Acting Up

My musings, thoughts, rants, and discoveries. - Scott Maddock

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Location: Redmond, Washington, U.S. Inc. (Formerly U.S.A.)

Allie's Journey

For the next several months this will be dedicated to information pertinent to Allene M. Maddock. Her care has been assumed by Hospice as of 06Apr12.

Please feel free to call or write her. If you call be patient and take time to explain who you are. Currently she remembers, but you have to help her focus so she truly knows who she is talking to at the moment. We have to do this too, and I frequently say something like, "Yes this is Scott, your oldest."

Her phone is area code two-zero-six, and the number is 216 3816.

Her Address:
Allie Maddock
c/o Queen Ann Manor
100 Crockett Street
Seattle, Washington
    98109

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Winning and Losing

Last night my scene partner and I did an extended improvisation. We are preparing for our scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. An extended improvisation entails taking your character out into the real world. Blanche and Mitch had dinner and walked around Seattle Center. As in all the work in our Meisner class I can't go into any detail other than my personal experience and observations as they reflect on me. It is a matter of confidence and trust. Robin told us early on, that what we hear and see stays in the class. I can't imagine anyone in the class wouldn't respect each others privacy. It is still good to have the reminder, so you don't get carried away in your enthusiasm while going on about your experience.

In concept this was a pretty intimidating exercise for me. I think my southern dialect is the thing that worried me the most. It has not been my highest priority for this work, though I've striven to be consistent in my vowel and consonant replacements, and worked especially hard to avoid the over the top over-exaggeration of southern dialects that is so easy to fall into, which I find take away from the work. I tried to pick attributes that were closer to the Gulf coast. For a non-academic show I'd have spent more time nailing down a smaller region, and finding or putting together a specific tutorial.

Once I met Blanche all was okay. There were a couple moments in the back of my mind, where I wondered what our waiter was thinking. Happily I was able to let go, and the moments were fleeting. I was Mitch, on a date with Blanche. It was easier than I thought. I wasn't thinking about being Mitch, mostly I was just living through Mitch. I responded in what are now surprising ways, felt rebuffed, complimented, bored, excited, awkward, dull, clever, etc. It was much simpler than I thought, and more comfortable.

It was surprising to find being in character offstage felt so natural. I think it was really helpful. I have been struggling with this scene, and the exercise created history, ease, and a connection with Blanche. It also helped with my own history, and which will make much the homework in the next few days more productive.

Today we had dress rehearsals with Robin for our final class. Trina and I had our 45 minute session at Noon. I felt good during prep and going in, then I got lost. There were moments where I felt really connected, but they didn't play; it/I wasn't hanging together. I have a lot of notes. Tonight I need to read the entire play again, and do copious homework. I have the fear I won't have time to do the homework and pull off a decent performance. I am looking forward to it at the same time, because the scene is moving forward.

Robin made some new suggestions, which I really liked and made absolute sense. It is a very common superstition that a crappy dress rehearsal makes for a good for the performance (and vice versa). You get all the things out of the way which don't work. I sure felt like I didn't let anything good get in my way today. : ) So, with enough work I hope to get it together for Thursday. Tonight's goal is to get lots of homework done, get a good night's sleep, and be ready for tomorrow.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Friends are Magi (cal)

This weekend was a wonderful time in the theatre. The bigger audiences made a difference, but Thursday and Friday were great too. Both nights I had friends in the audience, and the prior weekend my folks were at the Sunday show. Three shows in a row with friends and family. My dad and stepmom are both very good and close friends, so I was doubly blessed.

I saw The Beard of Avon at the Seattle Rep several years ago with my friend Rachel. After the show I waited with her outside the business office, as she knew a several of the cast from shows she had directed or AD'd (Assistant Directed). She said that working actors, especially those from out of town rarely have people they know at shows, and are usually delighted to know they have a friend or acquaintance in the audience. At the time it was a surprising concept for me. We met and chatted with one of the actors, whom I remembered from the Intiman's production of R. Buckminster Fuller. There is a bit of a story to that, I'll probably share some other time. He really was pleased to see there was someone he know at the show.

I have now worked numerous shows in different capacities where nobody I knew came. Well, that's not true. None of my family or friends outside the fringe community I hang out with came. I discovered it doesn't bother me. I believe it is a gift when you're doing something you truly love. Being alive is all you need. Aside from the late improv shows I run lights for, which would be a brutal commute via the ferry, my folks make every show they can. They travel a lot and chill the chill months in Arizona, so they do miss quite a few. When they can come, or anyone else does show up, it is a wonderful treat.

People that know enough to be upbeat right after a show are an added blessing. I think most actors can take well-meant 'helpful' feedback on a show and honestly consider it. Depending on circumstances though, a critique right after a show will bring you down a little closer or plummeting all the way to earth in an unpleasant way, unless it is the director and they are not an ass. Even if you know the 'helpful' person is full of shit. It's a negative charge applied to all the positive energy you are feeling.

Not only did I have friends at three shows in a row, they were all positive. I am very serious about my art, and don't require friends to come see me perform and pat me on the back. Generally, I no longer feel a need for that kind of validation. In a way it gives the gift of people coming to your show and patting your back a synergistic increase in meaning. More simply said, the gift is more than the some of the parts. I resolve to let them each know how important and meaningful their gift was for me.

Critiquing critics

We had a good show Thursday night. Still a very small audience, which was the biggest problem. I've noticed that the first show of a week is more likely to lack energy. Something about the break, or the typically small audience. I didn't see that last night, which really impressed me, and made me pretty proud to work with this cast.

We were reviewed by Misha Berson of the Seattle Times. I've not read many of her reviews because it seems they are generally for something at the Fifth Avenue or the Paramount, which in my mind tend to be touring productions, that come across as slick shows intended to please the TV/cinema oriented crowd. I don't think it is bad, on the contrary, as anything that brings people away from their home entertainment centers is a very good thing. Most of them just aren't my cup of tea, and pricey to boot. As such I wouldn't presume to critique them. It would be like a fan of slasher flicks reviewing a romantic comedy. I've seen it in those movie rating books like the ones BlockBuster sells. If you don't like the genre, it is nearly impossible to be fair or cogent.

Misha Berson has a reputation as one of the only theatre reviewers that knows stage left from a hole in the ground. I have seen some very inane comments over the years, which could make up a very long post all by themselves. She had a few cogent things to say about the show, which was refreshing after some of the reviews I've seen in the past. I felt the writing was pretentious while she was writing an essay on the story itself, rather than the production. Her biggest complaints with the production were driven by the venue itself and limited production resources. That is what fringe theatre is about. We don't get any donations from Allen, Gates, Boeing, or anyone you ever heard of. We don't make a living doing theatre, rather we live through it. I once again got the impression elaborate sets, props, costumes, and herds of stagehands are the most important theatrical criteria in her view. Overall it wasn't a bad review. It is just that it had the resentful feeling of a slasher movie fan forced to review a romantic comedy. I wonder if she'll be happier when we work out of the Bathhouse theatre in the future. Still, she is known as one of the better of the reviewers in the area.

The other papers had good reviews, but maybe I'm biased as they were very positive.
Seattle Post Intelligencer
Seattle Weekly

The Stranger's reviewer was there Friday, but that one hasn't come out yet. People that know him said he was laughing hysterically at the funny bits...

There is a group, TheatreSeattle.com that is awful. They review shows, but they are vicious in a cowardly and political way. I read a lot of their reviews last Fall during the Fringe Festival. I noticed they were always syrupy to the well-established production companies like the Intiman, Seattle Rep, and Seattle Shakes, regardless of the quality of the show. When they get to small or unknown companies, their venom comes out, though to be fair there occasionally is some correlation between the invective level and the quality of fringe shows.

It's okay to dislike a show. What I find unforgivable is being malicious, especially in their clever ways. For one I am not impressed by the attempt at being intellectually clever, it is just sloppy mental masturbation. (Eww, there's an ugly picture.) I decided to honor them with their type of comment, even if I couldn't quite match their meanness.

Someone told me it is done that way in New York. Big freaking deal. I've no respect for meanness done for the sake of being mean, and no desire to import it. The arts have enough of a challenge without that kind of atmosphere.

I wrote to the Intiman Theatre in response to another of their solicitations for a donation. They'd finally talked me into donating, which is impressive because I make a point of donating to smaller companies, especially those that serve or support children and teens. Then, I had a change of heart because they listed ThreatreSeattle's review for their show (Homebody Kabul). I told the Intiman I do not wish to legitimize that kind viciousness, not even second hand. The Intiman never responded. They are my favorite equity house, and it is the only time they have disappointed me in any way. I am still a satisfied subscriber, so they will continue to get that support. The donation I'd planned would have been a touch more, when Expedia's gift matching is added in.

Since I started writing this last Friday, we've had three more shows. Up till then our biggest house was ten or so. Over the weekend our smallest house was the Sunday matinee, where we had 22 people. The kinks are mostly worked out, and the bigger audiences keep making the show better and better.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Blah blah, blah blah

Be specific. Be in the moment. Be truthful. Be changeable. Be affected... Ya-di-ya-da. Blah, blah...

Various directors and instructors drill these things into the actor's head. I've worked with the concepts for several years, and have been fairly happy with the results.

Yesterday I was rehearsing with my Meisner scene partner, in a conference room at the Redmond Library of all places. Not the best place, but very handy in a pinch, and the staff was very accommodating. We did three or four runs of our scene, one using subtext. Before the last run we discussed whether the juice got watered down too much when running the scene over and over again in the same session. I really wanted to run it again, and I suggested we prep again, working on another aspect from our homework (daydreaming, text/character analysis, etc.) before running the scene a last time.

The final run was much different for me. I felt I was coming from a different place and something really clicked for me. Later, I was in that half-asleep state before nodding off. It hit me that my understanding of being specific had altered as a result of that last run and thinking about it before going to sleep. I'd experienced a feeling of specific intent at a visceral level. I have no new and illuminating descriptions. I just experienced it in a deeply personal and real way.

I'm reminded of a similar experience last quarter where I felt totally in the moment. And like that experience it had the feel of how life is really lived off the stage. Logically I have understood the concepts, and working on the exercises and prep work over and over and over does get one closer. Finally, there is a letting go that happens, and it feels like it is not just internal. There is a feeling of something outside of yourself is letting go as well, and you just happen to be open to the gift at that moment.

It is an exciting experience for me. It isn't a magical change that immediately changes me as an actor. It is more of a glimpse, showing what you have been striving for, giving you a personalized comprehension of the goal which was missing theretofore. That in itself makes the goal attainable. Okay, so it is a rush when it happens. Something akin to that first intimacy with another person. For me it can actually be more satisfying and intoxicating than anything else I've experienced. Maybe it is because I find the experience to be more satisfying, less fleeting, and undiminished when I am there again.

The more you learn, the less you know. The adage is so true for me in the artistic realm. It creates a deep hunger to learn and know even less.

In the immediate future I hunger for this new step for our class performance next week...

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

On Sounding Off

I have been raging at myself the last couple days, realizing so much of what I write turns out to be political diatribes. I've always had some strong beliefs, but my primary political activity in the past was baiting extremists. I stopped doing that three or four years ago, as I realized it was mean-spirited. I've not been completely successful. The hardest temptation to avoid was siccing people with untenable and opposing extremist positions on each other. Now it is almost painful to watch, as I see the inability for either person to consider their position or the other's in a rational way. I suspect the sensitivity I have gained as an artist has opened my eyes to that and inflexible opinions I held.

I think of myself as a liberal, though I don't follow the stereotypical liberal ideals. I revel in my carnivorous nature. I oppose gun control. I oppose seatbelt and helmet regulation. I am very proud to be a decorated combat veteran. I guess that makes me a conservative, even if I do value some of the opposing arguments.

I recently read an essay by Myles Horton who founded the Highlander school in the mountains of Tennessee. It was established for the poor and disenfranchised, and taught people how to organize. The labor unions were schooled there when they were forming, then told to go to Hell when they ordered Horton to disallow accused associates of communists and accused communists access to the school. They schooled those pushing for civil rights, conducting interracial training and social events which was illegal in Tennessee at that time. There was an incident where a group of God fearing conservatives and Klansmen calling themselves the "Crusaders", with the logistical support of local law enforcement came with weapons to destroy and presumably maim Highlander, it's staff and students. Uncle Billy Thomas a very old and respected local preacher who was a proponent of Highlander, saying that God was on the side of the poor, came to help despite his infirmity. He told them he wasn't really needed as the Crusaders would turn around before they arrived. Sure enough they did. It turns out a bunch of the mountain folks who Horton expected to show as friends to Highlander had set themselves up in the woods with high powered rifles along the Crusaders route. The crusaders got wind of it, and decided maybe they should go back home. It seems they had some respect regarding the marksmanship and ability of those mountain boys. I loved the story, and saw the irony in how it defied the Yankee perception of the typical poorly educated southerner and how they saved the day.

I oppose abortion control. I oppose giving up liberty and democracy in the name of safety or security. I oppose the institution of any religious dogma in government, including the tax-free status of all politically active religious entities. I oppose charter schools. Guess that makes me a liberal, even if I do value some of the opposing arguments.

I have two roommates whom I love. One of them hates cops without qualification. We've had discussions, as I have a deep respect for cops. I see it as an unforgiving and unappreciated job, which is perilous to the mind, body, and soul. She avows they are all power hungry brutish psychos. Ironically, she talks about how slow the response was when she needed them, a situation that was so trivial I was surprised the dispatcher dispatched. She calls me a republican. I told her I understood I could never get her to see any good in cops when she was utterly prejudiced in her deep and abiding hatred for all police officers. How could I accuse her of something akin to racism? Being a nicer fellow than I used to, I kept my mouth shut the next day when a Washington State Trooper was charged for molesting women when pulling them over for serious infractions on the east side of SR520 bridge. I just noticed it was no different than racists using isolated instances to prove they "aren't being unreasonable, just seeing things for what they really are."

What we call liberals and conservatives in this country have nothing to do with the actual meanings of the words. They can both be hateful and vindictive, and close-minded. Ironically my own bias, right or wrong, is that the conservatives are much more dangerous if you respect life, liberty, and justice.

Back to my opening thought, the observation I have been going off on political diatribes. I've not been politically outspoken before. Now I send letters to the editor, and even had one printed in the Seattle PI. Why this sudden interest and vocalness? I'd surely prefer to pursue my own interests. Yet, I have felt a call to action. The things that are being done in the name of my country, and by inference, in my name are disturbing to me. I can't see what we are doing as heroic. Rather, I see it as cowardly and evil in the vilest sense of the word. I can't sit back and be quiet. I mentioned earlier I was studying McCarthyism for a script idea I have. The research is truly frightening, and the parallels I mentioned to current events become more and more pervasive as I read. Seeing the identical scenario carried out is not something I can take comfort in.

Let's be honest, the communist threat was much more dire than the terrorist threat. They had an arsenal of guided weapons which could utterly destroy us with the push of a button. The terrorists have much smaller and less capable weapons, and the only viable guided delivery system they have are suicide bombers. We use electronics to guide our weapons, and still kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians, they have do it manually, with far lesser results. And we have the unmitigated gall to cry fowl? I detest terrorism whether it is some nut sending out a suicide bomber, or whether it is another nut sending out tons of ordinance using high tech missiles and military aircraft.

Even in the midst of the Cold War we woke up and realized we could not win by sacrificing the very ethics and liberty by which we claim to define ourselves. Let's hope we come to that realization again. In the meantime I feel obligated to not be complacent, which really sucks.

I realized that by not speaking out, I was in effect supporting the current trends. In 2000 I literally flipped a coin when I voted. I thank God for that toss, as I would feel even worse had I voted for the aspiring dictatorship we installed in the Whitehouse. That old attitude of complacence which allowed me to vote on the basis of a coin toss serves to increase my feeling of civic responsibility. Again, I find it a pain in the ass. I wish our country was not in such real peril of becoming an autocracy, so I could concentrate more on what I enjoy, rather than what I find is important.

Maybe we have evolved since McCarthy. I don't believe I am likely to be jailed, interrogated, and stripped of my property and investments for my dissent. Yet.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Cycle

Les Liaisons Dangereuses opened last weekend. Sadly, the houses were small, especially as it seems it is a wonderful show. There were a few confusions on the preview and opening night shows other than my 'wardrobe malfunction', but nothing that wasn't handled anyhow wonderfully. It drove us nuts, but the audience didn't notice. I really love the cast and crew.

It is frustrating for me at the moment. With a full time day job, and an intensive acting class I don't have nearly the time I would like to socialize with the cast and crew. I've had to beg off every evening, knowing I had early rehearsals the following day, and prep, homework, and work to do for class.

The Meisner class itself is exciting and a little sad. Last night as we were signing up for what amounts to individual rehearsal times for the next two class sessions it struck me this was our last time together as a class. We will be together a bit on the 1st of July, preparing the space for our performance, but that is it. I am so excited to be finishing, and very sad our time as an ensemble is done. All part of the cycle of growth. I keep telling myself that...

Friday, June 18, 2004

Wardrobe Malfunction

We had our preview for Les Liaisons Dangereuses last night. It was the first time I've not had the big protector on my thumb since I peeled about a quarter of the nail on Monday. It is healing nicely, though it is still pretty sensitive. Even with the white gloves I was worried I would bang it on something and yelp. I didn't, but had a worse faux pas.

In the up stage right area, where the back curtain is located, there is also a door to the hall which leads to the green room. The curtain needs to be continually pulled over, so light washing in from the door isn't seen in the house. While getting the curtain back over during a scene change I brushed against the light switch which is conveniently located right where the curtain meets the wall, with my arm and sleeve. The work lights started to come up. They're glaring flourescents, but I at least flipped the switch back off before they came on fully. It was still pretty jolting. Well I was back there silently cursing myself, I forgot to assist with moving a chaise lounge. Luckily it is light weight, and Ethan gracefully took care of it solo.

I wasn't real happy with that situation. With all the big fluffy costumes I suppose it is better it happened during the preview. I'm going to gaff tape the switches before every show, to be sure there are no repeats. Hopefully that gives the story a happy ending.

Like I have said before, the cast is a great bunch. They didn't beat me up, or even talk about voting me off the island.

Obeisance of the Masses

I was thinking about the pledge of allegiance. To me the whole "under God" phrase was a non-issue. Then I found out it was added by the adherents of McCarthyism. That in itself is disturbing, but it is also ironic. The House Committee on Un-American Activities went after a number of churches. Since then as we all are aware, the ultra-conservatives have found a willing ally in the fundamentalist churches in their mutual uneasiness with personal liberty and open government. I haven't researched it, but I suspect "under God" was inserted to appease the religious community, and obscure the fact they were actively targeting religious organizations such as the Methodist church.

Then I started thinking about it more, the concept got creepier and creepier. A daily mantra for children espousing unthinking obedience. The content and it's very name state this quite clearly. I remember being proud to be one of the very first in my first grade class to memorize it, and it has always seemed an innocuous bit of patriotism since. It certainly didn't stop the radicalization of the 60's. Did it make the gulf between followers and questioners deeper and more divisive? Removing the sentimental aspect, the feeling of tradition, and looking at it with a fresh perspective I am now troubled. Assuming we really do pride the independent spirit of America, there is no way to justify the content, name, and intent of the pledge of allegiance. It has an appropriate place in the military (I am a veteran.), but not as a daily mantra propagandizing government omnipotence to our nation's children.

I am of course assuming "flag" and "republic" represent our government, and not the entire country. The very argument about "under God" demonstrates this. To say "under God" is representative of the foundations of this country denies most non-western religions, not to mention many of our non-christian founding fathers, an equal place. This implies the pledge is just for the people who really matter, those who would hold and exercise power over others.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Catching up

I've been neglecting my journal. Keeping pretty busy. The Exchange Theatre show opens this Thursday, we're getting to the final stages of the Meisner Progression, and I've still got my full time day job to tend to. I love having a full calendar. It never ceases to surprise me, when I look at the emptiness I had over four years ago. It wasn't totally wasted, I read a lot, to the point where I supplied proof refuting the adage, "You can never have too much of a good thing." As I was changing my mode of living I realized that when I got the blues, getting busy always made it better, often getting myself totally out of the dumps.

Now I am looking forward to some time off. No guilt, just anticipation. And likely lots of journaling as I contemplate where I want to go with all this wonderful training I have gotten from the Meisner Progression.

I stopped my musings to go make a pot of coffee. Being a nice fellow I gave the counter around the machine a nice wipe. I somehow managed to catch my right thumb on the stainless steel lip on the front. It is not sharp, in fact it is the rounded edge of stout sheet metal that has been folded in half. I peeled the right 25% or so of the thumbnail all the way to the root. I didn't realize it at first, thinking it was just a typical tear to the corner of the nail. Then I noticed the base of the nail was no longer under the quick, but on top of it. A similar sensation to an earthquake or seeing a toe pointing straight out to the side after breaking it. That queasy, feeling of something unnatural, even though it is not really frightening or intensely painful yet. Luckily this hurt less than a broken toe, and should heal up more quickly.

It is starting to throb, and I am trying to teach myself to use my left thumb for the space bar. Harder than I thought. I normally type pretty quickly, but this thumb switch is constantly breaking the rhythm. It is slowly working it's way into a new habit. I reality I suppose I am adjusting pretty quickly, but that doesn't ameliorate my impatience.

Saturday was especially busy. I woke up early for me, to meet my Meisner scene partner for a 9-11AM rehearsal. I was more happy with our progress than Trina. Then off to Rachel's Open Rehearsal. Rachel was one of my instructors when I was taking classes at Bellevue Community College's Continuing Education program. I took her classes numerous times, as they were rehearsal/performance classes and I kept learning more. I agreed to run the video camera. I have done this a number of times for people and never got any feedback. I split my attention between the camera and the show trying to anticipate the action and focus at any given moment, and try to zoom in, zoom out, and pan smoothly, keeping the person I am focused on in the same spot for zooms. I tried similar things with the pans, especially when panning and zooming concurrently. I also tried to capture individual moments. Basically the stuff I want to see as an actor, AD, TD, writer, etc. It can be fun, and I have wished for three things. A heavy sturdy tripod to prevent jiggling, an analog wheel or lever to control the zoom. A spring loaded toggle doesn't allow much smoothness or fine control on the zoom. Thirdly, I've wanted feedback.
This time, I got my most important wish. Rachel was very, very pleased with my camera work saying it was the best she's seen in six years of doing the class. Very neat.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Longevity in Truth

We define ourselves to the rest of the world with our verbiage. I don't like Homeland Security. Too much power concentrated in one place, with as many personal protections removed as possible, to provide personal security. The irony in function is sadly ironic. The very name is just as disturbing to me. When I first heard it, I thought it was a joke in poor taste. It is much too close in meaning and implementation to the Fatherland for my comfort. "Valiant Path" is arrogant in it's assumption of a higher purpose and troubling in it's use as a marketing tool. Again it is much too close in it's obscuring intent to the way "Divine Wind" was used by Japan. And "Operation Iraqi Freedom?" To this point who enjoys more freedom in Iraq? I can't help but believe "Operation Iraqi Freedom" must be a hundred times more offensive or at least a hundred times more fatal to Iraqis than the idea of showing "God is Great" by demolishing the twin towers was to us. For me the tone of Homeland Security, Valiant Path, and Operation Iraqi Freedom define the character of our leaders.

What we say and how we say it is important. The example phrases I use above are all used to implement and cover up what I believe to be great evils perpetrated by small amoral men with exorbitant power. As time goes on this is becoming apparent to everyone, but the those people Lincoln mentioned, "...you can even fool some of the people all the time;..." Where does that leave those who live by deception? History will generally be unkind to them. All they can hope for is outpacing history. The trouble is the more power and wealth you garner by lying, the sooner it is likely to catch up with you. I believe our current leaders will be looked upon with a level of scorn and disgust that will set a new standard for corruption in U.S. history.

So, aside from my feelings about living under this regime what is the pertinence to me as an artist? I am trying my hand at writing, particularly playwriting. The misuse of the language and "truth" are quite extreme with regards to our current whitehouse. It has brought about short-term gains for them, and writing in a similar manner, though with more of an accepting and caring (liberal) bent would give me a similar boost in the short term. Is that something I can be satisfied with? Possibly, though probably not if I am able to think in those terms. On the other hand if I look to expose the undercurrents of both sides the conflict, my writing becomes fully realized, giving it a better shot at surviving me.

Being remembered forever is not my immediate goal. What a stilted and dry thing to strive for. Neither am I ego-less. I doubt anyone is. I want to live fully, and in doing so write fully. For me one feeds the other. Much like my day and night jobs feed each other. I hope that I can create something in which my doubts, certainties, and questions have a life that transcends the issue of the moment. Many claim Shakespeare didn't invent any new stories. So what?

Shakespeare's writing tends to state everything straight out, not much of the sub-text which we love and expect today. And who writes in iambic pentameter today without appearing to be a nerd or pretentious? So we have writing styles that are out of fashion and stories that are most probably unoriginal. Yet we still love his stories, whether they are done on stage in period or as a film taking place in today's world. His characters are real and we know the foibles, strengths, and failings of the protagonists and the antagonists. Their complexity makes the story complex. The complexity also makes for characters who are compelling, which in turn makes the story compelling.

I've not discovered anything new about Shakespeare, or anything that hasn't been tossed around for hundreds of years. I've just identified the aspect that hits me the most at this point in time. I ask myself why, and I think it is because I intuitively know that is what I need to think about the most right now as I write and rewrite my projects.

Friday, June 04, 2004

A Couple New Beginnings: Acting & Writing

I woke up with a nasty cold. I should have known. I generally get to feeling maudlin and more cynical when I am coming down with a bug. Maybe I should nuke my last couple posts.

I have been to two rehearsals for Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Yahoo! They are already pretty far along in the rehearsal process, just under two weeks from opening night. I felt immediately welcomed by the entire cast and crew, even though my incipient cold made me work to keep physical distance between us. What a difference an open and collaborative director can make. My offers and choices are not only being humored, they're being implemented. There is a totally different energy at work, demonstrated by the immediate warm welcome I was given by everyone. I am looking forward to trying out some more things in the next rehearsal.

Wow. I was carrying a little seed of doubt. After all, the actors and crew on the show where I was recast (sacked) were very nice folks too. Yet, I had to force myself into going to those rehearsals, and when the rehearsals for Liaisons are done I am already looking forward eagerly to the next one.

I have been pestering people with one of the scripts I wrote, a 35-40 minute one act play. I know a lot, over a dozen, professional theatre people whom I would like feedback from and who have offered to help me out. The problem is they are all as busy as I am. Now I have to ask myself, "Have none of them had the chance to glance at it?", which is probable. Or, "Have a few read it and found it so sucky they can't bring themselves to hurt my feelings?", which is possible. I've had a lot of friends and relatives give me very positive to exuberant feedback, and while they are very literate and some even write for a living, none are theatre folk. Thus, I figure the story is good, it's the implementation I worry about. I am currently working on a couple other projects, one a full-length piece and I'd like to avoid any pitfalls or lacks I may have in the already finished piece.

Last Friday I stumbled onto an idea for another full-length script, for which I feel an obligation to do right, or not at all. I was researching Tennessee Williams. I am working on a scene from A Street Car Named Desire for the Meisner Progression at Freehold. (It is an amazing class.) I ran across a reference to McCarthy and a book by Harvey Matusow, False Witness. A number of things struck me. First, were the newspaper articles of the period. The demagoguery, jingoism, and license with the truth were nearly identical to what we see today. It is like today's witch hunters took the transcripts of McCarthy and his crowd fifty years ago, and did nothing more than replace a few phrases before releasing them again.

Matusow was a paid witness for HUAC (House UnAmerican Activities Committee), who repudiated his testimony as McCarthyism was beginning to unravel. One of accusations he made, and recanted, saying it was made at the behest of Joseph McCarthy or Roy Cohn (I can't remember which at the moment), was that over a hundred people on the staff of the New York Times were communists. Less than an hour after I read this, the story popped up on Google News about the New York Times fessing up to lax journalism practices and ethics regarding the their reporting the existence of WMD's in Iraq, supporting the claims of the whitehouse. Sadly, after fifty years the 'liberal media' aided and abetted the reactionary conservatives. This was the second thing that struck me, that the apparent lesson the NYT learned from McCarthyism is that it is better to assist dangerous reactionaries than to oppose them.

A third thing was how it seems the paid witnesses who recanted their testimony went to prison, but all their employers walked, and almost all continued in public life. Roy Cohn and Richard Nixon being two of the better known examples. Joseph McCarthy faded quickly, becoming the minor player he had been prior to his wild accusations, dying by alcohol in 1958. This begs the question, will the repetition of history go so far, that the architects of today's scandals will also walk?

The bit I have read on Matusow so far is fascinating, and I have ordered all sorts of material for research, including a copy of his book. It appears he was amoral and actually reveled in providing false testimony. Oddly enough, it seems he devoted much of his energy to charities later in life. Was he seeking atonement? It seems hard to swallow at first, but he did recant his testimony. On the other hand McCarthyism was already disintegrating. Was bringing down "Tailgunner Joe" and company just another 'E' ride for Harvey, or was he actually cleansing his soul? I don't have a clue, and suspect I won't ever know for sure. It just feels like a great story, and may well be my next writing project. It is juicy, irreverent, and for me challenging and daunting in the research I'll need to do.

The Harvey Matusow character, and the backdrop to his fifteen minutes of fame seems so appropos today:
Fifty years ago we were facing the insidious new threats of nuclear armegeddon and communism, so basic constitutional and human rights were justifiably abrogated because they didn't apply to these new and terrible threats to mankind.
Find and replace:
In today's world we are facing the insidious new threats of Muslim extremists and terrorism, so basic
constitutional and human rights are justifiably abrogated because they don't apply to these new and terrible threats to mankind.
It was sh** then.
It is sh** today.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Precedent for Unlimited Power?

I'll try to keep it shorter today...

Oh my God.

I was reading about the Padilla case, where he has been detained as an enemy combatant. Not a POW, not a criminal citizen, but a new classification our government has created which in theory voids his protection as a U.S. citizen or as a Prisoner of War. As I understand it, the basic issue facing the supreme court is whether the president has this power.

The president declared Padilla an enemy combatant, thus negating rights he was otherwise entitled to. Does the president have the power to define a new class of human being, and upon assigning a person to that class then have unfettered control over that person's freedom? If so, what are the consequences?

Suppose for a minute, the Supreme Court rules this is an executive privilege, and the president can indeed recategorize a citizen, and incarcerate them indefinitely without giving them their day in court. What about the president's designates? Can the executive authority be delegated? Probably. If not, can the president merely sign a list of suspects submitted by a trusted aid? Of course he can. Signing the list would make it action taken under his direct authority. Are you willing to trust that this president and all future presidents would never abuse this life and death power over every citizen of the United States of America? Would you trust Kerry to never use the most powerful tool at his command if he is elected? Would you trust Bush if he is reelected? Are you comfortable trusting every viable candidate the Democrats or Republicans could ever muster now or in the future?

This issue goes past my negative feelings about the current administration. I wouldn't be willing to grant this authority to Washington, Lincoln, or any other president I admired. To be honest, I don't believe the ethics of those men would have let them ask for, or accept that power.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

The Sacking of MadDog

Two posts in one day. I'm like a little kid with a new toy.

One of my call signs as a Navy flyer was MadDog. Aside from the title it has no bearing on this post, except I like the sound of it.

Up until the week before last Thanksgiving, I had never been fired from a job. I've had lots of contracts end, as I was a contract software developer from 1994 until 2004. Most of the time at Microsoft. I was extremely fortunate at Microsoft, in that I always worked for people I got along with, and usually respected and trusted. In the groups I was associated with severe dysfunction was the rule for upper and middle management rather than the exception. Yet, I almost always got to work for the exceptions.

Even so in numerous groups at Microsoft and when I worked at Corbis I watched morale tank and quipped to a few friends, "I wish I was the first one they let go." I rarely meant it, because my direct managers were so great to work for, and took good care of the people who worked for them. Well, it seems I got my facetious wish this year. Twice.

My last contract at Microsoft started out great. I had two of the best managers I had worked for at Microsoft. Enter a new project manager building an empire, and not much else. As an actor and writer I enjoyed her at first, as a kind of research project. She appears a little older than I, yet wore the clothes and heavy makeup of a junior high girl. Then, she had some words with my manager at a meeting one fine Friday morning in November. She was upset about a project, and in no uncertain terms he pointed out the underlying problem was a lack of accurate or coherent requirements from the project manager. That Sunday evening I got a call my contract was up, and I should pack up my office on Monday. I'd tried to get some direction for the same issues at a later meeting on that same Friday. My questions were misrepresented, a lie or two added, and escalated directly to upper management. It seems I was an easier target than my boss, the senior development manager. Several people showed me the E-mail thread she initiated, and it was skewed in a way I have only experienced in the past when having to deal with heavy substance abusers.

Surprisingly, I was ecstatic. Five years ago I would have been in a rage for months. I cheerily packed out on Monday, just in time to give myself a nice long Thanksgiving holiday. The group was turning sour, and I was giving thanks for my escape. My peers weren't so happy or thankful, and my manager at the time was livid, as he found out in pretty much the same manner as I, one of his direct reports had been summarily dismissed. My peers and both my direct managers found me leads and provided wonderful references, which led directly to a full-time position with Expedia before I had even started a job search. So here I am at Expedia working in the best group, and for the best company I have ever worked for.

Several months later I accepted a role in a dinner theatre show that was being directed by a friend of a friend, and needed someone right away. It is the first time I have worked on a production and not had any fun. I was miserable.
The obvious practical lessons:

  • Never accept a role until I've read the script, as it might be a role I am not suited for, or a terrible script. A lot of friends told me "Duh!" on that one.

  • Don't accept the role unless you really know what the schedule is. Until you work with someone you've no concrete idea of whether they will respect your other commitments.

  • Be cautious about joining a cast that has worked together on the same show. The two other times I joined ongoing shows were wonderful, so I don't want to limit myself either.


  • Every choice or offer I tried was at best ignored. That was the source of my misery. I felt humiliated and insulted from the get go. Intellectually I knew no meanness was intended, but it didn't make me feel any better. It felt as though the only goal was to create a caricature in the mold of the previous actor, or some preconceived notion. I have served as a stage manager, assistant director, and technical director, so that bad experience that was critical. While I currently have no desire to direct, when I am assisting or stage managing I don't want to shut down anyone's creativity, and I gained insight into how it could happen.

    Sadly, my professionalism broke down. I don't mean that I poisoned the atmosphere, as I maintained a cheery disposition hoping I would grow into it. I wasn't able to do the homework I needed to do in a timely manner. As a professional, albeit a new one, I needed to find a way into the character more quickly. I was finally at a point where I thought I'd figured out a way to do the homework and produce something close to the desired effect, without feeling like a cartoon. The same day the director called to say the previous actor was available after all. I was delighted.

    This freed me up for a small role with a director I greatly admire, and have wanted to work with. Vince Brady is originally from England, where he co-founded an equity theatre with Maggie Law, and is currently artistic director and a founder of Exchange Theatre. I saw his production of Henry V several years ago, and asked him to speak to my Kiwanis club. I was enthusiastic, and he invited me to join the board of directors.

    I resigned from the board last September, because I had been accepted in a year long intensive acting program, and simply wouldn't have time to devote to the board. A week ago he asked if I take a non-speaking role in "LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES." It is the perfect role in the perfect situation for me at this time. Something juicy to work on, and a schedule that won't interfere with my training, and a chance to get on the boards. Again, getting sacked was the best thing that could have happened to me, as it provided me with this opportunity.

    So I've been sacked twice this year. In both cases it was a big relief, though it stung the ego somewhat. Both sackings also led to much better situations. Maybe I'm being premature. My first rehearsal is this evening...

    Daily Oily Encounters

    I started out with a pretty normal commute this morning. As usual, I watched the cell phone drivers kissing the stripes and turtles on both side of their lanes and driving over curbs when making turns. I usually ride a motorcycle, so even when I'm driving my truck I still keep an eye on the dangerous drivers. I sometimes long for the days of drunk drivers. At least they were trying to focus on the road.

    I stopped to get gas, forgetting I was at one of the pay before you pump stations. The nice woman in the mini-mart reminded me. She had forgotten the public address system was at full volume. I nearly had a personal accident while jumping clean out of my shoes. Using my best operatic voice as I was walking in, and I can get loud, "I heard you, I'll be right in!" Luckily the spirit of my holler was understood, as she was in stitches when I came in. I made matters worse when I said, "Jayzus, I thought John Ashcroft was after me."

    When I went back to pump the other clerk who was outside and still chuckling, said something to me about the volume too. I couldn't make out exactly what she said as she was drowned out by the guy filling up an SUV and talking loudly in his cell phone. I said, "You should blast the guy on his cell phone with the speakers." She blasted him good, but in person. I admired her directness, especially when he sassed her like most do when they're caught being stupid or inconsiderate. It was hysterical, though I suspect you had to be there. "Get the phone away from the nozzle." Then in reponse to his lame sassing, paraphrased, "I don't care who you're talking to, I don't want to be engulfed in a giant fireball for them."

    For my parting gift they both came up on the speakers saying they were sorry they scared me. It was still full-volume, but I was inured. The cell phone guy wasn't, and I saw him jump pretty high. I wonder if he wet his cell phone.

    It is painful to be paying so much for gas, especially when my motorcycle is broken. To make things worse, it feels like an involuntary campaign contribution for Bush, who is not my candidate of choice. Even so, the blaring speakers and the numb nut on the cell phone getting castigated were entertainment at it's best and made the price of admission worth it all. I was laughing the rest of the way to work. It is important to my emotional and spiritual well-being to laugh every day, and as often as possible. That kind of therapy is usually more than $40, and I even got a bit over half a tank of gas out of the deal as a bonus.

    Tuesday, June 01, 2004

    Am I really an Artist?



    Ooh, my own blog! I do like to talk about myself; too much. This seems a good way to get it out of my system, as well as a place to keep a journal of sorts and pontificate. No warranties, guarantees, or promises of any sort. In many ways this is a personal and selfish endeavor, a place to try out ideas and thoughts to see if I like them. Still, I welcome you to follow your urge and read along, or move along to something more interesting.

    I've done journal type writing before. Not quite five years ago I started a weekly letter to my immediate and step families. They tended to be a little too long, about four typewritten pages, and were intended to bring a sense of community to the family. A very disparate an interesting group, but at times we lack tolerance for each other's world views. Pretty typical family. Well, for the most part I judged the community building to be a dismal failure, though I am closer to one of my step-sisters than I would have been otherwise, and that made the effort worth while.

    That weekly letter also served as a journal for a pivotal time in my life. I had been involved in competitive technical endeavors for most of my life. I was a model pre-med student, became disenchanted by the callousness and avarice of the profession and canceled my medical school interviews. So, I ran away and joined the Navy, where I was a Naval Flight Officer. After almost ten years I got out so I wouldn't be promoted into stultifying billets, and picking up another Bachelor of Science, this time in Computer Science I embarked on another successful career. I missed out on the dot com boom, as I didn't end up wealthy or destitute. During the year and a half I was writing those letters I took a few continuing education courses at BCC accidentally finding I was an actor. I chronicled that journey, in which I discovered I was an artist.

    I had learned to marginalize the artistic parts of myself. It was a thrill to discover they were the larger part of my psyche, and were just waiting to emerge. Surprisingly, immersing myself in artistic pursuits has had a very beneficial impact on the more staid or mundane aspects of my life. Once again, I enjoy developing software with the same joy I felt when I discovered it in college, finding I had an affinity and enjoyment for writing code. With the renewed enjoyment I believe I do a better job. That is a pleasant surprise, because spending 20-30 hours a week working on acting, writing, assisting back stage, etc., takes up a lot of time.

    I can't imagine that any human being does not have an artistic drive. I often have a feeling art is a form of communication that can't and shouldn't be quantified or analyzed too seriously. Art is absolutely important, more so than I ever imagined. It transcends the standard symbologies we use to communicate, like language or mathematics. Whether it is a piece of music, a painting, drawing, sculpture, dance, or play it can leave you with a lovely turmoil of experience and feelings. You can allude to the experience, but you can't really nail it down. "My skin tingled." "My heart swelled in my chest." "I cried." "It nauseated me." "I felt terrified." "I felt like I was in love." Appropriately enough, words can never precisely share the entire experience.

    You may surround yourself with acquaintances and possessions and still feel lonely. Yet when your world opens up to that indefinable language of art, you are absolutely connected to the world, its' inhabitants and yourself. Loneliness is not something that plagues you.

    Am I a good artist? It seems that question is the constant companion of every artist I know. I believe it is an absolutely critical question for all of us. It is at the same time symbolic and descriptive of the artistic journey. There is never a time or place for complacency. Even when we are resting we are still in motion whether it is exercising our imagination or simply listening to our own respiration. Asked in another way, it is also the most inane and potentially damaging question you could ask about your art. People may say your craft is awful, but what does it really matter? You know what you experienced when you were in the act of creation, and while that is not a valid commercial evaluation, it is the valid reference for you as an artist. I've been complimented for crap, and ripped apart for genuine acts of creation. I like compliments for true acts of creation the best, but acts of creation that are torn apart are more satisfying than compliments for drivel. If only you can give yourself that freedom.

    My wish is that every person in the world could rediscover the artist which they are. It is a frightening and ultimately rewarding journey. You can surround yourself with the proper acquaintances, possessions, and wardrobes and still feel lonely and detached. The voice of art can connect you to the world and it's inhabitants in a way that feels like putting on a favorite pair of slippers, without thinking everybody else needs to be wearing the same slippers.