Monday, July 30, 2012

Reading the script

The morning smells of Los Angeles.  Odd how smells trigger memories.  Odder still that after more than 30 years in the East, and a good many years since I've even visited LA, I should suddenly start smelling the cool, misty, eucalyptus-pungent mornings that I remember there. But several times over the past year, I have stepped outside, taken a breath, and been flooded with memories. I was even moved one Sunday to research apartments online. (What does this mean?)

Had the first read-through on the play J.B. and got a look at the cast. Only one is a familiar face to me, and unlike The British Players cast, where it was all one happy family, only the principals seem to know each other here, so there will be a process for everyone of warming up and learning to work with different personalities.  Some of the concepts director Rip Claassen has in mind for staging the play are very exciting, and my role, though small, is not insignificant.  I was glad of that.  It's my first time working for The American Century Theater.  Much to learn.

You can get a lot out of just reading through a script with the assembled cast - things you don't hear in just silently reading the lines on the page.  I participated in a script reading in Baltimore last month at Ken Arnold's Studio Boh.  Mike Morucci, who is a very talented writer, had penned a script for the ABC-TV series Castle and wanted to hear it read by actors before sending it in to ABC for a shot at a writing fellowship.  It was a terrific script, tightly written and funny.  He has a great feel for the characters.  I got to play Martha Rodgers, which was a hoot.  Actress Susan Sullivan, who plays Martha on the series, does a great job in that role so I consider it a compliment that Morucci said I so captured Susan's voice that he thought she was in the room.  (Ha!)  I like comedy.  Wish I could do more of it.
Reading through a TV script for "Castle" at Studio Boh in Baltimore.  I'm on the far left.

So, this week I put my J.B. scenes on audio tape so I can get off book as quickly as possible.  Only one day of rehearsal for me, but next week I imagine the days will start to build.

Friday, July 27, 2012

At the Columbia University Film Festival

One of the things I did back in May that was pure pleasure was attend the Columbia University Film Festival at the Lincoln Center in New York. A film I did for Michael Toscano, The Louder the Better, or Max Cotton’s Climb to the Top, was one of the entries (and went on to take Faculty Honors), but I was also impressed by Andy Nguyen’s beautiful, gritty, Forever in Hiatus, about a washed-up former pop star pedaling a bicycle taxi aimlessly in the streets of Ho Chi Minh City; Nathan Floody’s delightfully wicked animated short, Hunters; and Juliet Lashinsky’s riveting Keys. Wallet. Phone, which I thought so much of I contacted the star, Rae C. Wright, and gushed until I’m certain I made a pest of myself. I’ve had bits and pieces in films where I thought I did okay (I’m my own toughest critic), but Wright had the whole film to herself and turned in a lovely, nuanced, emotionally wrenching performance that had me eating my face with envy. The credits started rolling and I just sat in my seat, stunned, and thinking "Wow.""

Here’s what Rae Wright said about her young filmmaker, and the art of acting: “I think Juliet's a good director.  She gave me time to keep sorting out where we were in the sequence of events, (even though we couldn't shoot in sequence.)   I often struggle with doing the work in order to avoid taking on the suffering of a life.  My tricky mind says; "Why work hard when there's not much pay?"  "This character is such a lame excuse for a woman!"  -- stuff like that.  I like this quote:  "Even though the actor longs to be swimming in the water, they approach the shore with trepidation."

Rae C. Wright
Wright, who reminds me of the great British actress Lesley Manville, is not without experience.  She studied with Lee Strasberg and Kim Stanley (who played Pancho Barnes in The Right Stuff). She earned a ton of stage experience touring with an ensemble in Europe and has appeared more recently in one- and two-person shows in the New York/New Jersey area.  She also writes plays and teaches acting to undergraduates at New York University.

Now her focus is on landing a role in a great television series.  I have no doubt that she will.  What a wonderful talent.

And what a great time I had watching all of these films and meeting some of the directors and actors.  Columbia has a terrific program.  You can watch their 25th anniversary video and see interviews with many of the filmmakers, including Michael Toscano here.

By the way, I turned the wrong way coming out of the Walter Reade Theater at the Lincoln Center and suddenly found myself on a dark street in front of a fire station. I asked one of the firefighters where I might be more likely to find a cab. He said "Well you can find one right here!" and the whole contingent of firefighters stepped into the street and stopped a cab for me. I love it! Only in New York!  It was a great evening.
The crowd after the screening.

The Walter Reade Theater at the Lincoln Center

A scene from The Louder the Better, which took Faculty Honors

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Soon to be On Stage Again...This time in J.B.

Heading into rehearsals next week for American Century Theater's production of the Archibald MacLeish play J.B.  A small part, but still a grueling schedule through early October. Trying to get a class or two in and still be home enough that the dogs and cats don't forget who I am.  Glad to see some familiar faces in the cast. Theater really is like family.

A Session with NY Acting Coach John Pallotta

A rough few weeks with too much going on.  But I'm back, and lots to say about what I've been up to.  But let's talk acting.  

I went to an introductory group session this week with New York Acting Coach John Pallotta and it was quite remarkable. His advice seems to run counter to what we learn in most acting classes.  If you’re trying to capture a character you create a backstory, right?  You think about motive and objective.  You agonize over whether you understand where the character is coming from.  Well, I won’t say that Pallotta says to forget all that, but what I saw him accomplish with actors (including myself) was very much impulse and spur of the moment.

The advice seemed to be to simplify the scene and then relate it to a personal experience; for example, a monologue from Frankie and Johnny he expressed as “boy meets girl, boy gets laid” (and wants to get laid again). Then add the knowledge that the “boy” has been in prison for three years and physically apart from women.  Just that little bit of information transformed a nervous, flat reading into something touching and real. My Queen Margaret monologue from Henry VI, Part 3, which tends toward an Olivier speech (at his most stagey) was boiled down to betrayal.  When I was told to relate it to an incident of betrayal in my life, suddenly Queen Margaret was full of anger and tears.  You’re saying the same words, but the thoughts in your head are coloring them.

To be sure, if an actor is just about to speak his lines and someone gets up in his face and quietly says “Your mother just died” or “Your girlfriend is cheating on you….Go!” there are two things at work .  One is surprise and the other is permission. Suddenly you are reacting to a thought without having the time to get your public defenses up, and someone is saying it’s okay to do that.

It truly is, as Pallotta says on his website, transformational. But in my mind it raised a few questions about how to use it in auditions.  One is that a monologue is star material, whereas most auditions (at my level, at least) are cold reads for supporting characters.  Instead of saying “ Great Lords, wise men ne’er sit and wail their loss, but cheerly seek how to redress their harms,” you're likely to be saying, “Is this intended as a gift?  We have some beautiful cashmere sweaters I can show you.”

A bigger concern is whether I can “surprise” myself and give myself permission to react to a memory on the spur of the moment without over-thinking it.  Pallotta gets $500 an hour to coach high-priced talent through a multimillion-dollar film (another perk you get when you’re a major star.) I would need to somehow do what he does for myself.

It’s worth another look so I’m looking for time on my calendar for a class.  He’s a personable fellow (I like him!), and persistent. More later. In the meantime, enjoy his testimonials. He knows Meryl Streep! (sigh)