December 2007

This year I’ve worked in Florida, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Texas. In three weeks I go to the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia to do a play called Ying Tong – A Walk With The Goons.

My goal at the moment is to become a writer/actor instead of the other way around. To which end I am writing a novel, an entirely speculative project. I applaud Somerset Maugham, who wrote eight novels before he had a success, but went on to earn $42 million from his writing. Likewise Robert Ludlum who was in his 40s before he turned to writing, having been an actor below 14th Street in New York until then.

One recurring feature of the actor’s life is the constant re-balancing of the to-do list. I’ll start the exercise regime, once we open/when we close/at the beginning of rehearsal – it’s custom made for a procrastinator. But actor’s procrastination is as nothing to writer’s absorption. I’ll write the letter when the book is finished/published/when the sequel is commissioned etc.

Creating a new story, and shaping it for public consumption, are two completely different activities, and require different mind-sets and skills. Writer’s block happens because one applies the skills of the second activity to the procedure of the first. If the the Inner Editor – that perky daemon that sits on your left shoulder and offers perceptive feedback on all your shortcomings – is allowed to speak too early, nothing will ever be written. The correct response to the Inner Editor should it butt in, is to hit it over the head with a wooden mallet.

Going back to the acting for a moment; I believe I have now worked with the finest stage director in the world. His name is Taswell Thompson, and is Artistic Director at the Westport Country Playhouse, in Connecticut. I was engaged to play the Chancellor of the University of Nebraska in a play called ‘Sedition’ set in 1917. A real man, in the real story of the playwright’s grandfather, who spoke publicly against America’s involvement in WW1. For which exercise of free speech he lost his reputation, his livelihood, and his home; this was in the context of the recently passed Espionage Act which created it an act of sedition to criticize the government.

That aside, let me briefly describe Taswell’s working method:

1) The actors play a scene.
2) Taswell watches with close attention.
3) The scene ends, Taswell takes a moment to consider.
4) He then says (something like): “That was wonderful!”

But wait, it gets better: he doesn’t bother with those annoying details like: ‘It’s better if you enter upstage of the table’, or ‘pick up the tea-cup before you say the line THEN you’ll get the laugh. He trusts his actors and knows that they will sort all that out for themselves. Twice or three times in our rehearsal process Tasewell spoke at length about the themes of the play, and the needs of the production in general. On our last day in the rehearsal room before we moved to the theatre, he said, just as we were about to start our run-through, “what would happen if we took all the air out of it?”

“What would happen?” we wondered.

We took all the air out of it and at the interval Taswell said, “It is thrilling when you do it like that. Thrilling!”

In getting on for 30 years as an actor, this is the man I have waited to meet. Abundant praise – works for me as an actor… and from here on, when writing, I shall encourage my Inner Taswell.

Here are some predictions for 2008:

The Australian dollar will rise.
The ice will keep melting.
I will finish my book.

Happy New Year.