directing, theater, writing

theory of acting

Yesterday I met with a friend of a friend at the Olive Tree Cafe, drinking endless cups of tea, walking to the bathroom through a comedy club, and we ate for hours while groups of people – designers, directors, public health advocates – came in and out. It was like a salon, or like the way I remember the Cat and Fiddle in LA. We discussed the marriage of two of them – the bride is going to carry her wedding dress on the 7 train to the actual ceremony.

By the end of it, we had all talked about the difficulty of separating art from life, including the usual digression on Heath and Method and Batman, and I had persuaded a director and an actor to read some scenes from my work-in-not-even-progress, the two-character realistic play that is so unlike me but I don’t seem to be able to stop writing.

I would really like to collaborate with someone (perhaps this actor, or others) on a general-interest theory of acting article. I’m very unqualified to write it. I just think it needs to be written.

And I have finally learned to end hanging out early enough to take my trains early enough to be home by midnight.

Today I have a meeting with another friend-of-a-friend that is my first real New York theater meeting, at a diner near Times Square. Should be interesting.

directing, quotes

“Directors, like conductors, never retire.”

Sir Peter Hall talking with Jasper Rees in the Guardian, on, among other things, the nature of the director-animal:

“[…]They’re much more difficult than writers or actors to deal with. They’re the cat who walks alone.

I’ve worked with practically all the great directors, alphabetically, from Bergman to Zeffirelli. It’s wonderful to be involved in the mystery of other directors’ work, because they’re all different.

But most will know within the first three or four days whether it’s going to work. The interesting thing is when it’s wrong they have to go on and they can’t tell anybody it’s wrong.”


I was reminded

recently that April will mark one year of assistant directing, and also one year of not having a home and living on the theater road. I can’t believe it. Seven shows in 12 months, and each in a different location – and various other workshops and projects in there, too. I spell Crazy with a D, two A’s and an R.

I do feel more like the entire country is my home now. But I feel much less like any particular place is where I belong. And I miss LA more than I thought possible. I’m lucky to have had this year, of course, and these opportunities, but it’ll be so good to take time off in April.

I’ll visit Seattle, Vancouver, NYC, maybe try to start writing an article about this whole year, and take a moment of chill in the theater of the non-theatrical. Maybe I’ll take up surfing.

The bad thing about making too many plans is that life may have something better to offer you. So I’m trying to not plan out all of April, not yet. It’ll happen.

“Surprise me.”

directing, film, style, theater, writing

Noun Modifiers

In the course of the Convergence teleconferences, I mentioned to a friend of mine, who’s a filmmaker, that I make a distinction in my mind between directing and writing – directing is about allowing more freedom to other people in the process, being open to new possibilities, and writing is about total control over a limited sphere. They are very different. I didn’t use to feel this way, but I certainly do now, since I’ve stopped being such a controlling director.

Coming from the POV of film, however, he said that “everything is writing – directing is writing, editing is writing.” Because he does still have total control over every sphere. Because you can select the take, and you can get exactly – EXACTLY – what you want.

This is probably why film stresses me out as a medium. I can no longer imagine wanting that many things that specifically. I tried it, and it was exhausting. There’s so much freedom in being able to share those wants with others – to let them want things, and let that inform the process and the result.

And I think I’ll look to writing for control, and to directing for the absence of it. This came to my mind again as I was working on/with an actress with/on a monologue from Measure For Measure this afternoon. If I had gone into the session knowing what I wanted to see from her, I never would have been able to see what she had to bring to it.

The only way I would make a film again would be either an animated one (which is all writing) or else something like Chris Guest, with improv-based writing – where the film captures the final result of a process which is more theatrical.

Maybe writing isn’t even “writing” in that controlled way. Maybe the best writing is when you surrender control, as well, to the characters, the words, the sounds. Maybe everything is directing.

I am so unlike the artist and person I was at seventeen that I can barely recognize myself. At least I still use too many adjectives and adverbs. It’s still a problem, but at least it’s a problem that’s familiar. I can say, “Oh yeah, that’s me – I use too many adjectives.”

directing, Lydia

LYDIA, Week 3, Day 3

We finished our second pass through Act 2 and then ran the second act of the play. We ended with an hour of fight choreography.

My perspective on what fight choreography is has changed from watching this work. After ROMEO & JULIET, where every “fight” was actually a battle with weapons, I wasn’t expecting to see a fight choreographer come in to show us how to drag a woman off stage. There are no blows exchanged, and my instinct would have been to just wing it and see what happened. Don’t we all know how to drag people already?

But the FC was there telling one actor how to drag the other without injuring her, blocking beats for specific escape struggles and how he’d recapture her, addressing issues of shoulder joints and legs and knees and feet getting stepped on.

I could see that he was both essential for safety and actually, through his expertise, made the struggle seem more violent than would have otherwise been possible. That was what got me excited. I often assume that maximum violence is achieved through a little more improv, but sometimes that’s not the case.

It’s as if every force in my theatrical life is driving me back into the arms of choreography.

directing, film

The Ladies’ Choice

“Hey little girl looking for a sale,
Test drive this American male…”

I was watching HAIRSPRAY again to get inspiration for the Convergence chorus project. I want the final mash-up of the Wasps and Persians choruses to be a full-out musical chorus number, at least before it all goes terribly wrong.

“Hey little girl on a spending spree,
I don’t come cheap but the kisses come free…”

Wikipedia on director Adam Shankman: “Prior to directing Hairspray, Shankman was known in Hollywood primarily as a fixer of lowbrow films—a director who could take charge of lackluster productions that were expected to flop and turn them into box-office hits. “I’ve done so many things I’m not super-proud of,” he admitted in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

I think it is something to be proud of – one of the marks of a great director is being able to make good theater, or film, out of almost any script imaginable. But I’m glad he finally got material this good.

directing, film

The Golden Compass movie

is greatly condensed from the book: but it has one great shot of the hull of a boat going through water, from the point of view of the hull, with the water slapping at it.

I would like to be able to do that theatrically. To shift point of view to the eyes of an object, especially a moving object. It must be possible. Not just through language – to speak in the object’s voice – but also through some kind of movement arrangement.

I have been wanting to make a short film with chairs as the only characters for quite some time now – anthropomorphized stop-motion chairs. I think chairs are such social creatures. And they really like each other. It would be a love story gone wrong.

Lately, and more lazily, I was thinking it wouldn’t be stop motion at all, but would be more Muppetesque – humans manipulating the chairs like puppets. (My daemon is a folding chair.)

But this makes me think about a different film, from the point of view of the chairs. Now that would be a very sad movie.

directing, Lydia

Lydia rehearsal, Week 2, Day 4

Today, the cast visited a rehab clinic that treats patients suffering from traumatic brain injury, in order to accurately portray the character(s) in the play dealing with the same problem. I can’t say much about what we saw there, since we signed nondisclosure agreements, but I was very moved by the staff’s devotion to rehabilitation as a profession. We spent over two hours talking to them.

We then began working through the play again from the beginning, taking time with the fight choreographer to choreograph two short but painful moments:
– a father slapping a son
– a brother pulling his brain-damaged sister away from the man she loves

I do love fight choreography as a way of working. It’s such a vital way of getting actors fully engaged and precise in their bodies. I someday want to do an entire show (I suppose this is VAST WRECK…well, someday, I want to do another entire show…) that is all fight choreography.

The director also had one of the actors lead movement warmups and Suzuki exercises. Very effective. I remember how unwilling I was to cede leading the warmup to actors within the cast of MOH&H, because I thought it would take away from those actors’ abilities to enjoy and relax into the warmup. On the contrary – it helped the cast bond, and the leaders enjoyed the responsibility. Just another case of something I learned the hard way. Seeing this director so effortlessly make that transition really reinforced the point.

But I have to remember that there is no way but “the hard way” to learn anything about directing.

directing, Lydia

Lydia rehearsal, day 4

So, more exercises today, in what was a day of table work bristling with energy. We’re on our third and final day of discussion. Tomorrow will be fittings and a readthrough.

First was a free writing exercise, with about a minute on each question:
1) Your character’s favorite foods
2) Relationship to God
3) Reading materials
4) Describe your best friend. If you don’t have one at the time the play takes place, describe someone from the past.
5) Favorite extracurricular activities, whatever that means to you.
6) Where do you see yourself ten years from now?

As we do these writing exercises, I’ve been answering them as if I was my own character. It’s interesting how hard it is to answer simple questions about yourself. Sometimes in the interest of staging a play, we get closer to a fictional being than we ever do to our own selves.

Then the director placed the seven actors in their primary character relationships: the mother and father, the lovers, and the brain-damaged woman, her caretaker, and the boy who loves the caretaker. Then she gave these instructions:

1) Hold out your hands.
2) Look carefully at the front and back of your partner’s hands. Memorize them.
3) Close your eyes and memorize the hands by touch.

Then she spread them out around the room, had them close their eyes, and find the partners again, just by touching hands. They did it amazingly quickly. One of the actors commented on how the sense of temperature was the most vital.

We all know the body temperature of the people whose hands we actually hold – who we sleep with, who we bathe or take to school or dress and undress. To bring that knowledge into the rehearsal room made the relationships much more physical.

directing, LA theater, style, the chorus, theater

“The stones would explain the smile”

I saw a great show with Phil C last night – the Evidence Room/Unknown Theater co-production of Martin Crimp’s* ATTEMPTS ON HER LIFE. Seventeen scenes in different styles, textures, and voices, all about one woman – Anne. Brilliant. And there were quite a number of choral elements in it, too. The two companies’ ADs co-directed it, alternating and switching off scenes, which is what I had wanted to try with a different show. So glad to see it working.

AOHL doesn’t have stage directions or divisions of text. I heard someone mention a production where all the actors learned all the lines, which is what I still want to do with choruses.

Every time I see one of Bart’s productions it makes me want to direct the play one day. Which I mean as a compliment to him. Often I see theater and it leaves me sick of the play, tired of it, never wanting to think of it again. Bart’s work makes the play seem like the most wonderful thing ever. Like there could be so many new discoveries in it.

Phil & I went to Cosmic Pizza after and discussed. I’m still spinning from the thoughts of the show. I wish I could see it again, but I leave Thursday.

Then, later, at the Silver Spoon with Ezra, this came up: has the presence of directors in theater actually removed some of the actors’ natural ability to self-direct? And who “needs” directors more – actors who naturally hold back, or who are naturally over the top?

Would it be a good thing for all actors to be in a production without a director? To try that? What would that mean?

*The very first show I worked on it LA was Martin Crimp’s DEALING WITH CLAIR, at the Matrix. I ran box office. Funny how these things come together – this Crimp will be one of the last shows I see in LA, for quite some time.