I wrote this blog entry a few weeks ago, but as I am severely electronically challenged I couldn’t figure out how to send it from the little town in southern Hungary where I was vacationing with my beloved grandchildren. Hence the photograph of fluffy chickens with feathered trousers!
6/29/13: On the train back to NYC from several fascinating drama-crammed days in Williamsburg, I feel rejuvenated and ready for a new set of frays. This is a feast for the blog, but first I would like to revisit the final Saturday of the three month Integrated Acting Class.
This has been my first attempt to integrate the major acting disciplines into one class. For the first leg of this venture, I concentrated primarily on Meisner and Method. With the scenes that moved along more quickly, I was able to do a little work on ‘actions’ and some rudimentary blocking. Why did some scenes evolve toward completion faster than others? There are a bewildering number of factors involved in this question.
The actors in this class were unusually open and serious about their work, so it was not a question of ability. (I avoid the word ‘talented’ like the plague; there are so many factors that contribute to what we designate as a ‘talented actor’ in a learning situation, and it usually comes down to whoever is quickest at absorbing whatever the teacher is dishing out.) Some scenes were more intricately constructed than others, although all presented complex difficulties. The line-up included such playwrights as: Pinter, Rabe, O’Neill, Shepard, along with John Logan’s Red and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Curiously, the Pinter was easier to figure out than Rabe. Sometimes a playwright is getting at a problem that hides itself from the viewer as well as the characters – who are usually in the dark long after the viewer has figured out what they are battling about - if not, hopefully, the solution to it.
Rabe’s Hurlyburly , for instance, is almost impenetrable. The actors in this scene worked very hard separately and with each other to find the key to the scene. They sometimes had trouble meeting for private rehearsals and one had other plays he was performing during this period - a frustrating situation for both the actors and the teacher, but there is no way around it unless actors have the means and the time to commit to a program where they are required to attend every class and are in a position to refuse all outside acting commitments. Personally – although I find this situation annoying – I believe that we are all essentially on our own as actors and must learn to deal with all kinds of legitimate problems that actors face. The profession is so difficult that the only person one can ultimately depend on is oneself.
It was getting close to the end of the three-month class period and we still hadn’t cracked the big confrontation between Eddie and Mickey, which occurs near the end of the play. The actors had done some good improvisations, connected to some extent with the inner life of the characters, but they were still up in the air about ‘what was actually happening in the scene.’ Why was Eddie, the character with the objective, so violent in his attempts to get Mickey involved in explaining the friend’s death? Why was Mickey so withholding of help and cryptic in his replies? Why did he melt away at the end of the scene instead of putting up a fight for his position.
I divided the three-month period into semi-private classes between partners and full group classes where students could view each others’ progress and problems. Just before the last semi-private class between the Eddie/Mickey actors, I did what I always do when an ‘acting mystery’ persists - I go into a sensory meditation. In this case, I did it almost unconsciously, and it started the day before their class.
I prefer, after initial work on scenes, to see if actors can find their own way to solving the deeper questions – depending on their amount of experience, of course. I had chosen the scene because of its difficulty, challenging both actors but especially to move the actor playing Eddie to a new level. I was also interested in finding the ‘truth’ of the scene for myself. Over and over again I asked myself, ‘What is this whole play about?’ After the scene is over, Eddie goes into a coked-up rant about a type of atom bomb that kills people but leaves objects intact. That image was somehow behind everything as I meditated, concentrating on my breathing, body, and senses… And the personal image that finally emerged from this work was my childhood home; specifically I was sitting in a particular chair where I was always placed by my grandmother and made to stay until I stopped acting up. The reason I misbehaved was the loneliness I felt always and forever after my mother died. It was the sensation of rocking in the chair that finally brought about an understanding of the play and revealed the significance of this penultimate, most important, scene.
Hurlyburly is actually about a ‘family situation’ – the last thing you would expect from a cast of characters that includes a couple of casting directors and a fringy group of wannabe actors and other LA hangers-on. Of course, one would get it right away if it had the usual ‘family’ labels. On the surface this play signals nothing but activity between a random conglomeration of disparate entities.. The scene itself concerns the disintegration of a friendship after the suicide of Eddie’s crazy protégé; but playing it depends on grasping the enormity of pain that Eddie feels after he has put all his energy into trying to save the dead guy. Mickey, for his part, is totally invested in having a reciprocal friendship with his grief stricken partner, who eternally ignores him in favor of the other members of the ‘family’ – currently the friend who has just killed himself.
The scene – and the whole play - unraveled before my eyes once I felt myself rocking in my childhood chair. Obviously, the whole point is to get the actors to feel these things on their own. But it is extremely hard to get actors to do the work necessary to grasp these painful, embedded ‘objects’ that yield the truth about our own lives, which finally we can transfer over to the character. The actors playing Eddie and Mickey didn’t get further than walking the scene through on its feet. Instead of ‘finishing’ a scene without truly grasping its roots, they had begun a meaningful journey which can be completed when the class starts up again..In my next blog, I will discuss my eventful theatrical adventure in Williamsburg, Virginia…