Wednesday, July 14, 2010

DAY 25

Another Friday! It's hard to describe how the breathing exercises in Greg's Voice class help to fill our entire bodies with resonance and sound. It's the difference between someone who is pushing to try and speak loudly from their throat or chest, and the person who seems to just naturally and effortlessly boom out sound from somewhere in their torso. After our hour and a half of de-structuring our breathing (forcing it away from a normal breath pattern through all of the tremor-ing), we all find ourselves in the latter, booming category.

In Joanne's Audition class, we spent the day doing cold readings in pairs. She (and several of our teachers this summer) have emphasized the importance of reading out loud every single day. We took turns reading scenes about five minutes long, and every time the sides ended we were all desperate to know what happened to the characters in the end. Since we can't all have a personal Joanne with a vast knowledge of great plays to make recommendations at our disposal, I thought I'd mention a few of the ones that we read selections from, although I'm not sure if they are all published yet: What They Have by Kate Robbins, Completeness by Itamar Moses, King of Shadows by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Happy Face by David West Read, and Incendiary by Adam Szymkowicz.

In Hal's combined afternoon Advanced Technique class, we could pick any combination of the techniques we've learned so far (movement qualities, imaginary centers, tempos, atmospheres, etc) two create characters. He set up a table and chairs, and we went up two at a time, with our characters and techniques in mind. One person sat down first, then the next came out and had to start the scene by asking, "You come here often?" It was really entertaining and interesting to see how many ways the scenario could play out, for better or for worse. It's fun for us to be able to use these ideas, which at first glance can seem technical or abstract, in an improvisation to illustrate how useful they can be when working on a "real" character in a production.

DAY 24

What advice did wildly successful television director Lee Shallat have for a room of aspiring actors?

"The best thing you can do is become a Buddhist."

She was only kind of joking- most of the advice she gave us was the encouragement to keep pursuing our careers, whether going to fruitless audition after fruitless audition or continuing to direct after a flopped show. She described her own initial failures and struggles when she made the switch from directing theatre to film without having any camera training as "being like a zombie... I kept coming back from the dead." That kind of perseverance has led her to direct such shows as Family Ties, The Nanny, Mad About You, Spin City, Arrested Development, The Bernie Mac Show, and Gilmore Girls.

She did give us some great audition tips for the world of film and television, and I'll list them here, as frantically scribbled down by a completely inexperienced film actress:

- The best ways to be seen by a casting director: Go to casting workshops, or be in an independent film that gets seen by influential people.
- In an audition, never feel like you NEED to get the job, or you will not be in the best mental place you can be, which is a centered, loose place.
- Read sides OUT LOUD on your feet a million times before the audition. It can never be stale or over-prepared... if you get the part you're going to have to do it in front of the camera a million times anyway.
- Read stage directions for character clues.
- Know where the character stands dramatically and psychologically in the scene.
- Be aware of where the "point" of the scene is.
- Don't "decorate" unnecessarily- if you're supposed to be the straight man, don't try to be funny.
- Don't ask yourself to get it perfectly right the first second: It's impossible. Just go in the moment.
-When you leave, let it go!
- Breathe life into the scene.
- If you are comfortable with it, they will be comfortable with you.
- They'll never tell you the truth. [Yikes!]
- DO NOT do a "stretch" piece in a general audition. Show off everything that's great about you, not your liabilities.
- Know who you are and how you come across.

Finally, one of my favorite bits of advice that she gave us was to put the "story you make up about yourself" (all the doubts and fears and self-criticism) out of your head. Keep the pure feelings (adrenaline, excitement), and be comfortable with yourself in them, because they will be there regardless, and use them to your advantage.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

DAY 23

Today we were so lucky to spend the first half of our day listening to actress Marin Hinkle (most recently well known for her role as Jon Cryer's shrew ex-wife on Two and a Half Men) talk about her experience as an actress balancing theatre, television, and family.

She told us the story of how her early life led her to acting: Born in Africa to parents (a lawyer and a professor) who met in the Peace Corps, she spent her childhood as a dancer before an injury left her to focus on academics and college. Knowing she was unable to dance but still in love with the stage, she decided to enroll as a theatre major at Brown. I related so much to her description of finding the theatre as a place where you can be something beyond what your family situation (or expectations of being proper and academic) dictate, allowing you to be something beyond the "good girl." My favorite anecdote was her description of her attempt at playing Emily in Our Town, which was failing as she acted it from a dancer's aesthetic, each line fully expressed with body motions and big faces. Laura Linney, who was a friend a few years her senior at Brown, kindly told her over burgers, "... you could simplify."

She took that advice to get her MFA at NYU, and began working in regional theatres and Off Broadway. Her theatre career picked up, she got married, and got a recurring role on Once and Again as Sela Ward's sister, moving out to Los Angeles from New York. After that ended she returned to regional theatre work, and after finding out she and her husband were pregnant, landed her current role on Two and a Half Men. It was so interesting to hear about the differences she has experienced between theatre and television work. She described the television set as an often joyless, sometimes "soulless" environment facing deadlines with a business mindedness, not with the theatrical creative, ensemble process. However, this job has afforded her the opportunity to pay off student loans, buy a home, and raise her child. There is no room for discussion about her character, as she commented, "Clearly the writers are angry at their ex-wives."

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Day 22

This morning we had Karen's Rehearsal class on the Argyros stage. It's so tempting, in such a big and intimidating theatre, to fall back to all of our bad actor habits to try and fill the space. It was also our last day working on The Three Sisters and there was a general sadness at being done with these characters that we've spent so much time with over the past month. I did one last Irina speech, and at one point at which I was sort of whispering/confiding in another character, Karen told me that such a whisper could not be heard at the back of such a large house. The cheat solution she offered me was to make the sentences on either side of the secret louder than normal so that the secret can be a normal volume, but still sound quieter and more hushed than the rest.

After lunch we had our final day of shooting Girl, Interrupted in Scott's Camera class. The last scene that we had to shoot was my close up. We did two takes, and after watching the playback we all generally agreed that the second one was better. One of my off camera scene partners remarked that it's always easier to have your best performance when the camera is not pointing right at your face. Scott seemed to take this idea to heart because he told me to do it one more time, just as a rehearsal run-through without the camera. We did it, and afterward he said, "Cut! Callie, did you know we were actually shooting?" I had to admit that I did- no one holds the boom mic for a rehearsal. It was a good directorial trick, though.

Lastly we had Hisa's Shakespeare class. I didn't present today, but I did enjoy watching my classmates perform and I think that I am going to use one of their monologues as my comedic selection: The Julia monologue from Two Gentlemen of Verona in which she berates herself for ripping up a love letter is funny even outside of the context of the show.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


No class today in honor of the Fourth of July!

I spent some of my time off reading Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire. Wow. I know I'm a couple years late on discovering this play, but, man, talk about writing some punch-you-in-the-gut-emotion into characters: A couple struggles in the year after the accidental death of their four-year-old son to redefine their own lives and relationships. I'm not a mother (and obviously Mr. Lindsay-Abaire isn't either) but the grief of a woman who has lost her child is heart-wrenchingly palpable in the dialogue.

Also, a note on the blog format: The date and time stamp at the top of each entry is the time at which I post it, not necessarily the day being described in the entry. If anyone knows a way to change it at the time of posting, let me know!

DAY 20

Friday! This morning we were lucky enough to have Voice class with Greg on the Argyros Stage, one of the two main stages at SCR. It was so cool to be in such a renowned space, and our group was especially lucky to have this class first thing in the morning to relax and get our voices warmed up before the rest of the day. Greg had some of us go out into the house to listen to others say lines from their monologues to see how the acoustics in the house sound and vice versa. Then we did our full Fitzmaurice warm-up of stretching, tremor-ing, and breathing while saying text. At the end of class we tried our pieces again, and it was amazing how much fuller and more supported everyone sounded.

Secondly we had Audition class with Joanne on the Nicholas stage. Today was a mock-audition, and we went through the class each pretending as if it was the annual SCR generals: Walk in the room, slate, say your piece, say thank you, and walk out. We also timed each person; an ideal audition (and the usual requirement) is somewhere between one to three minutes. I felt pretty good about my piece, which is a Pooty monologue (great character name, huh?) from Reckless by Craig Lucas. My next task is to find a good contrasting piece. Joanne suggested I look at plays by Theresa Rebeck, who I'd never heard of (sometimes I feel like an ignorant fool when confronted with all the plays and writers I've never heard of) but apparently writes great edgy and funny female roles.

In the afternoon we had a combined Advanced Technique class with Hal. We worked with the idea of Tempos for the first time. This technique works with the concept that each character has an inner and outer tempo, and the atmosphere they interact in has its own tempo. A character's inner tempo is the rate at which a character thinks, feels, visualizes, etc, and can be categorized as very fast, fast, normal, slow, or very slow. A character's outer tempo is the rate at which a character moves, speaks, handles objects, etc, and can be fast, normal, or slow. The tempo of the atmosphere, or its pulse or heartbeat, can be very fast, fast, normal, or slow. We all got to take turns making up characters with any combination of tempos. I chose a sharp old lady (inner tempo: quick, outer tempo: slow) and a bouncy little girl (inner tempo: slow, outer tempo: very fast). For those of us who didn't get to do a scene playing with Atmosphere on Wednesday, we got to go this afternoon. I played a scene in which my husband was leaving me, and I was trying to get him to stay. The first atmosphere was despair and the second, anger. Playing despair, I made myself cry again.

It's the small victories in life.

Friday, July 2, 2010

DAY 19

This morning we had a double Audition class with Joanne talking about the difference between film and television auditions versus theatre auditions. Personally, I still think that the film and TV audition process sounds much more nerve-wracking, probably because I've never done it before. When you think about it, it can either be awful or wonderful that your talent doesn't (really) matter and it's all about your look- on the one hand, not getting the job doesn't mean you didn't do well and so it's not personal, on the other hand, you can't really control your look, you just have to hope that you match the image in the casting associate's head. We also talked about how important cold reading skills are, especially in the film medium where you often have to cold read without knowing anything about the story or character. We practiced a bit with Luna Park, a book of unrelated monologues and scenes by Donald Margulies. (Note: Although it's usually not ideal to do monologues that aren't from plays for auditions, Joanne suggested that anything from this book would be alright because it is by such a well-respected playwright, not just an Acting 101 monologue book.)

After lunch we had Acting for the Camera with Scott, and we got to shoot most of the close-ups for Girl, Interrupted. It's an interesting experience being the out-of-shot actor, because (for me and some of my classmates, at least) there's less of that self-conscious feeling when you know you're not being recorded. It's also an interesting transition when, in all of your theatre training, you've been told to be "bigger" and then on film you need to "tone it down" or else you look like the world's biggest over-actor.

Lastly we had a Three Sisters Rehearsal class with Karen. She had given us the option of preparing a scene as a character other than the role we had been cast in for today's class. It was really fun to see people find characters entirely against their type and still play them wonderfully. My favorite was a transformation from Vershinin (leading man) to the Doctor (drunken old man). Karen even surprised one classmate who had not prepared an opposite character by asking her to go from Natasha (evil shrew) to Masha (heart-broken mess).

Thursday, July 1, 2010

DAY 18

This morning's Improv class with Greg found all of us suddenly having a terrible time with the simpler games. A mid-week funk, if you will. We moved on to a new game, which was similar to one that we played in Hal's class a few weeks ago, playing with mock job interviews. One person would be doing the interviewing, and the other would have to come up with three distinct characters to interview for the job. It was interesting afterward to pick apart how some turns in their conversations had either helped or hindered the scene: Any time someone gave their scene partner good detailed information, it was greatly beneficial, but if the person didn't receive it or accept what they said as true (breaking one of the holiest improv rules) the scene tanked.

In Hal's Advanced Technique class we continued to focus on Atmospheres and Psychological Gestures. I feel that Atmospheres and the Qualities that we worked on in the earlier weeks have largely the same effect for me, just with different ways of using the imagination: Either that it comes from your surroundings or inside your body, whatever "it" is (the feeling you get from an atmosphere of power versus the carving quality feel similar to me). We worked on finding a Psychological Gesture for our Three Sisters characters, which can be hard to do for intellectual characters, and especially hard for intellectual actors. The gesture is supposed to be a sort of gut reaction to the character, in one simple physical movement, that symbolizes their objective and situation. A character looking for love while feeling trapped could perhaps lunge forward, arms outstretched, without quite reaching what they need. It can feel silly to do such huge movements that are not at all realistic if you think too much about it; it is more of an intuitive response.

In Hisa's Shakespeare class I got up to do my Helena monologue from All's Well. I was so focused on not being "promiscuous with my pauses" that I sped through it pretty quickly the first time around. Then she had me go back and do it again focusing on clarifying each image (and not moving my non-paper-carrying hand like a crazy person). I connect so deeply to Helena in what she's saying in this monologue, and I became a bit overwhelmed by it and unable to connect that emotion to the words off the page. By next class I will be memorized so that I don't have to be hiding behind the paper while I speak.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

DAY 17

This morning we had a double-session with Karen, finishing up the speeches we each selected, as several people were absent yesterday. I think that we've come to the point in the summer where we're all hovering around emotional exhaustion, after about a month of this training and real life marching on as well: A few people had overwhelming emotional moments in class not found in The Three Sisters, but managed to harness it to use it in their work. Personal troubles always find a way to come at the busiest times, and I'm so glad that our class is being so professional and supportive. We all continue to try to connect our thoughts to the words, instead of having the thought in a pause and then speaking after the fact.

In Acting For The Camera with Scott we finished the close-ups for American Psycho and Ghost World and, I must say, I think I may have missed my true calling: The marker. Who wouldn't love clapping that little board and announcing what's about to happen? The power can go to your head.

I didn't do my monologue in Hisa's Shakespeare class today, but of course learned just as much from watching my classmates go. I love the way Hisa describes the characters, and when a Luciana (from Comedy of Errors) had finished the first time, she explained how the character would see the world, and finally settled on "She has kitten posters in her room, you know?" A big focus for today was using the structure of the language for our own creative purposes, instead of being tied down to a certain way of saying it.


Our hour with Karen this morning was a little unorthodox as it consisted of brief one-on-one meetings discussing our personal progress instead of rehearsal. In my meeting, we agreed that the number one thing I need to continue to focus on is my vocal range and variety. Also, not slouching... my mother would be so ashamed.

We then had Improv with Greg for an hour, which felt strange because several people from our group were missing, for personal reasons or for auditions, so our team was a little off. We played the "Name Six" game and I couldn't think of famous bald men. As soon as the water bottle came back to me, I realized I could have just picked six Lakers and I would have been fine: "Kobe, damn it!" We also did an exercise where we each had to stand in front of the class and answer some sort of personal question. We had the option to lie if we didn't want to tell the truth, but we just had to convince the rest of the class. When it came time to pick apart who we thought had lied and why, it turned out most of our group had just told the truth. Clearly, we have no shame.

After lunch we had our normal, full-session Rehearsal class with Karen in which we showed off the speeches we'd selected for our characters. All of the women had to wear corsets for the first time, and I thought my ribs might explode. Turned out, it was a great tool for me because when it was my turn to do my speech, my hysterical laughter just about caused a panic attack for my lungs which made me able to cry, on stage, for the first time. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, not just shuddering and sounds to look like crying: real live water works. The next thing she had me work on was pausing less in between thoughts, or, as she likes to say, not being "promiscuous with your pauses."

Lastly, we had Advanced Technique with Hal. We worked with the idea of "Atmospheres" in which you imagine the atmosphere of your location or situation and absorbing the feelings it creates- for example, the feeling of reverence inside of a cathedral, or sorrow at a funeral. Going along with the church theme, Hal made us a sort of make-shift chapel using flats and blocks, and had us (and by us I mean the girls in the class) pretend to be nuns in a small Italian chapel, and the other half (the boys) be trouble-making, drunk American tourists. It was so funny to see how they could not keep up their shouting ways once they entered the atmosphere we were practically spitting out at them.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 15

This morning we got to start off our day in Voice class with Greg. Our group is especially lucky because we get to have this class first, stretching out our "oh-man-it's-the-last-day-of-the-week-and-I'm-exhausted" bodies, breathing, and relaxing, before going into any of our more stress-inducing classes. As we move from one modified yoga position to the next, our limbs involuntarily tremor and shake (or, that's the goal, at least), like when you are trying to do one last push-up and your arms quiver all over the place. Letting that tremor happen while breathing allows the breath to fill different parts of the body, and when you are in an unusual position, it can feel quite strange and vulnerable. We also did some partner stretching, and I am pretty sure I am going to be sore tomorrow.

Our second class of the morning was Audition with Joanne. We talked about headshots and resumes, and fortunately I had brought mine up to speed the night before. I also told everyone looking to get new headshots about The Rock Studio's current special (which is detailed on the image above). Then someone asked Joanne about how SCR became so damn successful, and she told us the whole story (read about it here: about how Martin and David and their friends started an acting company after college, moved it to Orange County, and became one of the most successful theatres in the country over a few short decades. It wasn't necessarily audition-related, but it was a pretty inspiring tale of overcoming the odds, which always seem to be stacked against you in an audition room.

In the afternoon, we had Advanced Technique with Hal as a combined large class. We briefly discussed Psychological Gestures, but mostly kept working on the imaginary life of our characters. One exercise involved imagining how a character would walk into a room, find a book, and open the book to find a note inside telling them that their greatest wish had come true. We got up in front of the class to act out what we had envisioned in our imaginations one by one, and it was interesting to see who decided to stick to what they had planned to do in their heads, and who decided to try something completely new once they were in the moment.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

DAY 14

This morning we had our Audition class with Joanne. We all went through our monologues to see the progress that we are making with them, etc, as some still need to be shortened a bit. We then started talking about pictures and resumes and letting Joanne look at them to edit them and make recommendations. When I saw everyone else's resumes I was too embarrassed to show mine today: It was formatted all pretty, with different colors and fonts. Apparently, that's not okay. So tonight I am going to re-do all of the formatting and show her tomorrow my new, black and white, standard edition resume. Also, she told someone else in the class that they needed to leave out their high school credits, and so I'll be taking off mine as well, which will make the whole thing a lot shorter. Sigh.

In Scott's Camera class we began filming the close-ups for our scenes. Girl, Interrupted didn't shoot today, so we were assigned different crew tasks. I was in charge of the script supervisor sheet, writing down the description of the scene and the time stamp for each shot, to be given to the editor so that he or she knows which take to print.

In Karen's Rehearsal class today we attacked Act IV of The Three Sisters, which is essentially where it hits the fan emotionally speaking. I did the Irina scene where she tells the Baron she doesn't love him and can't do anything about it. Karen had us (literally) run laps across the front of the stage and do it again, heart rates up and out of breath, and this time it was so much more high stakes and high emotions- we were both fuming. Then she had us put our scripts down and do the scene using our own words, which basically led to us shouting at each other. Then we moved on to the scene where Masha and Vershinin have to say goodbye to one another. Both actor pairs playing these parts broke my heart in this scene, it was so beautiful and heart-breaking. I played Irina both times, and the scene immediately following the kiss goodbye was so different each time, but both ended up with laughter through tears. The only down side to the class for me was when I asked what we were looking at through the fourth wall. As soon as it left my mouth, I knew it was a stupid question. Karen was not amused.

DAY 13

Today in Greg's Improvisation class we played a new game in which one person volunteers and sits in a chair in front of the rest of the class to show the life story of their character. The thing is, they have no idea who their character is, and it is up to the rest of the class to jump up and start doing a scene, in no chronological order, from any point of their life, giving the person clues as to who their character is. One person jumps up and starts talking about their life in the retirement home, another person gets up and asks them to prom, another person starts asking them for milk and cookies, and it becomes apparent what the relationships are in a matter of seconds: Grandma, girlfriend, mommy. The only time it didn't go well was when someone would jump up and start a scene without giving the person enough information about who they were or what the situation was.

In Hal's class we began to move on from imaginary centers toward the imaginary life of a character. This work is all about the imagination, and how you would imagine your character, when you see them in your mind's eye, walking, sitting, or gesturing. The physical posture of the actor/character affects us so much, even subconsciously. Hal had us say the simple line "What's the matter with me?" not with any particular character in mind, but in five different sitting positions. It was amazing how different the line delivery was in each position, without any motivation or circumstances dictating it. The difference between saying it with the head lowered versus arms extended up was the most dramatic and most interesting.

I got to work on my new monologue from All's Well That Ends Well in Hisa's Shakespeare class. It's funny how sometimes obvious things can be overlooked when you are working on just a monologue instead of the whole scene or play: I was so focused on what I was saying in the monologue that I completely neglected the relationship to the person I was saying it to- in this case, Bertram's mother. The monologue is more about Helena's relationship to her than it is describing Helena's love for Bertram. Which, now that it's been pointed out to me, is beyond obvious, but I had not even really considered it before. My new challenge, now that I've exchanged my own clipped way of speaking for a more drawn out vocal release for Shakespeare is to keep "fresh minting" each idea when it changes, shifts, or gets bigger. Hisa has such a great way of describing how each character needs this heightened language. My favorite quote from class today: "In this world, all we have is language. And occasionally poison and daggers."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

DAY 12

Today we all left Karen's Rehearsal class completely high on our Three Sisters work. It was like everyone had their own revelatory breakthrough about their character. The literal and figurative coloring of our scripts really worked, and we were all able to find the most surprising range of emotions in seemingly one-note speeches. Even Karen was thrilled about it, and made us all breath a huge sigh of "finally! we did it!" relief.

In Scott's Camera class, we had to reshoot the master shot for Girl, Interrupted because when we were shooting last week, the memory chip reached capacity but the camera kept rolling, so we had no idea that what we were doing was not being saved. We re-shot our scene and finished up the last of the master shots for the other scenes. Ultimately (apparently) very little of these shots will be seen in the final product except to set up the first image as location and character spacial relations- everything else will be varied close-ups jumping back and forth.

Shakespeare with Hisa was helpful, as it always is. Even when you are not necessarily the person working a monologue or scene, it's often times easier to see what she's talking about when watching someone else go through it. When it's you up there, it can be harder to hear what she's diagnosing in your own voice. We only have time to get through about half the class, so I did not go today, but just listening to others work to achieve the "have the thought-need the words" reaction was very informative.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

DAY 11- Week Three

This morning we had Improvisation with Greg. We played the "frantically name six of an item before the water bottle gets passed back to you" game, and finally, three weeks later, I got caught with the bottle. Name six of what, you ask? The last few weeks it's been things like movies featuring animals as main characters, musicals with one word titles, names of American first ladies. But the six items I was to name? "Restaurants that serve primarily chicken." For those of you who don't know me, my family owns and operates Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. I am literally a third generation KFC kid. I swear I could not name one other chicken restaurant. In my defense, we never frequented the competition when I was growing up. El Pollo Loco? Didn't go until I was 18. Fortunately, we played another game so I could try to redeem myself. Our new task was to speak for a solid minute about some fictional topic he assigned us as if we were a leading expert at a conference. This was much easier for me and everyone was able to complete the minute with very funny success.

In Karen's rehearsal class we continued with our The Three Sisters rehearsal. Our current assignment is to go through the script with literal colors (pencils, crayons, what have you) to designate each thought with its own emotion. We are also continuing to discuss how to negotiate with directors and other actors via what Karen calls "self-defense acting." This involves backing up all opinions about your character with proof from the text, examples from previous productions, or famous articles or books. There's nothing worse than getting direction or notes from another actor, however, ahem, well-meaning they may be, and part of the negotiation is the tact to sometimes say "That's interesting..." and walk away, and to sometimes defend your choices until you get what you want.

In Hal's Advanced Techniques class, we talked about objectives. While it's a pretty basic idea in acting, it's sometimes easy to bypass for that very reason. The more specific an action verb can be, the easier time you will having picking tactics as to how you will complete that specific action to get what you want or need.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

DAY 10

Where have the last two weeks gone? I feel like I only just got used to which staircase leads where and now we're a third of the way done with the program. This morning we did all kinds of crazy Fitzmaurice breathing, stretching, and voice work in the morning with Greg. Then we continued our Advanced Techniques with Hal combining our movement qualities and imaginary centers.

The real business of the day came after lunch, when we had a combined Audition class with Joanne all afternoon, which was a giant question/answer/lecture session about the ins and outs of getting jobs. So, without further ado, here are Joanne's tips and tricks of the trade, as frantically scribbled down by a non-Equity, non-represented actress.

1. Know what play you're auditioning for and who you are auditioning for- know about every person who will be in the room and what they've done (i.e. don't let the playwright be sitting in the room unacknowledged because you don't know what they look like).

2. Know the theatre and its history.

3. Don't pass up roles/auditions for better roles/auditions that "might" happen.

4. If you have an agent, tell them specifically that you want theatre work. Sometimes they don't pass on theatre audition notices if it's pilot season, etc, unless you've asked.

5. NEVER say you didn't read the whole play (I thought that was a pretty obvious one, but apparently it's a common mistake).

6. EPA stands for Equity Principal Auditions, and you can attend them (if they are not closed) if you are non-Equity.

7. If you are in contact with casting agents, keep them informed about what you are working on.

8. DO NOT be off-book for sides. Always keep them in your hands.

9. It is okay to say, "Can I start again?" if your beginning was miserable and you need to start over.

10. It is okay to send the casting director a thank-you note after the production in which they cast you, but is not necessary after the audition.

11. DO wear the exact same thing you wore to the audition if you are called back.

12. Dress the flavor of the role (Shakespeare: peasant top; Contemporary: T-shirt, jeans or movement clothes).

13. DO NOT wear or do anything to call attention to anything other than your performance.

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen! Now let's all go get hired...

Thursday, June 17, 2010


This morning we had our Audition class with Joanne. The woman is a genius. In a matter of days since initially meeting all of us, she found monologues that fit us each perfectly. She gave me a piece from Reckless by Craig Lucas in which the character confesses she is not, in fact, deaf and mute, but has just been pretending to be so to get the attention of her love interest. Other popular pieces were from Lobby Hero by Kenneth Lonergan, Oleanna by David Mamet, Hitchcock Blonde by Terry Johnson, and Autobahn by Neil LaBute. Everyone was very happy to be handed a monologue that was just right for them, as the process for finding one for yourself can take weeks... or just remain unfound.

In Scott's Camera class we shot the master shots of our scenes. It's really interesting for me to see the technical side of film in little ways, like holding the boom for a scene: I had no idea about any of it. We continued to work on our Girl, Interrupted scene, and I got to use Hal's "mentally disturbed" imaginary center technique. We'll see how well it worked when we see the playback next Tuesday.

Finally we had Karen's rehearsal class and worked through Act II of The Three Sisters. It seems like no matter how much research and prep I do, she still always comes up with questions that make me think, "How the hell did I not think of that before?" It is so fun doing scene work with such talented classmates, especially in a text that we all seem to be fairly unfamiliar with, stumbling through and making discoveries about the text together. Our voice teacher Greg played Vershinin for a while, adding an interesting (and obviously more experienced) layer to our group. Our homework for the weekend is to create a character bio in which we fill in all of the details, reasons, and answers that Chekhov didn't specify.


Another hysterical morning with Greg in Improvisation class. We played our usual games and learned a few new ones as well. As much crap as Greg gives us as we fail miserably during these games, he always gives us the most inspirational talks in the last half of class. He gave us a list of improv rules, including always making eye contact, trusting your partner, always adapting to changes/never denying information from your partner, being truthful, never physically fighting (which I think is kind of funny... he's obviously had problems with this in the past?), and knowing that there are exceptions to every rule.

We then had Advanced Techniques with Hal, who continued to work with us on "imaginary centers." Today we added a technique for playing mentally disturbed, which involves imagining the center far in the distance and giving it a strong magnetic quality. Watching Hal and my classmates focus their eyes this way, they certainly looked deranged, so I think it was a pretty good trick.

Our final class was Shakespeare with Hisa. I got to do my monologue, which was from All's Well That Ends Well. She showed me an even better Helena monologue two scenes after my selection that I will work on for next class. She also gave me the note that while it's great that I can speak Shakespeare in my own natural speech pattern, it would be better if I could draw out and elongate my words to match the heightened language with vocal emotional release, instead of my own quick, clipped pace of speech.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Today we had Karen's Audition class all morning, in which we got our roles for The Three Sisters that we will be rehearsing over the next four weeks. I've been cast as Irina, who is the ingénue of the sisters. I've never really played the ingénue before because I usually play the quirky/funny/outsider character (which is why I initially read for Natasha), so I'm excited to try something new and challenging... mostly because I have the worst time crying on command and this girl cries every other line. We had a discussion about the play based off of the research we had done over the weekend, and Karen tried to break us of the habit of starting any statement with "I think" or "I feel." I had no idea I started phrases that way, so it was a hard one to break. We read through the first act and will continue on to the second next class. Our big challenge is to find multiple and conflicting emotions in each speech, instead of just playing sad, happy, or angry.

Our next class was Camera with Scott. We are doing a scene from Girl, Interrupted and shot a couple practice runs of it. Scott recommended a great website to us, which is, and in it are hundreds of film and television scripts you can download for free. We had to replace one of our characters as one of our classmates had to drop the program, so the reading was a little awkward. The playback was also the first time I have really seen myself on film close up... wow. Are my cheeks really that big?

Finally we had Shakespeare with Hisa. There wasn't time for everyone to present their monologues but I learned so much just from watching others go. Overall, the challenge for us with this heightened language is connecting the sometimes foreign words to original thought, instead of "acting" and then reciting pretty words. We need to have the thought, need the language, and thus think, act, and speak all at once. Not as easy as it sounds. She also uses a great phrase which is "Fresh mint it!" meaning in a monologue, you have to keep coming up with fresh new thoughts and reasons to keep speaking instead of just waiting for the person to respond or marching off stage all together.

Monday, June 14, 2010

DAY 6- Week 2

I have a distinct feeling that any day with an Improvisation class with Greg is going to be my favorite day. I just laugh so hard the entire time. Again we were with both groups, playing large group games and then discussing how conflict and empathy on stage make for interesting entertainment. We played the "frantically name six of a category while a water bottle is being passed back to you" game again, and still no one was able to get all of them. We also played a game where you have to say a word that begins with whatever was the last letter of the word you were just given while sticking to a certain rhythm. He described improv as being "a playwright on your feet"- you create your own plot and circumstances; the team has to be able to play along with you.

We then had Rehearsal class with Karen, in which we had "callbacks" for The Three Sisters. I read for Natasha, and I am finding that my bad nervous habit is to read too quickly. It is interesting to see a group of really fine actors be called out on their bad nervous habits- we all have a distinct one we are now aware of and are trying to break. Even with my overly-speedy initial read I think it went well. We find out our cast list tomorrow. Not that there isn't any thing at stake here (again, please hire me SCR), but it is funny how seriously we all get about it when you label it "auditions"- even for a play that we will never perform. Also, we got to practice our audition schmoozing tactics: "Is there anything you would like me to know before I begin? ... Thank you, that adjustment was so helpful... Would you like to see it another way? ... Thanks so much, I really appreciate you calling me in to read... It looks like a very exciting project." Consider yourself schmoozed.

We then had Advanced Techniques with Hal, who gave us the idea of the "imaginary center," or the place where a character holds their "emotional and mental headquarters." From this center, which can be anywhere in, on, or around the body, a character trait can be built: Superman might have his in the center of his chest, leading the way with his perfect posture. This imaginary gravitational pull can also be used for more specific purposes, like drunkenness, in which case the center may be moving back and forth in front of you as you struggle to keep focus on it. Obviously, we all ended class having to come down from our fake buzz.


Ah, Friday. We definitely had an "ahhh" kind of morning in our first voice class with Dr. Greg Ungar today. After a quick game of communist tag (that's right) we got to lay on the floor, focusing on breathing and stretching to relieve all tension. Our group got super lucky to relax first thing in the morning before rushing off to all of our other (more stress-inducing) classes. Greg teaches the Fitzmaurice approach to opening the voice, which I have had the pleasure of studying with Ben Mathes at USD. It was a great way to start off our last day of week one.

Next we had Audition class with Joanne, who gave us feedback on our monologue selection. For most of us, it was a simple "No!" or "No way!" or "Get rid of it." I loved her honesty. She told me the Equivocation piece was interesting but not long enough. She then had us stand up so she could appraise us physically, and gave us each the age range we should be auditioning for. She gave me mid-twenties, possibly younger with my hair in a pony tail.

We ended the day with a longer Advanced Techniques class with Hal with both groups combined, all twenty-seven of us adopting different qualities as instructed. Our improv exercise was to go up in pairs and do a mock job interview, with both the interview-er and -ee picking different qualities and creating scenarios on the spot.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


This morning we had our first Audition class with Joanne Denaut, casting director at South Coast Rep. She literally makes the casting decisions for every show at this theatre, so I was pretty nervous going in, obviously wanting to make a good impression. I'm so excited for this class, especially because I will be making the rounds of MFA auditions this academic year and need to be prepared for such potentially life-altering audition decisions. Just thinking about what monologue I should pick for my UCI audition makes me sweat, so it will be great have such an expert opinion about what to choose. She asked us all what we would do with our lives if acting was suddenly no longer an option, making the point that our other interests support our acting, and our acting supports our other interests. We all performed our monologues for her (my current one is from Equivocation by Bill Cain) and I am interested to see what she has to say about them tomorrow.

In our camera class, Scott gave us some scenes to try reading aloud to see if we are interested in working on them to eventually do on camera. We all read about two and all ended up picking the ones he originally suggested, of course. A few other women and I will be working on a scene from Girl, Interrupted which I have never seen but plan on reading over the weekend. Everyone was somewhat cast to type, and I got crazy girl. Of course!

In Karen's Rehearsal class, we did cold read auditions for Chekhov's The Three Sisters, which, naturally, of his most famous plays, is the one I'm completely unfamiliar with. We will be working on this play over the next four weeks, working through an entire rehearsal process without ever actually performing it. I read for Olga, at first way too quickly, and Karen had to slow me down. I later read again for Irina, and after doing one of her speeches, Karen told me that I read too naturalistically/modern/one-note-y. I completely agree that I need to work on that, and, as she puts it, "add more colors" to my vocal range onstage. We have callbacks on Monday, and will be coming back having read and researched the play with a character picked out and ready to show off.


This morning we had our first Improvisation class with Greg Atkins. I. laughed. so. hard. Coincidentally, it's not even a comedy improv class, but rather general improvisation skills for the actor. He taught us a few improv games, which we completely failed at, which gave him a ton of material with which to mock us. My favorite: We had to stand in a circle passing around a bottle of water, and whenever he said stop, the person caught holding the bottle had to name eight of a certain item (vegetables that aren't green; candy bars that don't have nuts) before the bottle made it around the circle back to them. Of course, under pressure, it becomes infinitely more difficult to categorize common information. The whole point was that if this kind of pressure can stump you, what happens when "hundred dollar bills are being burned" on a film set and you need to step up and say your one line? After the game he gave us a great talk about relationships, professional and personal, and how those connections are all that matters in this business.

In our Shakespeare class, Hisa gave us more information about verse, prose, and syllables than I could wrap my mind around in an hour and a half. This is probably common knowledge, but my favorite tidbit is that (generally speaking) higher status people speak in verse, and lower class people speak in prose. She gave us a bunch of great handouts, and I'll type out a guideline for operative words at the bottom of this post.

Hal's Advanced Techniques class was a continuation of the "qualities" that we worked on last time and a few new ones- staccato and legato. He has a great phrase for using these qualities physically in a character: He "infuses" the quality to maintain the physical feeling while focusing on the dialogue or task at hand.

So, here we are midweek of week one. I leave you with this list, courtesy of Hisa Takakuwa and A Noise Within Theatre (of which she is a founding artistic member):


1. Stress not the negative. "No" and "not" are almost never operative. The operative word is, instead, the word that is being negated. Example: "Go not till you here from me." "I love thee not; therefore pursue me not."

2. Verbs of being are never operative. The operative words are the words that explain the kind or quality of being. Example: "I am happy." "He is my brother."

3. Avoid stressing pronouns whenever it is possible to do so ("he", "she", "it", etc). Whenever there is any alternative that makes sense, use it. This includes possessive pronouns ("his", "her", etc).

4. Possessive nouns are never less important than the word they posses Example: "My father's house."

5. Articles ("a", "an", "the"), prepositions ("to", "from", "on", etc) and conjunctions ("and", "but", "or", etc) are never operative. They contain no images, but serve to show the relationships between the images. Find the word with the images.

6. Adjectives and adverbs are treated as part of the noun or verb they modify. The key operative word is the noun or verb, with the adjective or adverb incorporated in the image as a modifier.

7. An image that is repeated is not operative. What is operative is any new quality that is added in the repetition. This is called repetitive contrast. Stress the new information.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Yesterday program director Karen Hensel gave us a two-page scene with no real content to memorize to perform in class today with our assigned partner. The dialogue was not particularly enlightening, but she gave us each a circumstance ("It's a horror film... It's a romantic comedy... You were roommates and it ended badly") and we had to make it work. We all performed our scenes and they were all vastly different, and then bam: She gave us about five minutes to come up with a new scenario and perform them again. Like yesterday, her whole point was that the actor has the power over the words (not the other way around) and we need to be able to control them in any possible way in case a director or casting person asks us to make a change in a split second.

Our next class was film, which thoroughly frightened me because I have no experience in it. Not only am I inexperienced, I am baffled: Just weep/fall in love/laugh/scream/whatever immediately after they slap that clapboard in your face? No warm-up? No scene partner? Nothing? It sounds awful. Fortunately, our instructor, Scott Reiniger, seems like a very patient guy.

Our final class of the day was Shakespeare, taught by Hisa Takakuwa. I also have no experience being in Shakespeare productions, but I am very familiar (Thanks, English 280) and have seen some great productions at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, in London, and in New York, so I feel much more comfortable in this arena despite my inexperience. Hisa told us that there are two rules to doing Shakespeare well: 1. Being specific and 2. Being present. Without those two things, it becomes boring, and even if it's well-spoken, it's not "lived" and puts us all to sleep.

Day 2 left me a little overwhelmed by my own lack of experience, but excited to hopefully speed up the learning curve over the course of this summer.


In February, I auditioned for South Coast Repertory's Professional Acting Intensive and, a week later, I got a letter in the mail saying that I was accepted. I promptly freaked out.

So I am very excited to be spending the next two months at the theatre every day, and because I convinced USD to give me some units for this endeavor, I will be blogging every day as my journal to later go back and write a massive paper about the experience. But, in the mean time, I will be sharing my daily experiences and my favorite tips and tidbits from the fabulous instructors that I am learning from every day.

My first morning, I was incredibly nervous, which is not a feeling I experience often, but the potential for my career after doing this program (hire me SCR! give me my Equity card!) is really intimidating. There are about 26 other actors this summer, with varying degrees of experience, training, and age. We took a tour of the theatre (I get a key!) and it's like starting school all over again: The building is a huge labyrinth of staircases, classrooms, offices, and of course the main stages, and I have no idea where any of my classrooms are. At one point I stepped away from the group to go to the bathroom in between classes and got thoroughly lost.

Our first class, with program director Karen Hensel, was a blast. We all came to class prepared with a monologue, and she put us on stage in pairs, gave us some given circumstances ("You're picking up a girl at a bar", "You're at your uncle's funeral"), and instructed us to do the scene using the text from our monologue. The result was sometimes hilarious and sometimes worked out weirdly well. Her entire point was that as an actor, "You control the words. The words do not control you." You need to be able to change the delivery of the words to fit what you're trying to communicate, because, especially in an audition situation, you need to be able to change at the drop of a hat if the casting people have something else in mind. She also made us solemnly swear to never leave an audition without asking the casting director: "Would you like to see it another way? Is there something you'd like to see that I didn't give you?"

Our next class of the day was with Hal Landon (he plays Scrooge every year in a Christmas Carol) and is called "Advanced Techniques." It is essentially a Michael Chekhov class, which is great because I recently took a class with Liz Shipman at USD that is very similar, so I've already gotten over the awkwardness of "move like you're surrounded by clay" or "radiate light toward this wall." (What?) This type of work was really strange for me before I took Liz's class, so I'm glad I'm a little bit more prepared for this one.

I left exhausted and excited for the next day. More to come!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Crimes of the Heart

Lenny is not having a good birthday. Not that anyone remembers that she is turning 30, but her beloved horse was just struck down by lightening, her grandfather is getting worse in the hospital, and she can't contact her much prettier sister to tell her that the youngest sister is in jail for shooting her own damn husband because she "didn't like his looks."

This immediate series of unfortunate events at South Coast Repertory's Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley is quite a bit to handle in the first ten minutes of a play, but the humorous absurdity of it all (horse struck by lightening? Really?) is quickly counterbalanced by the deep dysfunction and tragedy of a family legacy in the deep South. The three unfortunate sisters discovered the body of their suicidal mother at a young age; the national attention they received from a mother who hanged herself (oh, and hanged their cat) in the basement still haunting them in adulthood.

Lenny, played with an awkward humor by Blair Sams, is tied to the family home, taking care of the ailing Granddaddy that raised them after their mother's death and not taking time to find love for herself. Meg, played with a self-aware sexuality by Jennifer Lyon, has a completely failed singing career in California, has had "too many men" and her own recent nervous breakdown. And, as the catalyst for their reunion, Babe (Kate Rylie) has just shot her abusive husband in the stomach after he came home unexpectedly, catching her spending time with the fifteen-year-old black boy she has been having an illicit affair with (at a time in the South when such affair could easily leave such a boy murdered). Together they face Babe's upcoming trial against her politician husband as their resentments, secrets, and memories slowly make themselves apparent.

Henley has a great knack for finding humor in the darkest of situations, and the cast at SCR did a fantastic job at pulling out even more laughs. The characters were really and truly dysfunctional, their selfish decisions ruining the lives of others or themselves, but, as with more recent family portraits such as August: Osage County, I never felt an uplifting break in the cycle of suicidal despair and mistreatment by men. The message of the play seemed to be that its not up to women to break the cycle (except for Lenny, who finally connects with a man who loves her), but rather to be there to support each other through it.

I certainly left wishing I had a sister, and grateful for the girlfriends in my life that substitute.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

I was lucky enough to see the world premier of Rajiv Joseph's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo at the Kirk Douglas Theatre last year, and I was so excited when the Mark Taper announced that they would be remounting it this season. I mean, when a show contains dialogue like, "I'm sorry I'm bothering you, but you're the only person who can hear me besides the Tiger, and the Tiger just keeps bugging me about epistemology and original sin, which is as annoying as fuck," you know you're intrigued. Did I mention this is a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer?

Directed by Moisés Kaufman (The Laramie Project), this show examines the war in Iraq with razor blade humor and heart-wrenching honesty. Having seen it last year, I had somewhat prepared myself for the blood and loss, but the intimate space of the Taper brings the hopeless feeling of Baghdad right into the pit of your stomach. The acting in this show is absolutely flawless, bringing the story in and out of time and reality, seamlessly traveling from before and during the American occupation. Joseph's triumph in this piece is that he blames no one power for the suffering: The Americans are (literally) chasing after golden toilet seats, and the Hussein family rapes, murders, and tortures their own people. The only downfall in the piece is that it offers no sense of hope, ever. The ghost of the Tiger from the blown-up Baghdad zoo (an atheist in life, apparently) discovers in death that his soul must be lingering on earth because of God, but God never shows himself to reveal why he is prolonging the endless suffering.

This is a beautiful show and I think it will serve history with a vivid image of how this war is being perceived seven years into it: If possible, how do the good people living in a crumbling city stay good? And if neither of the powers that fought over it were looking out for the best interests of those good people, then what now?

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Language Archive

South Coast Repertory has snagged the world premier of Julia Cho's The Language Archive, and I believe this play is quickly going to be produced everywhere (the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has already slated it in its 2011 season), and rightfully so.

The story follows George (played by Leo Marks), a brilliant linguist who desperately fights against time to archive dying languages, who can speak a multitude of languages but who cannot manage to communicate to his wife, Mary (Betsy Brandt). As much as he loves her, he cannot say what she needs to hear, and her constant weeping and mysterious notes leave him completely bewildered. She announces she is leaving him, and he is devastated. And as much as he did not see it coming, he also didn't see that his quirky assistant Emma (a charming Laura Heisler) has fallen desperately in love with him.

As his personal life unravels, George and Emma are working on recording Alta and Resten, the last two speakers of Ellowan, a vaguely Eastern European-ish sounding language. Unfortunately the elderly couple, played with comic brilliance by Linda Gehringer and Tony Amendola, got in a huge fight on the plane ride over from their village and refuse to speak Ellowan until it is resolved. Apparently, English is a language for fighting because everyone knows you can always take it back if it's said in English, but Ellowan is a language reserved for love. As they fight with each other and counsel George in his obvious heartbreak, they create a touching picture of two people in the most real kind of love: A lifetime of two people who bicker and feud but ultimately want nothing more than to spend their entire lives loving and being loved by that one other person.

Gerhinger and Amendola also play a variety of smaller characters, each contributing a small revelation about relationships and our constant struggle to communicate and be understood by the person we love most. After such a smart first act, the second seemed to have a few too many of the usual convenient plot conventions (letters falling from the sky, encounters on a train, characters giving their own epilogues), but those seemed to stand by the wayside of the larger meaning of the play. Communicating what we want and need from love and from each other is its own language, and no matter how proficient we may be in all other linguistic aspects, without that communication, we never fully understand each other.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A View From The Bridge

Whenever anyone mentions Liev Schreiber, my absolute favorite story to tell is one of a beloved professor: Apparently, he threw a chair at her head when they were both at the Yale School of Drama (my apologies to those who have had to listen to that story six and seven times). But now, whenever he makes his way into a conversation or film, I will have a new little fact to share: He was absolutely amazing in A View From the Bridge on Broadway in 2010.

Arthur Miller's story of a longshoreman who falls tragically in his own undoing creates the character of Eddie Carbone, a role that Schreiber was born to play. His wife Beatrice, played with a perfect nervousness by Jessica Hecht, is concerned that Eddie may be a little too emotionally involved with her niece Catherine, played by Scarlett Johansson, marking her Broadway debut. Everything is under control until Beatrice's cousins, illegal Italian immigrants, come to stay with them secretly in order to find work and send money back to their starving families in Italy. When Eddie senses that Catherine may be seriously falling in love with one of them, he begins a campaign to smear his reputation, and when that doesn't work, he sets in motion a string of events at first tragic, and ultimately fatal, to himself and the Italian-American community. Schreiber's portrayal of a desperate obsession and individual moments of destructive decision making absolutely break your heart.

Now, in writing this little blog, it occurred to me: How are we, the audience, not bothered or at least a little perplexed by the fact that we root for Catherine and Rodolpho to get married when they are actually cousins? We are repulsed by Eddie's attraction to Catherine because he is her guardian and married to Beatrice, but, technically speaking, his attraction is adulterous but not incestuous as he is only related to Catherine by marriage. Is there some line in the text that implies that "cousin" is really Miller's term for distant, distant relatives? I've seen and discussed this play a few times over the last few years and this quandary has never occurred to me until just now. Miller scholars: Thoughts? Am I missing something? Or is this cousin-marriage just not that big of a deal?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Next to Normal

Next to Normal is the kind of musical not meant for the faint of heart. The rock musical deals with Diana, wife and mother struggling with depression, schizophrenia, and suicidal tendencies, played by Alice Ripley, who won the Tony Award for best actress for this dark role. Her husband, played touchingly by J. Robert Spencer, is doing his best to keep her safe and happy while juggling with his work and duties as father of the house. Their sixteen-year-old daughter, played by Jennifer Damiano, is a cynical stress case attempting to earn the attention of her mother, whose sole focus is on her older brother, played by Kyle Dean Massey.

Except that the older brother died as a baby, and the figure we see on stage is entirely in Diana's imagination, leaving her completely unable to move past her loss. What ensues is a great debate about the uses of anti-depressants, shock therapy, marriage, parenthood, and the general field of psychology. The play raises troubling questions without really answering them, and although it does end with a sense of hope, the heartache still remains.

The voices in this six-person show are, without a doubt and without exception, some of the best that I have ever heard. On the night that I saw this show in the Booth Theatre, Alice Ripley was clearly sick and having a difficult time achieving her normal sound, but the desperate hoarseness of her voice worked for the character. The set was harsh and beautiful, also consistent with the themes of the play. If you have strong feelings about medication, one way or the other, this show may bring up some volatile feelings, but I would still recommend it for the amazing voices to anyone in New York.

Friday, February 19, 2010

As You Like It

When I saw a poster on the New York subway for The Bridge Project, I was filled with memories of London and my two favorite productions of the summer: The Bridge Project's The Cherry Orchard and The Winter's Tale and wished I had the disposable income to fly back and see the second season. When I looked closer and realized that they were still in New York, I was ecstatic.

So off on a train to Brooklyn we went, to the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theatre, a beautifully dilapidated theatre built in 1914 that was renovated in the seventies only enough to become a functioning theatre once more, but still clearly a haunting shadow of its former heyday. The second season, consisting off As You Like It and The Tempest (the latter not opening until March), did not have the headlining names of the first season (Ethan Hawke, Rebecca Hall) but was still a beautiful ensemble with great performances.

Once again Sam Mendes has created a beautiful world with music and light. One of Shakespeare's fluffier comedies, As You Like It lacks the tragic punches of last year's plays, but Mendes chose to balance the fun and joy with darker moments, including a waterboarding interrogation scene. But where joy is concerned, the play beautifully presents love and relationship and happiness in a world that seems to glow from the inside out. Said glow radiates out of heroine Rosalind, played by the effervescent Juliet Rylance, with an ease and wit that makes her instantly lovable.

The triple wedding scene at the end can quickly become cliche, but in this production, it felt more like a very pleasant dream. I would have loved to see what parallels Mendes will draw between this and The Tempest, and would highly recommend anyone on the East Coast or with plans to be in London this summer to see them together.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Whisper House

In all fairness, it must be said that I came into this show unable to stop myself from comparing it to Duncan Sheik's Tony Award-winning smash, Spring Awakening. The die-hard fans of that show may be up in arms against me, but I think that the Old Globe's premier of Sheik's Whisper House was a remarkably better play.

Granted, the two could not be more different (although apparently microphones are a requirement). Spring Awakening was astounding for its power ensemble vocals and visuals. Whisper House is not a musical in that sense; it is more of a play that is interrupted and narrated by two singing ghosts (the only two characters that sing through the entire show) that are haunting a young boy forced to live with his spinster Aunt Lilly in the family lighthouse after his father is killed in World War II.

My biggest disappointment in Spring Awakening was that the beautiful music had no story to accomplish or was lyrically completely irrelevant to the plot. Whisper House has a very tangible story as Aunt Lilly, played brilliantly by Mare Winningham (who was also wonderful in the La Jolla Playhouse's Bonnie and Clyde earlier this year- my apologies for missing the post) must deal with a bratty young nephew as well as the racial tension of WWII against her Japanese worker and love interest.

The ghosts, played by David Poe and Holly Brook, carried off Duncan's pop style flawlessly while clearly enjoying their fiendish antics on stage wandering through the play's action. Their chemistry and harmonies reminded me of the Irish duo The Swell Season. The costumes and set added wonderfully to the eeriness of the piece, although the projections seemed, at times, a bit unnecessary. Visually and vocally, this show is easily the best thing I have seen at the Globe. And you know how I feel about The Grinch...