Tag Archives: Acting

Were you wondering …?

51lfhzvvejl-_ac_us218_… Just in case you were wondering what it looks like when a plutocrat with possible kleptocratic tendencies has sole charge of a great institution which he might, in fact, regard as his personal ATM, there could be no finer prototypic manual than the theatrical memoir, Stage Blood.

This outstanding volume by that distinguished man of international theatre, Michael Blakemore, compares and contrasts the regimes of Sir (later, Lord) Laurence Olivier with its basis in public service, and Peter (later, Sir Peter) Hall with its accent on a percentage.

Happy New Year!

We Are Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On …

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The Scream by Edvard Munch

 

Spoiler alert: there are a few self-referencing, free-associative links in this post.

I’ve had it again: the actor’s nightmare. The one where you’re in act one and you realize with shock-horror that you don’t know your lines for act two.

 

That’s the basic. Obviously there are as many variations on this as there are actors. In this one I had played one of my favorite scenes in all literature. Here’s how it goes:

 

Scene: a garden patio some where in Buckinghamshire, England. It is Sunday morning and a middle-aged couple are having breakfast over the Sunday papers. After a pause …

Him: I can’t say I’m very taken with this marmalade.

Her: No, neither am I.

Him: Then why did you buy it?

Her: They didn’t have our sort.

The exchanges continue in this vein and the button on this opening segment of Act One, Scene Two of this masterpiece, Relatively Speaking, by Sir Alan Ayckbourn is …

Him: If you ask me we’d have been a lot better off with jam!

I consider this scene to be the finest exposition in all drama on the state of British middle-class marriage in the second half of the 20th century.

Bit of backstory here:

A few years ago I was walking on in Brian Bedford’s extraordinary production of The Importance of being Earnest (see this blog December 2010) designed by the late, great Desmond Heeley. It was a very agreeable and comfortable engagement, Broadway money, minimal work required, plenty of free time.

Then the offer came to cross the country to San Diego and play a named part in the US premiere of Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s 82nd (!!!) play. Well no matter how comfortable or well-paid a walk on, the offer of a real role will rouse the blood of any self-respecting actor, after all it’s why we joined. But there’s more to it than that.

On the whole actors are sensitive to augury. Do I take the best friend in a fungal infection commercial, or do I play Cleopatra in drag in an all male production touring to Iceland, Greenland and the Falklands? Give me a sign.

So this play, Life of Riley, Sir Alan’s 82nd or 83rd – can’t remember which offhand – suffice to say he knocks ’em out, plays a cheeky joke on all of us with a bit of self-referencing (bit like this post, following in the steps of the master). In that, the opening scene is a couple rehearsing the scene above (yes, my favorite) for a local production somewhere within the world of the play. And Relatively Speaking was Sir Alan’s 10th or 11th, or it may have been 16th play, but his first commercial hit. So, Sir Alan is here referencing his early work. The reference is undisclosed, it’s an in-joke, not unlike say, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew getting the astrology wrong in Twelfth Night. Not only that, but each of the four scenes in Life of Riley opens with a variation on the Relatively Speaking scene (rehearsed, rehearsed in strife, rehearsed in exasperation, post-show discussion including how it should have been rehearsed).

But wait, there’s more.

I had a few years previously directed this very play, Relatively Speaking, in the very same San Diego.

And the name of the role in Life of Riley, and the guy rehearsing my fav. scene?

Colin.

Therefore, a pun on my favorite scene in my favorite play, as US premiere of my favorite author, and the role spookily, my own name. Throw in San Diego in the summer, Jacaranda blossom, The Old Globe theatre, well appointed old-world accommodation, beaches nearby. Somehow the drastic salary reduction didn’t seem to matter.

Another, at that point unknown, jackpot was that my scene partner was the incomparable Henny Russell (see this blog June 2011) with whom, to my delight I am about to work again (see this blog last entry), although sadly in The Audience, Mrs Thatcher and Churchill say nothing to each other – although perhaps another famous dialogue could be adapted thus:

Mrs Thatcher: If I were married to you I’d poison your tea.

Churchill: If I were married to you I’d drink it. 

We pick up the actor’s nightmare when I’ve played the scene, the marmalade one,  and I’m relaxing in my dressing room. There’s a book, there may be a fine-quality whisky (even though I never drink during a show – seriously I don’t – afterwards is a different matter), but if there isn’t actually a whisky it feels like there is one. I’ve taken off the jacket, tie and shoes and am leaning back on a chair with my feet on the make-up counter, I’m reading something pleasing (don’t know what it is, but it’s making me smile). The dressing room lights are mellow, and the counter resembles the practical confusion of my study. There are books, papers, bills, there’s make-up, and other theatrical accessories all piled irregularly in happy confusion and I know where everything is and I’m looking forward to the curtain call where I’m confident there will be a warm reception.

Suddenly something alerts me. I’ve forgotten something. What play are we doing? Relatively Speaking, ok, all I have to do is wait for the final scene … no, hold it, I’m confused … somehow I’ve got the idea that I’m on tour and I’m in the company of The Madness of George III where I played a telling cameo, and also once when one of the other guys was sick, took over as the vicar giving a blessing in the very last image of the play. I look down and see that I’m half dressed in religious vestments … but … wtf (!?!) … it’s not George, it’s RELATIVELY SPEAKING.

The chair comes upright and I spring from it and furiously rummage the counter for the script (where the f**k is it???) as whisky, books and make-up go flying. Over the p.a. I hear dialogue from the scene where my entrance is coming up. I sprint (if that word can be applied to undressing and dressing) out of the vicar’s garb into the tweedy jacket and cords of an Englishman in his garden and jam both legs into one leg of the trousers. There’s no time to undo this. Hopping around like a demented pogo stick, anxiety becomes terror as I at last find the script which has morphed from a slim volume into something Dickens might have written in one of his more verbose moods, and I riffle the pages desperately looking for my lines.

And there they are all neatly highlighted in yellow.

Do I know them?

NO! ARGH!

These are lines I have never seen (and lines that Ayckbourn never wrote – or did he?). I turn a page and I see a block of text, again highlighted, it is the beginning of a twelve page monologue and all of it is strange to me.

What is to be done? Can I busk/impovise it? No! Don’t be ridiculous! Not even Eddie Izzard could do that! My entrance is coming up (a matter of seconds now). I am still wrongly dressed, I catch myself in the mirror and see that my thinning hair is now back-combed in horror and I look like a steampunk version of a pantomime dame. Adrenalin and some unknown hallucinogenic course through me.

Suddenly I’m in the wings, from the darkness I see the brightly lit stage, inwardly I invoke the genius of Ayckbourn, Moliere and Shakespeare, desperately appealing to all three to come up with some brilliant sleight-of-form that can save me and amuse the (enormous) audience. But I know it’s hopeless. I’m completely f**k*d. My terror escalates …

And then I wake up.

Sigmund Freud.jpg

Sigmund Freud

Do we need to send to Vienna to work this one out?

Not so much.

Although I am offering either a quality whisky or a free tarot reading for the best interpretation offered by my readers – 100 words max please – and the judge’s decision will be final. Yes, even actors (me) playing statesmen (Churchill) have to have day jobs (see www.mcphillamytarot.com).

That’s what helps us keep the night sweats away.

Separation of Blogs

I was right about the alphabetical thing. Actor/Astrologer – I’m more likely now to remember what I do on the side. Although which side is on the side is moot.

coloring-pages-alphabet-letters-letter-a2 (1)But this post is not to mingle these two occupations. Rather to separate them.

Response from the theatre-savvy people who read this page has been mixed. Some of us leap like young gazelles into the mystic. Some are quietly interested (in this category is one friend who has taken to calling me Madame Arcati). And some are reluctant to believe it, up to and including my personal favorite, a message from one friend after one of my promo emails, asking me if I’d been hacked.

So after this post I’ll keep the Acting here and the Astrology over there. McPhillamyTarot.com is now up and running, and there’s a brand new astro-tarot blog starting. If the stars call to you, by all means check it out.

And let me remind you that for the first 90 days in business, I’m offering a pay-what-you’re-happy-to-pay (with a zero minimum) aka a FREE sample.

Ok enough about that. Except to say that in my researches I’ve been taking in the mind-altering discoveries made possible by the Hubble telescope — you know the one I mean? The one that orbits the earth, the one that when they pointed it at a single fragment of sky they discovered billions of galaxies. Er, let me say that again, billions of galaxies. And just looking at one tiny piece of the infinite sky. The universe is a big place.

Compared to the infinite endlessness and abundance, anything that astrology could say is kind of … local. Or is it …? 52940_letter_a_lg

I won’t say any more here, but these and other questions will be explored over there, at mcphillamytarot.com

Except I will say that the day the Creator of the Infinitude of the Multiplicity — aka in some circles, GOD, and by many other names — was bored, and looking for a way to stir things a bit, well on that day S/HE invented … The Audition.

Yes, but it took the guy downstairs to come up with the call-back, or what we used to call in England, the recall.

Eee but it’s a tough gig being alive …

Or as Shakespeare puts it:

“… Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.”

Magical Realism

When it comes to day jobs I have found it sensible to go alphabetically.

It’s the first time in quite a while that I have absolutely no idea of what work comes next. Oh sure, there’ve been gaps but I’ve nearly always had light at the end of the tunnel in the form of an (admittedly sometimes distant) job, and if occasionally that turned out to be an oncoming train, well even then, as Clark Gable says in The Misfits, “It’s better than working.”

But today the phones are quiet with the silence of mystery.

So …

Acrobat, Aerialist, Ardvaark-wrangler … and now … Astrologer.

Don’t laugh.

I mean it.

tarot-magicianI’ve always known what I wanted to do in life. When I was three I wanted to be a train driver, then a milkman. Aged 5 I played the evil baron in the elementary school production of Swan Lake. It involved a lot of jumping around.

At 6 I began to be interested in the planets and the stars and learned some basic astronomy, the orbital periods of the planets in our solar system, the names of the moons of Mars, some of the speeds of planetary axial spin.

This fascination held for a few years until I got tangled up with the quest for the other kind of stardom. It became my intense wish to become an actor. I took a few serious detours in youth and nearly didn’t make it, but somehow got to the Central School aged 20.

To be an actor, as perhaps you’ve heard me mention before, is in no way sensible.

But then life isn’t. Is it? Sensible.

I’ve always had a push-me-pull-you relationship with the craft. Always keeping an eye out for something else. Knowing that it would never be lawyer or doctor or engineer, always kind of held in the theatre, never quite ever achieving the velocity to escape its gravitational pull … mostly fulfilled in its orbit.

But lately something has changed … so I’m starting a practice in which I offer readings in both Tarot and Astrology.

For the initial 90 days beginning mid February thru mid May 2016 I’m offering pay-what-you-like readings to readers of this blog.

Contact me if interested.

More info here

Skeptics welcome!

We’ll let you know …

A curious thing this, whenever they tell you in an audition how good you were, it’s more or less a solid guarantee that you didn’t get it.

Subtext is involved. In a screenplay it would look like this:

THE AUDITION

by

A. N. ACTOR

(c) 2016

INT. DAY. A LARGE REHEARSAL ROOM.

FADE IN:

At the far end there is a long table behind which sit, the DIRECTOR. He/she is accompanied by an ATTRACTIVE ASSISTANT, there are as many as three or four other IMPORTANT & PERCEPTIVE PEOPLE.

Off to one side sits the READER, this is an actor (just happy to be working) of either gender who reads with YOU, the one auditioning.

We enter the scene a moment after YOU have uttered the final words of the material you’ve prepared. There is an indeterminate silence as the ROOM waits for the DIRECTOR’S verdict.

DIRECTOR
Fantastic! Thanks for coming in.

YOU
You’re welcome. (What am I gonna do? Stay home?)

DIRECTOR
Terrific work! (But you’re not the man).

YOU
(Self-effacingly) Really? (Should I linger and schmooze this guy?)

DIRECTOR
(With huge conviction) Outstanding! (Why doesn’t he leave?)

YOU stumble to the door, everyone in the room wears an encouraging (but distant) smile.

DIRECTOR
Really excellent work! (I thought he’d never go).

YOU
(Confused. The atmosphere in the ROOM indicates that YOUR presence is surplus) Er … Oh …

DIRECTOR
Have a great day. (Have a great life. We’ll never meet again).

YOU, walking backwards as if leaving a royal presence, collide with the door as YOU turn to exit and ANOTHER ASSISTANT enters with coffee for the DIRECTOR.

YOU
(With hand to BLOODY NOSE, as you cross the threshold out into the world) No, no, it’s nothing.

DIRECTOR
(To ATTRACTIVE ASSISTANT) Remind me to never compliment an actor. So needy!

General laughter from the ROOM.

CUT TO:

YOU walking down hallway hearing laughter.

YOU (V/O)
I should have gone to law school.

FADE TO:

The STORYBOARD image in YOUR head.

art

What if a new Tennessee Williams play came to light?

When I was fifteen I played Tom in The Glass Menagerie. It was an experience that opened the door on poetic language for me.

Cherry Jones as Amanda, and Zachary Qinto as Tom, in The Glass Menagerie

Cherry Jones as Amanda, and Zachary Qinto as Tom, in The Glass Menagerie

When I was sixteen I saw A Streetcar Named Desire in the West End. Claire Bloom played a fragile Blanche, Martin Shaw was a virile Stanley, Joss Ackland a sympathetic Mitch, and Morag Hood a sisterly Stella. Doors on acting — and windows too — opened then.

In the second year of acting training at Central in London, it was American plays. Even though I was playing Harry Brock in Born Yesterday, I was still among those who would revisit Streetcar in empty rehearsal rooms and practice yelling ‘Stella!’, and then, ‘Stella… Steeee… eeee….elllaaaa!’

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I heard a story once from Professor Charles McNulty about how, unable to get into a musical next door, he stumbled into the very first preview of The Glass Menagerie in Chicago, starring Laurette Taylor of luminous legend. He spoke of the stunned silence at the end. That first audience was small, but he had been so gripped by the play that he had ended up kneeling between the seats leaning forward, intent on not missing a word.

A student production of Camino Real, directed by Tony Falkingham, was a revelation. A kind of underworld answer to the transcendence of Our Town, or the poetic portraiture of Under Milkwood.

When the National Theatre in London did Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, I attached my old American friend, Jim Franz, who’d been to college on a sports scholarship, as football consultant to the production. Jim recorded his thoughts and insights on a tape and sent it over. When Ian Charleson as Brick, said “…all summer long we’d pass those long, high balls that couldn’t be intercepted by anything but time…” the speech was transformed.

Paul Newman as Brick and Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie the Becky

Paul Newman as Brick and Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie the Cat

 

As we all know the great trio of Menagerie, Streetcar and Cat are foundational in the canon of world 20th century drama.

 

 

And now here is Baby Doll at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey.

Susannah Hoffman as Baby Doll. Photo Richard Termine.

Susannah Hoffman as Baby Doll. Photo Richard Termine.

The movie of that name was derived from Williams’s one-act play Twenty Seven Wagons Full of Cotton. The movie starred Karl Malden and Eli Wallach, and Carol Baker in the title role, and is a dark not-so-funny tale of revenge.

Williams returned to the theme and the characters in more than one version including another one-act called, The Long Stay Cut Short or The Unsatisfactory Supper, experimenting with different perspectives on the story.

The production at the McCarter in a new version, developed by artistic director Emily Mann (who also directs) in partnership with French playwright Pierre Laville, elevates the nuance in the story, finds all the Williams elements of passion, desire, desperate tension and latent violence, and is played with pitch-perfect subtlety by its cast.

Full disclosure; Trish Conolly (Three Blanches, a Stella, one Maggie, a Laura, an Amanda, an Alexandra del Lago and an Esmeralda) plays Aunt Rose Comfort inhabiting a storyline that embodies one of Williams’s “… birdlike women without a nest…” —nibbling at — “… the crust of humility…” is a close personal friend of mine, sometime professional colleague, and er yes, also related to me by marriage.

Patricia Conolly as Aunt Rose Comfort. Photo Richard Termine.

Patricia Conolly as Aunt Rose Comfort. Photo Richard Termine.

The rest of the cast (who are all new to me, and to none of whom I am related) are: Bob Joy, who plays to the life an uncouth man of the reddest neck, Dylan McDermott who, poised and dangerous as the Sicilian, commands the stage, and Susannah Hoffman, who as Baby Doll gives us magnificent work in a detailed performance that should be seen everywhere.

Brian McCann playing the cameo policeman brings with him the danger of the 1950s Delta. And special mention must be made of the real live chicken who plays ‘Fussy’ in her stage debut.

From the set, which is both substantial and ghostly, to the evocations in the lighting, to the delicate underscoring of the soundscape, to authentic costumes and props which complete a production rare in its unity of accomplishment across all elements, we get as exciting an evening in the theatre as if Williams himself had finished this text yesterday.

I could say more about the acting from the entire cast, but I won’t, beyond that it is about as superb as I’ve seen. But here’s the thing. This play (as with all Williams) would be easy to do badly.

Even the finest actors benefit from inspired direction. Here, the play is impeccably directed. Rhythmically it finds variety, and quicksilver turns, in tone, pace and mood. Good direction leaves clues in standout performances. Great direction is scarcely visible because the ensemble takes precedence. Kudos to Emily Mann.

In the ephemera that is regional theatre who knows what happens to this play after the 11th of October 2015, but if you can get to Princeton before then and get a ticket, do yourself a favor.

http://www.mccarter.org/babydoll/

It’s actually like seeing a new play by Tennessee Williams

Not From The Stars Do I My Judgement Pluck …

It’s about the middle of my 58th year of life, and as, as we know, the orbital period of the planet Saturn is 29 years and change, I’m in the onset of the second Saturn return (lucky me).

I’ve embedded a video from youtube. If it’s just a single image, go ahead and play it, if you haven’t already seen it. Sometimes it shows up as four astronomical samples, the one in the upper left quadrant is an artistic graphic impression of solar motion. It illustrates what Kurt Vonnegut Jr. talked about in Slaughterhouse 5 and The Sirens of Titan, what Rodney Colin Smith had to say in Theory of Celestial Influence.

Simply put, every 29 and some years, the planet Saturn will be in the same position relative to the Earth and the Sun as it was when you were born. Bearing in mind that everything else will be in different places, what does this mean and why does it matter?

Time was when astrologers, alchemists, and seers were respected professionals. One thinks of people wandering about with phials of lead which they were trying to turn into gold, dressed like something in an episode of Wolf Hall.

Time was, on the other hand when actors were vagabonds.

When James the first of England (Sixth of Scotland) came to the throne, things took a rum turn for the metaphysicians (although it was still a good decade for language, theatre, and Shakespeare). In the following centuries though, there was a loss of public confidence in the arts of the signs and the planets, and the consequent rise of charlatans and quacks brought the business into disrepute.

Charlatans and quacks abide still, if you don’t believe me, go and order a report for $29.95 at random off the Internet, then stand back and watch as you get a zillion emails explaining that it’s just crucial that you order the full deluxe package because if you don’t you’ll miss your chance at greatness for another many several rounds of the Sun.

But …

Although a natal chart is cast from a Terra-centric viewpoint giving a snapshot from earthly perspective … and although such a picture is the merest slice from the unique loaf each human life describes …

And …

Because I once played the great physicist, Neils Bohr, I’m able to tell you that a sub-atomic particle can also be a field, and not that I knew Zoroaster, but I know people who knew people who did, and I think he got it right when he said: “As Above So Below.”

And because, as you see, the dance of the planets is a spiral one.

And because an approximation of the orbital period of the planet Uranus is 84 years, and there was a stock market crash in 1929 and subsequent trouble for quite a while, and the 2000s were ripe with global crises …

Maybe some of us will look to consultant astrologers again.

I did so myself recently.

I found a British lady and via the magic of Skype we chatted. I was impressed.

It’s not editorial policy to make commercial recommendations in these pages, but here’s an exception: http://www.claremartin.net

Shakespeare on the span of a human life:

“A breath thou art, servile to all the skyey influences …”

MILKYWAY

Or, for a more prosaic instance; I recently got into a minor altercation with a “hare-brained rudesby”. I was waiting in a checkout line and one of the six clerks appeared to be free. The Rudesby, two places behind suddenly shoved my elbow, while at the same time ordering me to go forward. When I explained that I had seen what he had not, namely, a previous customer returning with new items for payment, the Rudesby grunted, and muttered in a language I do not know. We had an exchange:

Me: And you know, Mercury isn’t even retrograde until the 18th?

The Rudesby: (Aggressively) What!? I don’t know what you’re talking about!

Me: No.

The Rudesby: (Proud of it) I don’t believe in any superstition.

Had he chosen to quote from King Lear, the Rudesby could have expressed himself more elegantly … “I should have been that I am had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardizing.”

What has all this got to do with acting?

Good question: I was wondering that myself …

Shakespeare knew of course (no surprise there):

“… that this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment.”