Tag Archives: choices

Making Choices

7 Jan


It’s endless. 

…The supply of facts, figures, and analysis on Sullivan and Keller seems to stretch on infinitely.  Which is wonderful, don’t get me wrong…but it is also frequently debatable from one source to the next…with something as universally “go-to” as Wikipedia being the least academically sound posting of all.  The fact that anyone can contribute to it, is obviously the problem, but that it is likely the first place people will go for info on the topic, pisses me off.  It’s all over the place with inaccuracy…

…As are (from time to time) various books.  I’ve a small shelf of them in my brain now…not counting other articles, reports, essays and such.  Each time I open a new one, it sends me diving back into my now almost 400 pages of notes and clippings, to fact-check something I distinctly remember being reported as another date, time, location, argument, or note of reference.  At this point, I’m forced to use averaging to choose accuracy…in that if I’ve read it twice as this date, and once as that one, I’ll consider the original two reports as correct, unless the scales start to counter with a third option, or added numbers to one or the other of the first two. 

…How the hell can you get facts this way?

 You would think that with two such widely noted historical people, and archives scattered all over the country in their own handwriting, we could get together on some specifics …but it’s surprising to me how much is left out, misstated, inferred, or simply made up, to fill the gaps between days and years and functions…not only when the written and archived materials were lost or (in some cases) purposely destroyed…but even when a picture of a dated letter in Sullivan’s own handwriting states a fact, readily available to view from the Perkin’s archives online, without even leaving your chair.

It’s irritating.  And frustrating.

…First of all: Helen was 6, not 7…Annie 20 not 21 when they met in 1887.  It’s as easy as knowing their birth-months to calculate. AND IT MATTERS.  It matters because they were REAL people, because the difference between 6 and 7 is the difference between what should have been a first grade education and a second grade one…which matters to a child with zero education up to that point, in as much as Helen had to learn not only how to function day-to-day in a seeing and hearing world, and be taught what we spend our infancy learning about basic human interactions, etiquette, feeling, reactions, desires, disappointments, and frustrations…but also how to spell every word that made up every sentence she spoke, as well as grammar and formal sentence structure, mathematics up to and including multiplication tables, to read raised letters and braille, and print square letters in full composition format…as well as learn basics in earth sciences, history, astronomy, and geography, at an age when the average school child is just beginning basic reading, and simple addition and subtraction.

She was 6!

YOU couldn’t do that at 6!  You couldn’t do it at 7 either. Hell, the average adult can’t manage it NOW …but that isn’t the point. The point is: FACTS. 

…And Annie, at 20?  With only six years education…not “formal” mind you, just plain “education” of any kind…under her belt.? Yet, she took up the only post offered to her after graduation, sending her 1200 miles away, where she would be paid the equivalent of $625 (today’s calculation), plus room and board, per month, as a governess to a wild-child neither she nor anyone she knew had ever set eyes on.

…Adding to that her OWN handicapped circumstance (which seems to be frequently forgotten in all this), as well as the difference between “success” (whatever THAT meant) and “failure,” separating the the facts of either earning a living the only way she could fathom how, or going back to the State Alms or Work House.

…No pressure THERE.


…So it bothers me when I have holes in the info that I can’t dig up.  The traces are gone (in some cases)…in others, we have only word-of-mouth to go on…and I trust even the written ones little enough as it is. The main point of contention I now face, being: Annie’s voice.

Her disposition is well noted, her temper, her inclination for finery and beauty and nature, her love of poetry and Shakespeare and virtually every other form of the written word…she was a talented sculptor, a fine horsewoman, occasionally composed verse, had an almost photographic memory of stories, anecdotes, and amusing tales, had a very wry and bitingly quick wit, was terrible at spelling and mathematics, hated anything to do with “sewing notions,” fought depression and anxiety, could at times be emotionally crippled with PTSDs from her childhood…in her top-most form, only attained 50% of her sight, eventually going fully blind, loved to cook, and had a monstrous affection for animals .  Add to that about a billion other fact and figures I have ferreted away…and I’ve come up with a pretty solid idea of the woman as she would stand, day-to-day…but it is (with all of that) in mute form.

…There is only ONE surviving sample of her voice, at age 62…and is a mix between the heavily elocution-trained musicality of Hollywood grande-dames from the early talkies, and an east-coaster wideness, in evidence of her Boston school years.  We know, that though born in the U.S., her constant surroundings through childhood amidst the Irish Immigrant population (including her parents, uncles, aunts, and the Almshouse after), left her with the mimicry of an Irish brogue…strong enough to be self-conscious of it (along with everything else about herself) when she entered Perkin’s School for the Blind, at age 14. 

…We know that in her valedictorian speech, six years later, she was reported by several newspapers attending the exercises as having, “a grace of expression,” “…with genuine refinement.”  Assuming then, that she’d worked her ass off to oust that accent, along with her other less savory childhood habits.

…Yet, Historical biographer Kim Nielsen suggests she still had some semblance of a lilt, even if only faintly, as late as Helen’s beginning of college at Radcliffe in 1900…which puts Annie at age 34. In other instances, Helen had been noted to ask if Teacher had an accent and was told “no,”…though had it been by Annie, herself, she could have preferred this as the answer to the reality. Meanwhile, on the flip side, Helen was able to note the differences in accents from Northerners and Southerners based on vocal vibrations felt by hand, at least by Annie’s second year with her. Whether the question was asked prior or after that, and if it was queried based on an oddness that Helen found in Annie’s speech, which fit neither in straight “North” or “South” categories, is unknown.

…Time, tons of speaking engagements, a stint in vaudeville, travels abroad, and further self-education very easily explains how we get from whatever-her-voice-sounded-like-then, to the 62-year-old version from the short video.  But the amount of previous affectation and when it was changed is still up for debate.

…The ever-copied full-on brogue that Anne Bancroft won her Tony and Oscar with, however, is not.

That was a simple solution created to help break a heavy Bronx-Jewish accent from her 750 performances of the previous Gibson play, “Two for the Seesaw,” she’d just completed before “Miracle” rehearsals began.  It was a quick fix that director Arthur Penn had come up with to help her speech patterns refocus, and is frequently copied in most productions which have followed…one assumes as either lack of research, or reverence to  “the one who came before” (and won all the awards, while she was at it.)

…Either way…thankfully Mdm. Director was in the “without” camp, letting the Irish feistiness show through in her many other aspects of expression.  I have enough to do without having the ghost of Bancroft’s ridiculously amazing performance haunting my every move. This leaves me a mode to create distance from her.  We’re both playing her in our 30’s, both keeping in mind the premature sobering a childhood like hers can have on “youth,” both ball-buster broads, and since she’s been a teacher of mine all my life…I’m even at war to break her specific cadence with these lines running in my head.

…What I get now, is the gift to create a sound, specific to where Annie is in her own history and education at that point in time.  With so many historical facts to get down, this freedom to invent her sound freely, has been (and still is) a major working point, and the essence of my own thumbprint on her.

…Mdm. Director has chosen to bring out the hint of brogue as-was in childhood, for the flash-back nightmare sequences… so I’ve countered, adding a taste in other key moments such as an added sense of play when making fun of herself…and, following a pattern which happens to most people with a previous affectation, to bring it out a bit whenever she gets angry or overwrought. 

…Basically…the flavor is still there…but not necessarily to where you pick up on the specifics of it…only: she has a different way of talking.  She is still at times fighting against it, like a war with her wanting-to-be-more-cultured self… sometimes embracing it, as solace when alone and frustrated or emotional…sometimes getting caught up in it, despite herself.

Figuring out how to do all that and make it unconscious, a matter of mental state, a peculiarity of just how “unfinished” this girl is herself, never mind with the weight of the extraordinary challenge facing her…I think it will help to convey the constant struggle, the lack in her own education, and the reminder that these two people are just beginning.  They have a long, long way to go…in life journey, in education, in everything they will achieve that hasn’t even been thought of yet.

 …Every day, it’s a total joy to remember all that, lace up my boots, and begin.



I Want To Eat You

28 Oct


It’s something I say to a book, sometimes…so get your mind out of the gutter there, friend.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t consume a book fast enough to please me.  I’d spend ten hours straight, totally uninterrupted on a Summer’s day, and rip through “Gone with the Wind,” or “War & Peace.”  I’d plow through Bronte and Austen and Dickens every Holiday Season. I’d devour L.M. Montgomery and Twain in special closeted room seclusion.  On every car ride, on every vacation and trip…even at the breakfast table over Cheerios: there would be a book.

…For me, it wasn’t only the stories, it was the language that fascinated me. I would eventually begin introducing their speaking patterns and word choices into my own lexicon…which is weird to hear comin’ out of a little eight-year-old Latina kid.  I’d speak in accents for whole days…just because I could, and it seemed totally natural to me.  And these worlds and words became obsessions…I would always hunger for more, the more I read…wanted to consume them…to read them out loud and chew them. 

…To actually eat the words, and have them somehow make me a better, more clever, talented, funny, bold, and dramatic. To MAKE me into those specific characters…even if only for a little while.

…Which is a large contributing reason of why I love theatre.

It is your opportunity to consume and digest words on a page, and use the power that they give you via their interpretations, meanings and thoughts, to bring this character to life from a book’s pages, a script…with more choices involved being as you are now responsible for even their walk, stance, physical interactions, plot projections, and vocal choices.

Sometimes, just like when reading aloud from a Novel, these things come easily to you, free of thought really…the character seems to just “be” this way, in it’s most basic form, and you build from there. Sometimes you have to dig and dig to get the information needed at every stage of the character’s building…like an Archaeologist slowly resurfacing information, one tiny sweep of sand at a time, on who this person was, buried in this paper tomb and waiting to be reintroduced to the world again. Sometimes it volunteers you information, from places you are totally unaware of, and can’t quite explain…yet because of it’s insistence of “being” there, I always work doubly hard to justify the “choice” made in that moment. Because it was (for whatever reason) a gut instinct that just happened. And gut instincts are usually the correct line to follow, simply because it was a natural inclination. Not forced.

…Because of this long-time fascination with language and words, it happens most often that the “gut instinct” choices will first form with the words. If I read a script out loud (the only way they are meant to be), in time a natural voice for the character will emerge. And because I’ve done character acting for so many years, it tends to be often of some accented requirement. So this, then, becomes their voice…with changes here and there in pitch or cadence to fit them closer. What is really difficult for me, is when the voice is asked to change, halfway through the process.

…By now, it is so much a part of the character, that the lines just naturally cling to it…as much as the posture on stage, naturally falls into place. I am passed now, the point of thinking about those things…they were built and settled several weeks ago, and my head is now onto other specifics. It is a note, however, of wanted change, so I am now trying to retrace my step back to the root to retrain my brain, who is stubbornly wanting to be focused on other things. It shouldn’t be a difficult alteration…it isn’t a true accented issue (which was confusing me, until a specific clarification was made)…it’s a softening of the “r’s” mostly…sometime a softer “t” here a there…a more cultured and genteel sound, for the fact she is more educated, a Lady in Waiting, a certain status, not just a kitchen serving wench. And it also is placed to put more likeness to the stiffness of Malvolio’s regime over the house and his specific speaking style, to help bridge the gap between the two worlds of servant and master, that she pops in and out of…and what happens as she allows that mask to slip when in the company of Sir Toby. It is part of showing her struggle between doing the thing that is right and proper, and the moments when we see the total unabashed relief and joy, in saying, “Fuck it! I’m just gonna have a good time!”

…But if I am not explaining that enough with the action of it, or if it is getting in the way of the bigger picture, it has to change.

…Now, you can certainly pick and choose your battles with notes given, and though it is a major character choice for a reason to me, I also understand that it is hitting the Director’s ear and saying, “No.” So “no” is the answer. And my job: a new alteration, and justification. It’s what notes are for: to bring each character into the pack, as a whole, and to make one joint vision of this thing. When your instinct to fight a note pops up (and I’m stubborn, so I have to work extra hard on this point), you need to step back and trust that this thing is for a greater good aspect. At this point, we are all so tunnel visioned with our own work and characters, it is impossible to see outside of that.

It’s our job to focus, so we do…it’s our job to define and interpret…so we do. It’s our job to make specific choices, and put them out there on that stage. And it’s the job of the Director to keep all the plates spinning, the show as a whole, with all these individuals attacking words in print and flinging them about the stage with a thousand intents and purposes.

Now that certain concessions have been made on the Monologue From Hell, this is my new task to tackle. To change her language…how she eats her words, difficult because it was there in her first beginning of learning to walk and talk…like a child, learning that “this” word sounds “this” way, so “this” is how I will always say it…contributed hugely by the influences of those about them.

…Which is how, in even a non-accented situation, you get choices that delineate and are specific. The difference between “Ont” and “Aunt.” “To-ma-to” and “tomato.” “War-shing” and “washing.” “Caribbean” and “Car-i-bbea-n.” Vocal choices…we make them all day long in every conversation we have, not even knowing it, because it is so much a part of who we are at this point.

…Guys, acting ain’t for sissies. When you break things down to these kind of elements, and need to re-educate yourself, its almost like learning another language, on the fly, and justifying it, letting it alter the heart of your character as little as possible at a stage where we are soon launching into tech.

Homework is good…it makes you push to an end, to have a specific focus. Where this note is specifically difficult, is that it is sourced from literally my childhood. The way a person sounds, is just how they sound…and always have, to my ear. Like a musician ear caters to specific notes in succession, making music. I only really realized WHY she talked the way she did, when I had to study it in order to find the code to break it. Then once understanding why the natural choice was made, and realizing what that brings to the table, I learned so much from that discovery, that I want to keep it alive in some way, because it’s pretty straight-up legit.

…So between now and today’s run through at 3:30, my homework is to give Maria a new voice, with the old reasons still intact.

…This is just a long way to say: “I have a lot of work ahead. And what we do on a stage isn’t easy. Just so we’re clear on that.”


When The Smarts Get Stupid

11 Oct


You know like when you wanna do things that aren’t a good idea…and there’s that little voice in your head that sorta sounds like a Munchkin saying, “Noooo, don’t dooooo iiiiiit!”

…But then it “accidentally” happens, anyway?


I’m like the Captain of that team right now.

…And what’s so funny about this (not really, but lets just pretend for a moment, shall we?) is that I actually DO so few legitimate “bad idea” things, that when I finally make a choice leaning that way, it is so BLARINGLY obvious just how bad the idea is, and that I am CLEARLY too smart to get caught up in shenanigans of that kind. And you have to admit it, cuz if not, then you’ve just been “duped” and that’s even worse than the other thing.

I am a smart person.

…Just, by and large…”in general.” (And extremely humble, P.S.) There IS no excuse for the predicament I find myself in, other than I totally knew what was going to happen…in my guts…but decided just to ignore it. Cuz sometimes, doing the “right thing” all the time, gets really fucking old.

True story.

…But then when you’re done “being an idiot” about reality and things, you are sitting here…like I am, for instance…feeling like a total asshole, but not in the way you would necessarily think. Hurt feelings aren’t involved. I’m not any poorer than I was before. I still have all my limbs and no stitches, or police record…and I didn’t gain any enemies. I guess if you stack all that up, my payback isn’t nearly as bad as it has every right to be.

My deal right now, is that I just feel like a giant idiot. And I can’t stand “idiots.” I make fun of them every fucking day in this blog. And now I have to take a break from doing that for a while, if only because of the butt-wad of hypocrisy involved, if I, say, call others out for things that blow my mind-balls with the scale of stupidity it represents, when I know what went down in my own little world, so recently.

Essentially, what I’m saying is: I’ve screwed up several perfectly good bitching blogs because I can’t double-standard in front of you all, about the things that piss me off that other people do, when they know they just fucking shouldn’t.

That’s all.

…Which leaves what exactly then, for me to write about?

Pumpkin lattes and this book I’m sorta trying to read, seem safe. I’ll just stick with those.



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