Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Intent to Live, by Larry Moss


Anyone and everyone interested in Theatre as an Actor, Director or Producer MUST OWN THIS BOOK!

I was playing the role of Irma Kronkite in William Hinge's PICNIC at the Palace Theatre in London, Ontario when the director (Don Fleckser) recommended that each of us as cast members find a copy of this book, rent it, read it buy it WHATEVER...just get your hands on this book!  So I did :)

Larry Moss delves a bit into his own life experiences and the steps he's taken to get where he is today.  If you do not know who Larry Moss is - PLEASE view his interview on Youtube in which he talks about his book, "the Intent to Live"

In this book, Moss describes building a character from "the ground up", superobjective and objective (getting what you want), Obstacles & Intention (how you get what you want), Stakes (what is it worth to you), Inner Imagery "the Life Within", Finding your Triggers (Emotions on Demand), Defining and Redefining your character, back story and biography of your character and SO MUCH MORE!

What I have enjoyed most about this book was the lessons Moss teaches between the lines.  In chapter 5, Moss discusses a monologue in Maxwell Anderson's Winterset and describes it as a "vivid and disturbing monologue".  The monologue is actually given in the book however, Moss recommends that any reference used or touched upon to express an opinion, thought or lesson which the reader is unfamiliar with, should (for their own benefit) research it!  There are so many references in this book and his lessons are powerful.  Without researching the actual pieces he quotes, the reader will only get half of the lesson to be learned.

By reading "the Intent to Live", I have become more knowledgeable about playwrights whom I did not know existed, I've learned various approaches to creating characters and working with a script, I've learned how to respect the playwright by using the given facts in a script to create exceptional characters without losing the intentions of the writer, and I now understand that acting is NOT just about being funny and making people laugh and being entertaining - it's about bringing someone else to life and making people feel and care.

"Acting represents all that human beings experience, and if you want it to be 'nice', you will never be a serious communicator of the human experience...You can't stay clean and tidy and be an actor."

Thank-you Larry Moss for the wake-up call.

Now, I'm ready to work!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

There is no "Off-Stage" when you're performing in a Murder Mystery ;)

Performing in a play takes a lot of hardwork: 3-4 months of rehearsals, memorization of lines, finding your costume and creating your character.  However, with stage plays, you have the opportunity of running the same scenes over and over again until the actors are comfortable with the script and their fellow actors and the director is satisfied with their work.  Murder Mysteries are a COMPLETELY different ball game.

First, you get notice that a show has been booked approximately one month ahead of time.  The script is emailed out to you and you start learning your lines and creating your character at home and in your own time.  Depending on whether or not the actors have done the script before, there may not be a group rehearsal. There is no proper way to rehearse a Murder Mystery ahead of time because you cannot imagine, anticipate or plan for the type of audience you will have, the set up of the venue when you arrive or what topics will be discussed at your table. 

In Murder Mysteries, there is no "Off-Stage".  You arrive with the guests, you sit and eat at the table with the guests and you are not introduced as yourself until dessert.  Murder Mysteries are a great way for actors to develop and challenge their acting abilities.  An actor cannot simply take a break from being their character.  It is truly a wonderful experience to converse, argue and put guests on the spot (sometimes) as someone else.  There is only a few scenes that are scripted and the rest is completely improv'd on the spot by the actors.

There is so much opportunity for actors to play with and bring their own special touch to each character.  One actor may choose to play "the lawyer" as a sleezy character who hits on women and constantly slicks his hair back.  Another actor may take that same character and make him into a suave salesman who is always handing out his card and trying to sell his services.  Some actors may even choose to play this character as the strong silent type.  The limits are endless!

I personally do work as an actor with a local Murder Mystery company called "Murder for Hire" and we are always looking for more actors!  It is a lot of fun and all the actors are very supportive of each other.  We're like our own little family of business people, students, retirees, mothers, fathers, grandparents and children.  I would recommend that anyone involved with theatre as an actor or anyone who is serious about performing and wants to improve themselves, to consider auditioning for a Murder Mystery Troupe.  There is no better character development than having to play the same character for 1-3 hours without ever going "Off-Stage".

Check out Murder for Hire's website!!! : http://www.murderforhire.ca/

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Do or do not, there is no 'TRY'" - the Director has Absolute Power

It is so exciting to be cast in a production which has a well-known and distinguished director calling the shots.  You've heard of their name, you've researched their work and you are THRILLED to have to opporunity to work with such a passionate and dedicated artist.

I had been looking forward to working with one director in particular who in my mind's eye reminded me of Yoda - wise, experienced and it was he would teach me the ways of being a Jedi Actor!

And then, I met them.

I do not want to say that ALL directors have egos or that they think of the cast and crew of their shows as "the little people" BUT, in my experience, the directors I HAVE worked with, have been oblivious to the lifelong impression they leave and the absolute power they hold over the actors.

Many would like to assume that someone who has won many awards and has produced and directed many shows all over the world, would be passionate about theatre, would be caring towards their actors and would want to teach AND learn from them.  This is not always the case.

I cannot stress enough how heartbreaking it is to hear a Director say, "you're doing fine."
I don't WANT to do FINE I want to do GREAT!  As an actor, I do not mean to bother a director by asking them for criticism or their thoughts on a particular piece which I've performed.  My intentions are rather completely selfish - I want to learn and grow and do better.  We as actors do not carry a mirror around with us onstage so we rely upon the eyes of the director to watch us carefully, take notes of our every move, our emotions, our body language and voice projection.  It would be better, for an actor, to hear
"next time - I would rather you try this than that" or
"I really didn't like when you did this, have you thought of trying this?" than
"you're doing FINE."

A director holds the absolute power when it comes to actors' egos, self-esteem and passion. 

Being an actor in a show also means being in a relationship with the director.  The director can either love and support their actors, pay attention to them, give them the constructive criticism they need so they can be the best actors they can be or - they can ignore them, not give them the attention they deserve, crave and require, praise others infront of their face and dangle them like a gold medal, making them feel as though they can never achieve greatness, talk down to them and make them feel like their questions in search of knowledge are "below them" and frivolous.

A Director can inspire and open an Actor's mind or they can obliterate their passion and break their heart.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My obsession: Community Theatre - I must be CRAZY!

"There are 2 major differences between Professional Theatre and Amateur Theatre:
1 - Professionals have more training and are paid more
2 - Amateurs do it ONLY for the love of Theatre"

Community Theatre in London, Ontario is competitive yet very supportive.
Actors work for many theatre companies at a time and most local companies network
- it's not what you know all the time but WHO YOU KNOW!
You've heard this all before I'm sure but it's true!

Time and time again, I see young actors walking into an audition and they have not combed their hair, they have not read the script, they have not researched the theatre company they're auditioning for AND they're wearing jeans or spandex with holes in the knees.
Welcome to Community Theatre!

It is so refreshing when an actor comes into an audition who has not yet had much stage time/experience but they are eager and willing and you can see that they are passionate about the arts and about learning more.  Nine times out of ten, a director and/or production team would rather work with someone who has no theatre experience but who took direction well in an audition and who appears eager, friendly and dedicated than some experienced diva who thinks that they are going to be famous one day, who cannot take direction and who no one can imagine spending one evening with for drinks let alone 3 months in rehearsals!!!

It takes a certain person to be able to survive and thrive at a Community Theatre level. 

As an actor, you have roughly 3 months to memorize your lines, rehearse each moment of the show and put on a one or two week long performance WITHOUT getting paid or expecting payment.  Honourariums are always a nice treat and they remind actors that the show could not have gone on without them. 
Did I mention...it is also expected that Cast & Crew are also (more often than not) expected to "strike the set" meaning that after the final performance (finishing between 10 and 11pm) they are expected to stay back or come into the theatre early the next morning to tear down the set.  SO MUCH FUN! 

Having said all this, when I think of Community Theatre, I do not think of the long hours, the transporting to and from rehearsals, finding the spare time to memorize my lines or all the political "fluff" that goes on behind the stage. 

Instead, I think of the friends I will make knowing that the fellow actors will need to depend on me as much as I will them. 
I think about all that I can learn from a director who is passionate about the script, the stories between the lines and the unforgettable characters within the tale.
I think of all the connections I will make and the people I will be able to learn from.
I think of the satisfaction of going from the initial read-through (which is usually crap), through the blocking of the individual scenes (who stands where and when), droolingly long evening rehearsals right up to the opening night!  It brings such joy to be able to look back at the work done, all the time spent and all that you have accomplished individually and as a member of a team.

There is no other job satisfaction than that which one recieves while taking a bow after a performance.
More than likely, it was a job you were never paid to do.

"Theatre: Where we lose and find ourselves at the same time"

To an audience member: theatre might be an escape, a place and time where they can forget about their power-hungry boss or their bills which are months overdue.  Theatre could mean a night of cheap entertainment in comparison to a concert or movie.  Perhaps, to them, theatre means forgetting about the problems and issues they face in their own lives at home and taking a break from it all as they watch someone else push through and deal with more serious issues.  It might be the place where they can watch, care for and follow a character who has it worse off than themselves.

To an actor: theatre might be the place where they can become someone else and live someone else's life for 2 hours a night for 2 weeks.  Theatre might be a place where they can put on fancy clothes and wear pretty make-up without ridicule (unless it is is ridicule they are going for ;).  To actors, theatre means opportunities to please an audience and take full responsibility for a standing ovation or the roar of over 1,000 people clapping in appreciation for a job well-done.

Theatre affects many people in different ways.  Audience members, Directors, Producers, Actors, Light & Sound Operators, Stage Managers, Stagehands, Set Designers & Builders, Costume & Prop Coordinators the list goes on!

What does "THEATRE" mean to you?