Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Text and the Body

This past week has been all about the text of Hedda Gabler. We have read the play as a group three times and discussed it thoroughly. And now I sit and I extract the text in an effort to create a character chart just based on the text itself. I read the play again and pull out every line said about my character and every line my character says about another character. This kind of breakdown requires me to read the script yet again in great detail. It is cumbersome and sometimes tedious work especially when you are working on the lead character, but the result is a vast understanding of the text. It behooves us as actors to know the script inside out. So often in show biz the actor doesn’t even receive a complete script. In film and television actors often shoot with only the pages of the script where their character appears; these are called “sides”. And filming sometimes begins without a completed script with the writers delivering new pages to the set on a daily basis. So to have an entire, well crafted script at our disposal is a blessing. And I am going to keep telling myself that as I basically retype this thing in its entirety. No, really it is good stuff. I will really be able to get inside Hedda’s head this way. The script is an actors Bible. It is imperative that we know what the story is about in all its detail and what our character is all about. And what’s more, it’s our job! You wouldn’t expect a preacher to get up and start talking about the Gospel without having studied them in depth. And you wouldn’t expect a doctor to start an operation without having memorized the human anatomy. I certainly wouldn’t want to take my car to a mechanic who had never looked under the hood of an automobile before. It’s the same with actors. We ought to know a little something about the character and the story before we expect a patron to fork over the money for a ticket; unless they know they are going to improv. So like a good archaeologist, I’ve been doing a lot of digging this week.

Today I took a break from Hedda and visited the Body and Soul exhibition over at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall. This was a lovely diversion with booths set up to host various practitioners to better the mind, body and spirit. There was massage and acupuncture and Reiki. There were spiritual teachers and lecturers. There were astrologists and tarot card readers. And of course, there were plenty of books, CDs, crystals and incense to buy. I sat in on a lecture about finding balance in one’s life. So true. Don’t we all need to find the balance in our lives? I’ve managed to get in a little yoga this week which always helps me to feel more centered. For me, body work is a continuation of my training as an actor as well as an improvement for the quality of my life. An actor’s body is his/her instrument. It is through our body we create our performance. To be healthy and balanced is essential for us. Our movement teacher at the Globe; the marvelous Glynn MacDonald, was always saying that actors need to be athletes. It’s so true! We need to be able to use our bodies to their fullest capabilities. Shows take endurance. They are often physically draining. Everything we do on stage comes out of us. And the mind, body, spirit relationship is so essential for balanced health. As hippy dippy and new agey as it might sound, it is important for us to check in with all three and make sure they are working in tandem. A broken spirit results in a downtrodden artist. And that depression makes it very difficult for the mind to focus and produce. And then the body manifests the sad state making it lethargic, inflexible and downright ill. Not good when you need to be in top mental and physical form for the work. So balance. We should take care of ourselves. Eat the good for you stuff, get some sleep, move the body and inspire the spirit. Then we can do what we do to its fullest potential.

And on that note, I’m gonna return to the body of my text and wrap up my character chart then catch some zs. Yoga will be waiting for me when I wake up!
You get some rest too and eat a vegetable!
See ya next time!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Writer’s Block and Heading into Hedda

Writer’s Block is what happens when a writer can’t think of what to say.



(cricket chirp)


Unfortunately, I have had a little battle with the Block this past week.




You see, as part of the course we all have to complete an individual project. Research, comparison, an experiment of some sort. This is what you might call our thesis. Imagine that, a master’s student having to complete a thesis. Well, I decided that my project and thus my degree, should hang in the balance of my own creative temperament. I decided that I would write a play and perform it with some of my fellow classmates. This is, after all, a course in text work and I wish to compare and experiment with the processes of developing and executing texts as we are experiencing them in this program. Brilliant! Now crazy lady, deliver the goods!



(tumble weed rolls past)


Okay, well maybe I need to get out of my room. Get some inspiration. Go see a movie (Or five! Yes, five movies this week people! No first draft of the script; but by golly I’m caught up on my movie watching and ready for Oscar night!!)

Sunday night. The pressure is on. The new module of the course starts in the morning. There won’t be a whole lot of time to devote to the writing process once we get into full swing with our new scene work. Must write something. Must get started. Push! Squeeze! Idea out!

What’s this! Something is happening! I’m typing! Words are finding their way on to the screen! It’s dialogue! There are characters! It’s happening!! The drought is over! The rain is falling!!! Hooray!!! Okay so it was only nine pages but it’s a start! A very exciting start! And might I add, this is the second attempt. I finished a draft before the Holiday break but that one wasn’t going to work with the resources available to us for this production. I needed something smaller. And so today, finally, I started again at square one. And the ball is rolling. Yea!

So what is happening tomorrow? The morning begins with a voice class. Speaking, not singing but it’s all related anyway. And in the afternoon, we begin work on Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen is considered one of the greats of theatre. He was a Norwegian fellow writing at about the same time as the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov; around the turn of the last century (not the millennium, that’s Tony Kushner). So there you have it, we’ll be whipping out the old corsets again and diving into Hedda’s head. We still don’t know exactly what’s going on with the next Shakespeare project but that’s okay by me; I have my hands full!!

I’ll let you know how it all goes!
Be well!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Goodbye Globe

Well, I’m on a train back to Glasgow. Our month at the Globe has come to a close. Many of us are fighting a loosing battle to sniffles and coughs, all of us are exhausted but every single one of us has been transformed. I went to London with barely enough Shakespeare experience to fill an eye dropper and I leave with an understanding and confidence that I never expected to achieve in a mere four weeks. This is not to say I’ll be in the next Brannagh adaptation; there is still plenty more to develop and master but, I learned some rudimentary techniques that will carry me forward into the fray of my next Shakespeare project. Said project is waiting for us when arrive back at school next week. But before we jump into that craziness, let us reflect on our final week at the Globe and in London…

Most of this past week was spent in preparation for Friday night’s showcase of our scene work. We did have a few welcome and educational distractions. On Wednesday we had a class on Elizabethan and Jacobean music and its use in the plays of the time. The fabulous Keith McGowan gave demonstrations of many of the instruments used. Keith is a musician at the Globe and often plays in shows. Most of the instruments he showed us are ancestors of many of our modern instruments and some are all together extinct, save special places like the Globe. Even instruments had class ranking in Renaissance England! For example, if an aristocrat decided to take up the hobby of music, he or she would only have a few choices acceptable for his or her rank; such as the lute or harp. To play the bagpipes was very base indeed! Trumpets were restricted to approved personnel because they were primarily used in military operations and matters of state. However, trumpets were used at the theatres to announce the show was about to begin; much like in today’s theatres where the stage manager comes over the PA system and tells you to turn off your cell phone.

Thursday we spent some time with the playwright and actor Che Walker. Che has performed at the Globe but also penned the script for one of the Globe’s most successful productions called Frontline. The Globe incorporates new works into their season as well as the classics. After all, when Shakespeare was writing his works they were new plays. Frontline is an urban story about a dodgy section of the Borough of Camden in London. The area is home to a colorful and sometimes dangerous display of characters including immigrants, the city’s poor, sex workers, drug dealers, religious preachers, gangsters, street vendors and artists. The show was a monster hit last season and the Globe is reviving the production in the coming months. It was wonderful to have a look at the script and talk with Che about his experience.

Friday was show time! We did a few run throughs in the morning and afternoon and curtain was at 6:30. We actually had an audience despite the threat of snow. Of course there were nerves but it was an absolute delight to perform on that stage. What an honor and what a dream. Our RSAMD professors were pleased with our work as were our Globe instructors. But, we could not have done it without the brilliant Trevor Rawlins. Trevor was our director and I have to say one of the best with which I have ever worked. His understanding and care for an actor’s process is second to none. That coupled with his skill and knowledge of Shakespeare’s text made working with him extraordinary. I will miss him a great deal and pray I get the chance to work with him again. Simply amazing.

Saturday brought final one on one interviews with Trevor and a general wrap up. It was sad but we were all beaming with pride. Afterwards, a few of us managed to get over to the London Eye. The London Eye is a tourist attraction that looks kind of like a really large Ferris wheel. Instead of sitting down in a little car, the Eye has enclosed pods that hold up to 25 people. It goes around slowly and gives you some breathtaking views of London. Later Saturday night I went to another West End show called The 39 Steps. It is based on the Hitchcock film and the original book by John Buchan. The show was a fun little comedy; light and fluffy for the end of a very intense week. One actor played the lead and three others played a variety of characters; sometimes in the same scene! Well done to them for keeping it all straight! Good times!

Sunday I had time to go on a bus tour of London. It was nice to get in some of the tourist things for which we hadn’t had time during our commitment to the Bard. And in the evening on Sunday the group assembled at the local pub to toast to our glorious month in London and at the Globe.

We have a week off to recover and then it is back to work. Next up we start applying the skills we learned at the Globe. The faculty is still in debate but, we are either going to do a full production of a Shakespeare play or perhaps extended scene work resulting in another showcase production. Either way it is an opportunity to try out our newly acquired Shakespeare skills. I am looking forward to it!

What a blessing this has been! And to think there is more to come! Yea!!

Until next week…
Take care.

The Globe

The London Eye

View of Big Ben and Parliament from inside the Eye

Ben and Me

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Playing a Queen and Seeing the King

Another week at the Globe; gone and it is nearly over! In less than a week (Friday to be exact) we have our grand finale; our showcase on the Globe stage. I am very excited about the performance however… (Yes, I am afraid there is a ‘however’.) However, as of now we are expecting a wintery mix of rain and snow with some seriously cold night air on Friday. Did I mention there is no roof on the Globe? Yes. No roof. And yes, the show will go on, as is Globe tradition. This past Saturday we took the work out of the rehearsal studio and ran our scene on the stage for the first time. It was wonderful to be out there but man, was it cold! I tried the scene in costume which unfortunately is not a sweater and earmuffs. It’s a thin short dress (not a period costume, obviously). The one benefit is that my character, Queen Hermione, is about eight months pregnant in the scene so, my belly was very warm due to the pregnant padding. I will be thinking hard this week about what to do to stay warm during the show. If you have any suggestions please let me know! Chattering teeth might not work with Shakespeare’s poetry.

The Globe has been absolutely amazing. Some of our RSAMD faculty came to visit us on Wednesday. We were trying to express our feelings to them and found it very difficult to find the words. One way I described this experience was to call it a pilgrimage. As actors of the new millennium, we have been blessed to come to this sacred place and connect with the incredibly rich and powerful history of our craft. None of us have ever experienced anything like it. We still have plenty of road ahead of us on our artistic paths but this time at the Globe will take us to another level on our journey.

In entertainment news: Today I saw Disney’s The Lion King in the West End. It was a fantastic show! The stage production was derived from the animated film of the same name. The show included all of the songs from the movie, much of Hans Zimmer’s score and new music written especially for the live production. The music and the voices were a delight. But the design of the show alone was worth the price of admission. Julie Taymor is the genius behind the stage version of The Lion King. She serves as director, costume designer and as one of the puppet designers. The use of costume and puppetry is choreographed into the actors’ movement and delivery. It was glorious story telling using the aforementioned elements in fresh and exciting ways I have never seen before. The opening number was phenomenal. A zoo of animals made their way across the pride lands of Africa to Pride Rock where they honored the new born lion cub prince Simba. Elephants, giraffes, zebras, birds, and many more came gliding through the theatre and on to the stage while Circle of Life was being chorused by the company. It was breathtaking. Oh just go see it!

Saturday night many of my classmates and I caught RSAMD alum James McAvoy on stage in a play called Three Days of Rain. It was a well done piece. Set in NYC, I felt the three UK actors in the show all had convincing American accents. The play itself was an example of quality writing. Richard Greenberg penned the script. Act one focused on the adult children of two deceased business partners. Act two took us back in time and showed us said business partners and the woman between them. Our student priced group tickets got us seats quite near the rafters of the theatre but, it was still worth going. If you are in London and you don’t want to go to Africa maybe New York is more your cup of tea. Good play. Good actors. Good night of theatre.

Okay, enough of the reviews. Next week I’ll be the one reviewed (well, by my professors anyway). I’ll let you know how it goes!
Be well!