Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I heard it referred to as Taymor's Revenge.

Patrick and I popped in to see a little bit of Taymor's Tempest the other night. We missed the beginning, and we didn't stay even for an hour so this is by no means a comprehensive review. In addition to how utterly UN-compelling the film was, there was also some kind of problem with the projector. Scenes would blip into blackness for a moment and then come back. It was distracting and the movie just wasn't worth it. We have free passes to see another movie ... I'm thinking Black Swan.

My initial impressions of the movie were that it was visually sumptuous. The island was stunning. The Ariel effects were interesting. The design was lovely. I think we can agree that Julie Taymor is a pretty brilliant designer. But that was about where it ended for me in The Tempest. The soundtrack was completely disconnected from the story that was unfolding. The actors seemed ambivalent. The tempest itself was just not moving. And Taymor tinkered too much with the script for my liking. My liking is not to tinker with it at all... but ...

My biggest problem was exactly what I expected it to be -- Prosper-A. I tried my hardest to keep an open mind. I like Helen Mirren -- I really do. I think she does excellent work. But she was fighting an uphill battle against a director who fundamentally misunderstood the play. There are no mothers in the The Tempest. We have brief mentions of Miranda's mother and of Sycorax, and that is all. They do not appear in the play. They are absent. By changing Prospero from a father figure to a mother figure, Taymor altered the story -- she was no longer doing The Tempest. That's fine... if you don't want to do The Tempest, don't do it. Do something else. Anything else. Just don't say we're doing The Tempest.

I have to defend for a moment. I've been having this conversation a lot over the past few weeks. I am not against cross-gender casting. I love cross-gender casting. I love playing men. I love seeing women play men. I love seeing men play women. We are actors. We act. We pretend to be people that we're not in real life. I am not a wizard. I can play one. I am not a man. I can play one of those too. Check out our company page for The Bookend Project -- you'll see what I mean about cross-gender casting. But you can bet your sweet (insert any body part here) that our female actors who are playing male characters will be playing those characters as men. They're actors. They act.

Just a bit of a rant there. I will now step down from my soap box, and go bake some Christmas cookies. Again, this is by no means a comprehensive review. I am a bit too involved in post-semester vacation land to immerse myself in something "comprehensive" or structured. I hope you all enjoy your holiday season! And in case you are heading to the movies to see The Tempest ... I humbly recommend that you see something else.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

And just in case ...

If after the stress of the semester you feel like you need to watch me get stabbed, here you go. Sometimes this semester, I felt like Rutland.

Happy Finals Week!


OK, it's that time of year. 2010 is coming to a close. The holidays are here. The semester is ending. It's time to be thinking about everything we have accomplished this year and begin thinking about 2011. This is going to be my final post of the fall semester and my final post (at least for class) about the question of authenticity. My inquiry into this question of what makes an authentic performance is certainly not coming to a close ... that is a question, I'm sure, that is going to follow me for the rest of my career. And I'm okay with that.

Over the course of the semester, here are some of the criteria for authenticity that I have come across in my research or in my own responses to that research. An authentic performance must:
- be compelling. To be compelled is to feel moved.
- have an audience. Not just any audience, but a willing, imaginative, and constructive audience.
- a transmissible essence (Benjamin)
- have a voice "that is constructed and expressed visually and orally, and ... heard, perceived, and constructed" (Royster)
- have a basis in biology and in our bodies in discrete energy centers (Reidel)
- have a sense of immediacy (Reidel)

In response to my own musings about how critical the audience is, I have included a short video clip from ADK Shakespeare's production of 3 Henry VI on April 19, 2008. I wasn't able to upload the shorter clip, so please take special note of the audience between timestamp 1:06 and 1:12. Richard and Edward and talking about seeing three suns in the sky, and two audience members actually LOOK! This moment has tickled me since I first watched the video of this performance, and after this semester of research, I am finally able to say exactly why:

Greg Davies (Richard) and Michael Pauley (Edward) have drawn the audience into the story. The audience is willing to construct this imaginary world with Greg and Mike, even going so far as to look at the organ loft in order to see the three fair suns that Richard and Edward describe.

Enjoy! And thank you for a wonderful semester.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Being presenced.

This will be my final post from my 11/20 interview with Leslie Reidel. It was difficult to narrow down our interview to a short series of blog posts, but I had a great time sifting through my transcript. This last post is about presence.

Usually we think about presence as a noun -- it's something that you either have or you don't. Right? Oh, that actor has so much presence. It's a noun. Leslie does not necessarily agree with this! He thinks that we can transform it into a verb so that presence becomes something you "do" not something you "have."

This is a skill that an actor builds. It's not inherent or innate. And it must be made anew each time. Leslie talked about presence in terms of foreground and background noise. The noise keeps us from being present and it never stops. Developing presence as a skill involves making what is in the foreground more vivid, and the background less so. Athletes are very good at this. Musicians are pretty good at this. Actors ... not so good at it. (Improv actors get pretty good at it.) Most actors are not so good at dealing with fixed things.

And this is what we are working with as actors -- fixed things, like scripts and blocking. But if the present is rooted (that is, newly rooted) from moment to moment, how do we work backwards? We must listen. All great acting teachers will tell you that. Even when you are speaking a long speech, you must listen. Presence is more in listening than in speaking. Remember, even long speeches are persuasive arguments, never description, so someone else is always present with you.

To relate this back to a few other posts ... I will fill in this "you" -- the audience.

And to relate it back to Delsarte ... being authentic is being able to say "now." Expressing here (Leslie rubbed his heart), not here (Leslie touched his head). We must feel. Now.

Reidel, Leslie. Personal interview. 20 November 2010.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Now. Now. Now. Now. Now.

Francois Delsarte
This will be the second post in a series of three on my November 20 interview with Professor Leslie Reidel. In the first post, I talked about Leslie's abiding interest in science and its relationship to drama, or rather the drama that is within us at a biological level.  In this post, I'm going to delve into the influence of Francois Delsarte on Leslie's work and how Delsarte's work can help create an authentic performance.

Leslie had mentioned Delsarte to me several years ago, and although the book is sometimes difficult (in part because pieces are missing from my facsimile and in part because it is just so so dense), it is an absolute treasure trove. For a long while Delsarte's work has been considered out-dated, artificial and "stodgy." (If you check out the wikipedia link above, the article describes how Delsarte's work was misapplied and how Stanislavsky's work came in response to this misapplication.) So during our interview, Leslie broke down Delsarte into some basics. Our bodies are made up of three expressive centers -- head, heart, and loins. Think, feel, do. Cognitive, emotional, vital. And Delsarte actually then breaks down the specific parts of the body that correspond to these centers -- for example, the back of your hand is "vital." The inside of your hand is "emotional." The tips are your fingers are "cognitive." Leslie demonstrated this: If you were going to hit someone with the back of your hand, it would be absolutely brutal, right?  Backhanding someone. It comes from your gut, right? But if you slap someone, with the palm of your hand -- your emotions are really engaged. This comes from anger, from your heart. Now imagine picking up a grape with the tips of your fingers and really examine it -- even the word examine indicates that now we're in a mental or cognitive state.

By spending a great deal of time with a given text, we can see which of our centers are being engaged for a character at different points in the play. So Delsarte's contribution to an authentic performance really comes from actively engaging these discrete energy centers in our bodies. Actively engaging. Every moment. The actor must be present and active in every moment of the performance.

More on presence -- noun and verb in my next post!

Here is a link to Delsarte's System of Oratory on Google Books.
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