's so sad to see him sleeping outside in the cold, though, and I wish we could take him in, but Dodger and Latte would probably hate him and he might have diseases. He just seems so lonely. This is entirely unrelated to my theatre theme, but this is the Ballad of Growltiger (Scruffy's tough-guy tomcat name).

There is a little hobo cat
who lives outside my door,
If ever there was a home he had,
he hasn't anymore.

Small and shabby, hoarse and thin,
Around the block he roams,
A growly little voice is heard,
investigating homes.

Afraid of me he was at first,
(Kindness was hard to find),
Gold coin eyes and sooty fur
and that gravel voice did whine.

The little thing, he had no name,
but he wound around my hand,
and I pat his head and loved him so -
This affection, so unplanned.

Outside the door he'll always sit,
he cannot come inside,
But this little lonely hobo cat
has somewhere warm to hide.

A cushioned bench upon my porch,
all painted white and green,
An outdoor throne, and on this seat
small Scruffy can be seen.

The saga shall continue.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Some little things

Ordered a copy of Uta Hagen's Respect for Acting off of Amazon for 3.99. (FREE SHIPPING! booyah.) I love bargain shopping. I'll have it in two days, when I go home. I'm smart and had it shipped to my house, not my dorm. Clever girl. :) I needed to order a cheap one because I almost bought a 20 dollar version at the Drama Bookstore in NYC, and I don't have the money to be buying 20 dollar books right now, no matter how useful they may be.

I have two monologues in The Vagina Monologues now. It's making the experience a little better, now that I get to scream "CUNT" in front of a bunch of people. Good theatre has made me an elitist, and that is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand I am a better performer for having such high standards, but I'm also stuck doing low quality shows for a little bit. Joy.

Small, informal casting call for a video production class' short movie tomorrow afternoon. I'm up against one of SCSU's queens of the stage again, though (one of the two from the Les Blancs auditions), and I have resigned myself to the fact that I will get nothing until experience moves on. Whatever. Anything to act, I guess.

Selecting classes for next semester is one god-awful headache. It's hard to fulfill requirements when all the gen eds I need are snatched away by the upper classmen before I can even look for them. I will get three theatre classes though, so that should be good. Stage Speaking, Acting II, and Historic Dance for Actors. My first dance class - I'm on the right track now. ;)

We're doing scenework in my Acting I class now - moving on from monologue work to utilizing a partner in a scene. I've also been spoiled by being able to work with some amazing people in the past, so now I just wish I could have them back. They remember who they are - having an incredible scene partner pushes you to a new level and depth that you can't find if you're supporting the scene all on your own. I have two partners in class, because there was an odd number and someone had to do two scenes, so I pulled the proverbial short straw. One of my scene partners is wonderful. I call her "Scene Partner Awesome," or just by her name, Alisha. My other scene partner is named Mike, and he looks like a junkie Anthony Rapp and acts like one too, minus the Anthony Rapp part. I don't know what the hell I'm supposed to do. I think feeding lines to a brick wall would incite more of a legitimate response.

Easter weekend - no class on Friday, woohoo! When I get my Uta Hagen book Friday I'll probably post some tidbits from that for you before the weekend is out. If not, Happy Zombie Jesus Day (or, in layman's terms, happy Easter)!

Monday, April 6, 2009


An excerpt from Anna Deavere Smith's Letters to a Young Artist, one of my favourite works and one of the most inspiring and honest. The blurb on the back reads:

"Here is Anna Deavere Smith's brass tacks advice to aspiring artists of all stripes. In vividly anecdotal letters to the young BZ, she addresses the full spectrum of issues that people starting out will face: from questions of confidence, discipline, and self-esteem, to fame, failure, and fear, to staying healthy, presenting yourself effectively, building a diverse social and professional network, and using your art to promote social change. At once inspiring and no-nonsense, Letters to a Young Artist will challenge you, motivate you, and set you on a course to pursue your art without compromise."


Hi, BZ:

Your grandmother is losing her memory. Her short-term memory, that is. She cannot remember seeing you yesterday, but she can remember with clarity her girlhood. I would like to take this interest that you have in memory and talk about your memory as a gold mine for your art.

My Aunt Esther said to me, about two years before she died, "Old age is sad; nobody tells you it's going to be this sad." And she looked at me with her clear gray eyes. And it broke my heart.

So: memory. Memory is not only a practical utility that helps us know whewre we are. Memory is an essential substance for us, as artists. Memory is the beginning of romance; it's at the root of feeling. We are a conglomerate of complicated memories, all kinds of memories that make us who we are. Now, your grandmother can't remember that youc ame to see her yesterday, and she certainly can't remember what you gave her for your birthday, but she remembers her fifth birthday party. And possibly she longs for that.

My favourite quotation - or let's say the quotation that really gets to why I have chosen to be an artist:

"A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened."

That is a passage from Albert Camus. I learned it from a remarkable man named Barney Simon ...

So for me, this quotation from Camus - both what is says, and how I came upon it, says it all. My work is nearly a full-time enterprise of trying to reach back and find those great and simple images that first found access to my heart.

Being an artist requires an intense identification of all aspects of life. For acting, this requires an ability to experience, absorb, accept, feel, and transmit all aspects of the human condition - all notes on the scale. It is exactly this "rediscovery" with open arms, of all of those elements, in the way that they first found access to my heart. Some of them made my heart sing, some of them held my heart like a cradle, some made my heart tremble, others made my heart break. But it's all part of it. BZ, you can also help others rediscover those two or three great and simple images through your work.


Text belongs to Letters to a Young Artist, by Anna Deavere Smith, published by Anchor Books, trademark of Random House Inc., New York, copyright 2006.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Take Care of Your Voice

(The DRAMATICS article! At long last!) This is really long, but chock full of info.

A mildly altered adaptation from Eric Armstrong's DRAMATICS March 2009 article. (Volume 80, number 7, page 29) I'll tell you which sections are taken from the article, so Mr. Armstrong gets his credit, since it's a wonderful article.

Exactly the sort of stuff I'd been looking for three weeks ago, and I found it a week too late. That's karma for ya.That very awkward colour image is a diagram of what sits behind that hard spot at the front of your throat. On guys, it's called the Adam's Apple. On girls, it's called that hard spot at the front of your throat. I don't know what a lot of those words up there mean, but I know what all that pink stuff is for. That is the mechanism that allows humans (and, in altered forms, many animals) to create sound. Homo sapiens sapiens gets the bonus of lips and tongue and a big ol' brain to turn it into words, but that little system in your throat is the basis of all sound in the human range. Get to know and love that funky mass of muscle - it's your connection to the world.

(Old school diagram above is bird's eye view of the box - if the bird were sitting in the back of your mouth.)

As performers, we sort of rely on our voice box a lot. And I mean a lot. As people we rely on our voice boxes a lot in general. But to performers, whose ultimate purpose is to convey stories or ideas, it's rather essential (unless you're a mime, but I'm not working to be a mime, sorry Marcel). An actor's two main tools to manipulate are the voice and the body. This is focusing on the voice.

If these muscles aren't trained properly or used in the correct way, there can be serious damage done to them, which is an actor's nightmare. Losing your voice the night before a show? Eek. Permanent damage from straining the muscles incorrectly? Even bigger eek. But it's almost impossible to avoid a sniffly little cold every so often, right?


That is where Eric Armstrong's article comes in - "TAKE CARE OF YOUR VOICE: Simple ways for actors and others to keep the instrument in shape."

"As with good health in general, a few simple precautions and adjustments of habit can make a big difference."

There isn't always a miracle fix for a sore throat on musical night, but if you start now and train your body and voice in a way that is correct and healthy, you can protect yourself from vocal injury in the future. And not just actors need proper voice care - just about everyone in theatre does. Directors, stage managers, producers, crew heads, front of house staff... anyone who needs to communicate effectively should be taking care of themselves so that they have their voice when they need it.

Don't overdo it.

Theatre isn't the only thing you do. Everybody knows this - we all have other interests that can be potentially taxing on our bodies. Fatigue of the voice and body can be very detrimental. If you're a tired person, you've got a tired body, a tired mind, and a tired voice. Don't scream at sporting events if you're in the process of preparing for a show. Try to scale back vocal use leading up to the show - if it's an intense vocal part, you're going to need everything you've got, so be conscious of what you're doing vocally. All parts of the body need to be working in sync with each other for a prime performance.

Center your breathing.

There are different schools of breathing techniques out there, but the general point of all of them is to make sure that you have enough air to perform what you need to. People, in general, breathe shallowly in everyday situations; they breathe from the upper part of their chest, so that their breaths come from beneath the shoulders, neck and breastbone. This is just fine for everyday speaking, but onstage it can strain the neck and throat. Diaphramatic breathing is a general term for it, and my vocal instructors have come up with some clever terms to help me understand the concepts behind proper breathing. "Possum breathing" is my personal favourite, since it helps to remove all reliance on that upper chest breathing. Breathing from your core, deep, fluid air flow that causes your whole abdomen and part of your thorax (anatomy!) to push outward - that's the sort of breathing that needs to be done. Kristen Linklater's book discusses this quite a bit, so I would invest in that. See the Starry Eyed Idiot box for tools regarding it. The voice and air should pour out, not be pushed. Proper training with your breathing will add power and tone to a voice, because it is not being forced at all. It's better for the voice box as well.

Warm up.

This one might seem obvious, and it really should be, because a simple little warm up can make a very big difference. Get into the habit of warming up. It tunes your instrument - just like runners would never fly into a 100 meter sprint without stretching first (the consequenses of that are terrible to imagine - shredded gastronemicus, anyone?), actors should never go into any sort of performance without warming up the voice. It's a delicate little system, and needs to be treated as such. Focus yourself mentally, get your body working with stretches, engage your diaphramatic breathing, vocalize lightly to tune up... find a routine that works for you.

Stay hydrated.

Water fixes lots and lots of vocal issues. A well hydrated body keeps the vocal cords (and the rest of your body) functioning smoothly and lubricates the works without getting all mucousy and tempting you to clear your throat. Dehydrated bodies create mucous to try and lubricate the vocal cords, but it's not good for the voice, so keep yourself hydrated. Most Americans are chronically dehydrated (according to some cool scientific studies), so go fix that statistic. If you're not American, you should still go hydrate yourself. The best way to get enough water is to sip on it all day - carry a water bottle with you; you'll be more likely to drink it if you have it handy.

HANDY (but awkward) TIP! If you pee pale, you're hydrated. The more water you've got in your system, the more you'll piss out and the clearer your pee will be. When I was trying to cure my bronchitis before an audition last semester, I drank so much water that I literally peed clear. I'm sure you wanted to know that. It kept me hydrated and I had at least a little bit of a voice to audition with, which is better than none. Water. It works.

Take care of your throat.

Armstrong addresses three problems that can injure the throat and what to do about them. Clearing the throat, coughing, and heartburn. Yes, that's bad for the voice too, not just your craving for chili. I won't talk about heartburn since I don't have it, and the only advice he gives is to go see a doctor.

Clearing the throat - Don't do it! The itch you feel at the back of your throat can be caused by mucous in the throat and mouth (a side effect of dehydration and colds and any number of things), and the habit of clearing the throat is instinctual, sometimes. But the action of clearing the throat bangs the vocal folds together (see little grey diagram) and can injure them, and when you clear your throat it just makes more fluid to soothe it, which can make you want to clear it even more. Vicious cycle. It's a bad habit that a lot of people have, including myself, and you want to make efforts to not do it anymore. The Miss Piggy "uh-hum" is a safe alternative, a gentler version of the throat clearing action.

Coughing - Don't do it! Just kidding. You can't help coughing if you're sick or have irritated your throat somehow. It's dangerous though because it blasts open your vocal cords and strains them very badly. Medication that limits the urge to cough and treats the underlying cause is the best way to go, if you have a stubborn cough. Cough drops aren't necessarily good for a cough-roughened throat, either, though I have found that sometimes they are my saviours (see the post about my love affair with Elderberry Ricola). Some lozenges contain menthol that can irritate the vocal cords while cooling your throat. If you want to use cough drops, I'd go for Ricola, since they seem less harsh in the long run, though they do still contain menthol.

Treat your cold.

The advice I needed three weeks ago! This is the ailment that affects people's voices the most. In addition to the fun of runny noses and stuffed sinuses comes the swelling of the tissues in the throat. The swelling can lead to hoarseness, or even the loss of your voice. That's never good for an onstage situation, and I always panic when I get a cold, since I seem to get them every six months on the dot. Or three months, depending on the weather. Steaming your airway is the best way to deal with a cold, Armstrong writes. Boil a pot of water, and carefully breathe the steam as you cover your head and the pot with a towel (see picture so you don't boil your face off). Humidifiers in winter are a good way to keep the airways nice and hydrated and prevent colds. Steam, lots of rest, and limiting the use of the voice are the best ways to cure a cold and get back on your feet for a performance. The absolute best way to treat a cold, of course, is to not get one in the first place, so taking care of yourself and staying healthy is the absolute best option around.

Be smart with extremes.

Different situations require different uses of the voice - theatre takes place in lots of different areas, and if a play is outdoors or in a tiny black box, it will require a different set of vocal skills to manipulate the voice appropriately for each area. Cold, dry, dusty places are rough on the voice, as are noisy places, since they can make a performer push their voices too much just to be heard. No matter what situation you are in, and what sort of performance you are in, the rule of thumb for me is that "if it hurts, don't do it." Nothing you do to your voice should ever strain or cause pain. You can seriously hurt your instrument doing that.

However, there are times onstage when a character may need to scream, yell, cry, choke, cough, maybe even puke. Those extremes can be damaging, so it is important that there is proper vocal technique being taught that can prevent those extremes from injuring a performer. Losing your voice for good is not worth one badly placed shriek in one show.


All in all, take care of yourself and your voice - eat well, drink enough water, get enough sleep (tough for students, but it's worth a shot anyway, haha), and playing smart no matter what the circumstance. Take care of your voice - it's the only one you've got.

Another credit to Eric Armstrong for most of the information presented here. Subscribe to Dramatics magazine - it's worth it.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

When you're broke, what do you do? See more shows!

Saw Godspell at The Ivoryton Playhouse this evening - it was a delightful rendition, though it's always strange to watch a show you've already done, especially if it's a very different version. Made me ache to do it again. And their voices were kind of sort of amazing. The Equity actors helped a little bit, I'm sure.

Going to NYC to see West Side Story on Saturday - should be a wonderful time, even if we get horrendously shitty seats like when I saw In The Heights. West Side is a classic, man - and there will be some serious dancing, which I'm excited about. I always hope I can get better at dancing through some form of visual osmosis. If only it worked that way.

Making progress in the theatre department at the university. Was nominated for two Board positions and one Crew Management position - I'm not sure I'll accept all the nominations, however, but the fact that I was thought of and seconded is flattering. And I'd like to get more involved anyway. Maybe I could be Secretary. Treasurer just sounds like it might kill me.

I'm being totally miserable about putting up that article I keep saying I will. Not like anybody is too terribly interested. Think the Spotlight would get more traffic if I stopped telling my theatre journey stories and just put up lessons? But that was never the point - the point was how to get where I'm going, and everything that entails, beginning to end.

Must practice monologue for Acting 1. Must figure out college.