Sunday, November 30, 2008

Chekhov, Canines and Cranberry Sauce

Friday was a marathon day of scene study presentations. We began our showing at 9:30 am. First up were a series of scenes from Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters. The class was divided into 4 acting groups each presenting their own selections from the play. We saw some scenes a few times which was interesting because it gave us a look at different interpretations. There was also a Q&A section where we discussed our rehearsals and process. There was a lot of pressure in the morning session as most of us felt we struggled the most with the Chekhov scenes. His work is very detailed and layered. He is the father of subtext and thus you are often not playing what you are saying in the scenes. And Chekhov has a million things to consider; many characters, heightened language, period dress and lots of drinking. Good times! I felt good about my work. It’s a work in progress of course, there are many more miles I could go with the scene but for three weeks and only two rehearsals with an instructor it was in a presentable place.

In the afternoon we delivered our contemporary scenes. The whole afternoon was generally more fun. We were in more of a comfort zone with the contemporary scenes. My group presented Mancub by Douglas Maxwell. This was a lot of fun for me as I got to play a dog named Ken. There was barking and howling, sniffing and rolling on my back. A little different from the calm and collected, corset bound character I had played in the morning’s session. Our presentation was very well received which naturally makes me glow with pride. People said it looked like we were having fun and we were. I mean, a dog! How is that not fun?

It was a long but exciting day. And fantastic to see our classmates in action. This group is bursting with talent and I am very proud to be amongst them and quite honored to have the opportunity to work with them.

Saturday we had Thanksgiving. Yummy!! One of our classmates, Mitchell (an American) agreed to host the event at his flat. Mitchell and another American, Marc did all the cooking and it was GOOD! We all pitched in money for the groceries and they did the rest. An amazing day with all the traditional dishes. Except pie. Which was a bummer but they don’t seem to have shortening over here so Marc couldn’t make his crust. They offered a cheesecake instead. Many of our non-American classmates joined us and celebrated their first Thanksgiving. It was a wonderful way to celebrate the occasion and Friday’s presentation.

All and all it was a fabulous week. This week we start work with the playwrights who are writing a new script just for us. Yea! I will be working with the acclaimed David Harrower. I’m very excited. Also on the schedule this week; a three day seminar on site specific theatre. What’s that you ask? It’s theatre performed on site. For example if a play takes place in a park then it is performed in a park; if in a restaurant then it is performed in a restaurant, etc, etc, etc.

I’ll let you know how it goes! In the meantime, good luck with your holiday shopping. (Mine’s done! Ha!) Check in next week!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Star Highlights

This week was a most exciting week for the RSAMD. We had two very important visitors. Lord Richard Attenborough was on the scene as was James McAvoy.

If you don’t know who Richard Attenborough is then go to IMDB and Wikipedia right this second. He is HUGE people HUGE. He is a legend of stage and screen. You may have seen him in Guns at Batasi, The Sand Pebble, Doctor Dolittle with Rex Harrison, the Jurassic Park films, the remake of Miracle on 34th Street or Elizabeth to name a very few. Behind the camera he has both produced and directed. His directorial debut was the musical Oh! What a Lovely War. Also to his credit, Gandhi for which he won the Oscar in 1982, the film version of A Chorus Line, Cry Freedom and Chaplin amongst others. The school sponsored an “Inside the Actor’s Studio” type filmed interview but our version of James Lipton was easy going. There was time for a little Q & A. There was a man who actually pitched Attenborough a film project during the Q & A. It was very inappropriate but amusing. Not the time or place mister. No. But Attenborough was most gracious about it. Listening to Attenborough was amazing. His stories and experiences are unmatchable. He talked about the industry and the craft of acting but he also gave us many personal stories. He talked openly about the death of his daughter and grand-daughter. He talked about how his hearing was severely damaged during World War II. He talked about his adopted sisters who came to England on the Kindertransport and lost their parents to a concentration camp. He talked about his friendship with Nelson Mandela. It was an inspirational afternoon. We were in the presence of greatness but we felt like we were listening to grandpa tells us some stories of days gone by. Later that evening there was a graduation and honors ceremony and the RSAMD presented Lord Attenborough with an Honorary Doctorate of Drama. Well deserved and well done!

The younger generation of stars was also represented on Thursday. Film star James McAvoy was on hand to receive a fellowship from the Academy. McAvoy graduated from the RSAMD in 2000 after successfully completing the three year undergraduate acting course. He has gone on to star in such films as Atonement, The Last King of Scotland and Wanted. He was a regular on British Television before Hollywood came knocking. McAvoy was instrumental in campaigning for funding when the RSAMD faced budget cuts earlier this year. This week he spent some time with the students as well. McAvoy guest lectured in the 2nd year actors’ film and television class and he also had an informal Q & A with all of us in the drama school. He talked about his experience at the RSAMD and how his life and career evolved after graduation. He gave us anecdotes from some of the various situations he’s encountered while navigating film sets and the industry as a whole. He was delightful; very grounded and real. I didn’t feel I was in the presence of a “celebrity”. I felt a working actor was telling us what it can be like out there; what he’s seen and experienced. It was a lovely morning with James McAvoy.

All and all I’d have to say Thursday was a good day. I mean, WOW! The rest of the week went well too. But Thursday was kinda the highlight. Don’t you think?

No star filled encounters are expected in the coming week. But we do present our scenes to the faculty on Friday! Showtime kids!! I’ll let you know how it goes.

Be safe my friends!


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Animals and Psychosis

This was a very busy week followed by an even busier weekend. We filled the whole week with rehearsals, classes and seminars in Lecoq’s movement training and Alexander Technique.

What is Lecoq you ask? Well, it’s French for put a mask on your face and move! Jacques Lecoq developed a method of movement and physical theatre that is greatly respected and celebrated. Lecoq’s widow; Fay and son; François of The Jacques Lecoq International Theatre School in Paris were teaching at RSAMD this past week. The technique is very physical and uses mime, clown and mask work. I had heard of Lecoq’s work but really knew nothing about it until this past week.

Also this week was a master class in Alexander Technique given by Don Weed. F. Matthias Alexander was an Australian born actor that set out to find efficient ways of accomplishing movement and vocal tasks. The idea is to use only the energy needed to accomplish the task and no more. A lot of the focus is on body and breath awareness, finding the tension held and allowing it to be released thus resulting in greater focus and ease in performance. Good stuff!

Saturday some of my classmates and I went to a show. It was a performance piece (not a traditional play with a linear story). The piece was called: 4.48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane. It was an interesting work and quite a technical achievement. When it was time for the audience to be seated we were led in groups of five, single file, holding on to each other’s shoulders. An usher headed our train and another brought up the rear. The ushers wore night vision goggles and we were taken in to complete blackness. Chairs were several feet apart and so we felt very isolated from our companions. We sat alone, in complete pitch with sound effects of street noises coming from the speakers (wherever they were) until the show began. The show was done in the round and incorporated lots of sound and lighting effects. The script was a poem and different voices read different segments via voice over. There was one performer on stage. The set was the frame of a house which made it look very much like a cage (in the round, so all four sides were built). The subject was mental illness. The performer illustrated various stages and effects of mental illness. He spoke very little as the voice overs were doing most of the narration. He gave a very physical performance. The end? Well, let’s just say he didn’t live happily ever after. It was very intense and not for the faint of heart. I have to say I have never been to a performance that was so engaging of the audiences’ senses. I can’t really say I liked it. Let’s be real here, it wasn’t the “feel good show of the year” but it did make a strong impression and was an experience I had never had in a theatre before.

Scene work continued this past week at school. The class is divided into groups of four and each group is working on Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov and scenes from a contemporary Scottish play. The wonderful thing about the contemporary scenes is that we have all had the opportunity to meet with the playwright of our piece and ask questions and receive guidance. This is a remarkable opportunity! How often does an actor get to consult the playwright while working on scenes?! My group is doing Mancub by Douglas Maxwell. It’s about an adolescent boy, Paul, struggling with the transition into manhood. It’s based on an American novel called The Flight of the Cassowary by John Levert. Paul finds he is relating to animals more than people, believes that he can converse with animals and also believes he sometimes turns into animals. So my scene partners and I decided that in order to really grasp this scene we needed to take a field trip, to the zoo!!

Sunday: Zoo Day! The zoo is in Edinburgh which is just an hour bus ride from Glasgow. First thing this morning we are off and running. The four of us had a blast today (and got a lot of exercise!) Lions and tigers and leopards! Oh my! Sorry, we didn’t see any bears today. We did see a lot of monkeys. The Spider Monkeys just recently had babies so they were all cute and cuddly and clinging to their moms. The Rhinos were having some kind of cage match that was very exciting. The camels were chewing and so were the zebras. The penguins marched up a path right past all of us silly human spectators. And the line at the café was ridiculously long. It was a fantastic time! Photos below!

Are Lucy and I at the zoo's gift shop or are we working on Lecoq technique?!

Stay safe my friends! More next week!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Flower Power through The Poppy Appeal

Tuesday November 11, 2008 is Armistice Day and marks the 90th Anniversary of the end of World War I. On November 11, 1918 the Allied forces and Germany signed a treaty to cease hostilities on the Western Front. This was the beginning of the end and peace was soon restored to Europe (for a little while anyway). Remembrance and reflection of the Great War and its individual stories has been a dominate feature in the British media and on the streets. News anchors and pedestrians alike wear a red poppy flower with pride. It’s The Poppy Appeal campaign and this fashion trend is sweeping across all generations and genders here in the UK. The Royal British Legion is responsible for this burst of color among the grey clouds and downpour of wintery sleet that hit Glasgow this weekend. They take up the causes of the veterans of Her Majesty's Armed Forces. According to their website:”The Royal British Legion provides financial, social and emotional support to millions who have served and are currently serving in the Armed Forces, and their dependants.” The campaign is simple: make a donation and receive a poppy to wear. We have a collection bank at the Royal Scottish Academy but I made my donation with a group of servicewomen collecting in the shopping district this past weekend. I have the utmost respect for those serving in our military and those serving with our allies, like the United Kingdom. In a time where the word “honor” is often used as a punch line it fills me with hope to see so many people wearing poppies. Our soldiers past and present have made extraordinary sacrifices and I for one am humbled and eternally grateful for the lifestyle I am at liberty to live because of their sacrifices. So I’ll wear my poppy with pride this week. And I encourage you all to give pause for a moment on Tuesday, Veteran’s Day in the US, and remember those that have served and those that still serve. Consider their sacrifices and those of their families. Go Poppy Power!

Tune in next week for adventures with Chekhov's Three Sisters. And find out if my professors are okay with me choosing to play a dog. From goddess to backyard barker; oh how the mighty have fallen!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

From Goddess to Insect: Halloween 2008

Halloween: A time of year where young women decide it is okay to look like a porn star in public. This custom seems to travel across the Atlantic. As for me, I prefer not to freeze to death.

I started my All Hollows’ Eve at the wall of Troy. My fabulous class gathered in the morn and rehearsed our ensemble piece. We ran it a few times, worked some trouble spots and returned from lunch ready for battle. Before our 2:15 showing to the rest of the school the cast did warm up exercises, team building games and had a general love fest that ended in a kind of spontaneous football huddle and a great big roar. It was truly an awesome feeling. The group has really gelled and there is a potent energy that runs through us with which we are all in tune.

The audience came in and took their seats. We preformed in a large open studio so there was no “off stage”. We were all just sitting and waiting. Our director made a few comments and then we started to sing a cappella a Tibetan song that ended with some really nice harmonies. Apparently we impressed the musical theatre students with our ability to create chords for cadence. We moved in to position and began. We all played various characters and some times traded off roles and some times two actors were playing the same character at the same time in a scene. I played a wall or the wall, I should say, the wall of Troy. Some people played waves of the ocean; that sort of thing. My featured part was the goddess Athena. I had a wonderful scene with another New York actress, Barbara who played Hera. We plotted the death of Troy. It was fun. The show was a success. People seemed to like our work. Our professors are pleased and so are we. This past week really kicked it up a few levels. There was some concern last week but the rehearsal process intensified and I believe we are all satisfied with the experience. So that’s it. Tory has fallen and we move on.

This week is research week and we have no formal classes. Part of the curriculum entails every student to complete a research project by the end of the year. The subject can cover anything that interests us regarding acting, theatre or The Biz. We have several one on one meetings scheduled this week to discuss projects and the program. I’m going to explore script development and the actor’s contribution to the final text. This will involve me writing a script and work-shopping it with the group and analyzing the process we will have with the playwrights this spring. I’ll let you know how it goes…

After we decimated Troy, it was time to party. One of our classmates was throwing a Halloween party at his flat and costumes were required. I don’t think too many of us had the time, money or energy to put into our costumes. It was a very intense week prepping for our presentation. I myself usually put a lot of effort into my Halloween costumes but not this year people. I went cheap and easy. And I don’t mean porn star. I went as a ladybug. It requires two pipe cleaners and some big dots made out of felt.Voila! Insta-bug! We had a great Halloween! Photo record below:

Tune in next time for more Melanie-mayhem! Have fun kids!