Tag Archives: interpretation

Blocking & The Fleshing Business

7 Mar


Last night we re-ran our biggest scene of Act I, after a full night’s rehearsal the evening before, meticulously part-and-piecing it out.  Running at 24 pages without a break, it takes place two months after their arrival in the attic, covering every inter-relationship combo possible, ultimately adding Mr. Dussel to the mix.

…It’s a bear, to say the least.  Yet runs surprisingly quickly once it’s on it’s feet, solidly.  Getting it to that point, of course, was an entirely different matter.

…For the sake of reference, I’ll give you the general layout of the set as it currently stands:


1. Anne & Dussel’s room w/ desk and bureau
2. The 4th floor Van Daan room, w/ side table, double bed and bureau
3. Peter’s room w/ desk/bureau
4. First landing
5. The kitchen, w/ sink, hotplate, fridge, & cabinets under and overhead
6. The potbelly stove
7. Work table/children’s dinner table
8. Sofa (by day)
9. Fold-out Frank’s bed (by night)
10. Easy chair
11. Margot’s cot (by night)
12. Dining table
13. Door leading to lower landing and secret bookcase door
14. Bookcase
15. Bathroom

…We have platforms, stairs, and doors with frames, but no walls, leaving us on a 4th floor drop-off upstairs, (actually one story up) into oblivion, where we float above the kitchen and wood stove.  And everything from sleeping, and eating, to changing, takes place on stage in full view, wherever we are…save for the occasional escape to the off-stage bathroom.

…For the sake of showing the kind of traffic patterns we’ve set, (just in this scene alone), I’ll give you my own blocking, as set yesterday:


…Now, multiply that by 8 (for a short term 9) people, and you start to get the idea of the kind of chaos this can be.  Everyone needs to be totally on their game, because with that much action, there is ample opportunity to forever be running into people.  And not only does the blocking and traffic pattern need to be organized and meticulously timed, but also the general “business” you are undertaking. 

…In my instance, everything from knitting, mending my coat, making dinner, setting the table, flirting, joking, mothering, fighting, having a total melt-down, recouping and returning, welcoming a new house-member, freaking out about news and politics, and finally…finally…retiring to our room where I change and go to bed.

That’s just 24 pages.

Because you are always “on,” there is no real break in any of your action. Not ever. Even the thing’s we’ve yet to figure out (as we are still minus our furnished bedrooms and have no practical props to deal with as yet — save the fur coat), will be fine-tuned in time.

…This is prob’ly my favorite part of character work, and with this show we are absolutely dripping with constant opportunity to define and strengthen them via endless silent “businesses.”  Attention to details…the fact that she knits “this” way, uses a knife “that” way.  The way she dresses and undresses, the way she styles her hair and the attention and time she spends upon it, the way she moves in the vicinity of an attractive man versus by one of the children or Mrs. Frank…and the biggest “tell” of all, her “mask work.”

…It is blatantly obvious, by how the role is written, that both the Van Daans are meant as the general comic relief of the show (if you’ll pardon the expression.) Their ridiculousness of constant bickerings, and flirtings and complainings, and preenings…their often garish and embarrassing lack of general “class,” is just there in print…it’s there.  And it is needed…to balance Anne, and spice things up in this forever depressing atmosphere. 

…There MUST, however, be a time for them to be “people” as well. 

I’m neither interested, nor content, with making her merely a money-grubbing, vain, flighty, cartoon character.  First and last of all for the reason that this was an actual person who lived through far to much to be disrespected like that.  In taking the role, I took up a responsibility to that person (as I see it),  and from what I have learned in my studies, she was made of far tougher, practical stuff, to have survived the things that she did for as long as she had.  That was all yet to come, of course…after their arrest. But, it is still THERE inside of her…it is already a part of her character, and general life-force, and deserves it’s place in the translation as well.

…The way I see it: much like Anne (which the diary constantly points out is freakishly similar),  Mrs. VD lives behind a mask.  It is a social “ism” of assumed cuteness, elegance, intrigue, flirt, and importance…which (upon study) you find was highly influenced and doted on by the fiercely close relationship she’d once had with her Father (much as Anne’s does.) 

…She was of a certain class, thoroughly spoiled and prized and petted and admired by him, (and men in general.)  She knew how to work what she had and did, to the hilt.  But she MUST also have another side to her…as Anne does…her “softer, kinder side.”

…Her “mask” is her safety net.  It bought her everything she wanted and needed in life.  It always did it’s job by her, and naturally, helped to cover any outward hurt or rejection or disappointment she ever had to face.  As it does now.  So she naturally defaults to it.  But “it” is not the real “her”…and with this much stage time, I have dozens of pockets of protected little intimate moments to show that.  Wide-open opportunity to bring her to a place (unguarded) where I believe the actual woman, probably spent a great deal of emotional time.  Hidden away, privately. 

“That damn coat!” Mr. Director had said, early in our first week of rehearsals.  “She’s always all about that damn coat.”


She is.

…But why?

…The script and character set-up suggests: for material reasons.

…But, if you (for instance), dig a little deeper there, you see for every mention of it’s monetary value and pristine quality, she in the same breath mentions her Father in respect to it. 

“Father gave this to me,” “Father bought that,” “Father used to do this,” “Father said that.”

…She, like Anne, was very much a “Daddy’s girl.” And having left her entire home, (with every earthly possession she owned in it, save for the few articles she managed to pack in one suitcase with her on the day of her arrival), consider for a moment that this is quite possibly the only touchstone she has REMAINING of her Father. 

It is his memory, his essence…it is all that she has left of him, of her childhood, of her life as it once was. 

…What if she isn’t merely bringing vanity into the picture, with her handling of it, but bringing memories, bringing affection, conversations at her father’s knee, the house she grew up in, the friends she once knew? What if, for the sake of reason, it was the one piece of security she felt she possessed in these unbelievably shitty circumstances she found herself and her family in? 

What if it was her one escape? 

…And perhaps BECAUSE it was far too personal, far too raw, or real to admit to, she chose to flout it’s presence in a more materialistic way?  For a safety measure? Or whatever reason she may have thought best?

…So when she flies off the handle time after time with regards to the coat…it isn’t just “a coat.”  It isn’t just a monetary value.  This is life and death to her.  It is unreasonably personal and selfish and vain in the eyes of everyone but the one person who knows deep down, it’s true meaning.

Say the words as written.  Explode into hysterics. Go ape-shit with over-reactions. Threaten with intensity that seems absolutely outrageous!  Go ahead: commit to it!  Then: run upstairs, (as bid per blocking), slam the door of your room, alone at last.  Sink to the floor, and in the only privacy you own, in front of God and all those people out in the audience, allow your mask to fall and heart to absolutely, legitimately, break. 

…If I can do that, if I can build moments of insight into the REAL Mrs. VD like that…I’ll have done the job I set out to do.

You have to dig to understand. 

…It’s a lot of work, a fantastically knit-picking treasure hunt…to fight your way through characters like this…to make them human, to give them sympathy, to make an audience WANT to connect to them. But also, an ultimately rewarding enterprise for every new realization.  Because somehow, somewhere out in that audience, someone will watch that moment, small and insignificant, as it may seem…and understand more about who this woman was, than all the lines she ever speaks will truly tell you.

That’s how I plan on rounding and fleshing out what to some, is just a ridiculous woman with outrageous balls and an inclination to get on your nerves.

There’s a lot under that mask. And I’m gonna have a fun time, figuring it all out.


Music-Speak With Ghosts

25 Feb


First of all, accents have a musicality to them. 

…We’ve been through all this before, but today brings a new challenge.

I don’t know why, but I’ve always been drawn to accents, and able to learn and speak in them with relative ease…even the more complicated ones, mixing cultures and races together…or pinpointing it down to a specific region.  It’s my favorite thing to do, and I’ve gotten to play with all kinds of them in the course of my career…which is awesome, even though it may at times also be “limiting.”

For instance: right now, I’m trying to find that thin line of European Jewish lilt, minus any other linguistic influence, because our Director has chosen to go without Dutch and German for the show, entirely.  The van Daan’s, however, are written with sentence structures so specific to a Yiddish musicality, that it was made clear to me we’d have to either consciously work against it, or embrace it.  The Director (thankfully) allowed us to keep the influence as written, yet specified he wants no others to muddy the soup.  This means that the contributing factors of what delineates a European Jewish accent from say a New York one, becomes harder to define. 

An American Accent, influenced with the musicality and lilt of Yiddish, automatically lends itself to the cutting of clean endings, the combining of words together to make a mouthful, and the inclination to end almost every sentence with the cadence rising upward in a question.  For a European Jewish lilt, you would temper the large roundness of the sound and lazy endings with say the Russian “R’s” or forward motion of the mouth pursing out Dutch “D’s” or German “V” sounds replacing the wide “W’s.”  All of those mixtures help contain the Yiddish sound a bit, calming it down, so you sound less like some random guy from Brooklyn. 

…When those influences are denied you, tempering the Yiddish, is a lot more difficult than you might think. 

It’s one of those accents with a mind of its own, that takes over the tongue in no time flat, and runs off with itself. Which means that right now, while pounding lines, I’m forever having to consciously hit every ending and separate every word so it sounds almost freakishly unnatural.  Because, I have to isolate and find the correct rules to apply to each word-combo problem I find, keeping it with hard “R’s”, and hitting all the endings just right, but without it seeming like a freight train hit every sentence in a head-on collision.

…And because of the subtraction of any other accent as influence, it means I can’t just go to a YouTube of native Polish Jews, or watch a news story, or archive footage of German Holocaust survivors sharing their stories.  I’ve got to basically invent this whole other version, whose closest mother-tongue of existence actually  (so far) has only resided in the mouth of Shelley Winters as she had herself performed the movie.  Which is infuriating, as she’s the last person I want to listen to, while I’m trying to muscle through and discover the role for myself.

Usually, American films are the WORST place to go to for any ounce of dialect authenticity.  Only this time, I had little choice…it was either this or the overindulgence of something like “Fiddler on the Roof”…which would just be fucking ridiculous. At least in THIS case, I know the source is clean and on point.  Because Winters was from a Jewish-Austrian family, and if anyone would have been able to figure out how to solve the English-only Jewish European Accent problem, I’m thinkin’ she’s the most qualified person in the room.

…So despite hating it, I had to listen and learn.  Not because I loath to learn from “the goods”…but because she was SO fucking good, that even in the parts where I hit a line-read just like her, it sorta pisses me off that I’m not coming up with newer choices.  Sometimes it’s just in the writing: your choice.  Sometimes in the attitude and type of character.  Obviously, I already have a good grasp of this woman, because we are lined up in many facets of it.  And wisely I only kept to one short scene for homework purposes, so as not to get her living in my head throughout.

…Now that I sorta have a grip on where to go with the influence, I’ve gotta go to first blocking rehearsal tonight, and forget everything I heard from her, so I can forge my own way through the Attic jungle. 

Which is doable. 

…It just means for one section, I’ll be fighting an Oscar-winning ghost, is all.

So, again…no pressure or anything.



1 Feb


In honor of good times spent in the company of the fine people in this show, today’s post will be short, but artistically rendered non-the-less.  I give you, a post dedicated to (and featuring), our beloved “Karen” and “Joe.”

…In the style of Wes Anderson. 

(See, I was paying attention, “Joe.”)


Cracking The Code

23 Oct


This one fucking monologue…

…I gotta figure it out. 

So far have tried 11 different ways, and so far have found 11 ways how NOT to do it.  It’s killin’ me. It starts my second Act, and is all high hysterics and ridiculousness, but not quite farce…which is really fucking difficult to gauge, not least of which because everyone on stage just looks at me with egg on their face watching it like a freak show, and it is the total opposite to my natural style of humor. 

…I am dry and bitchy, by nature. (hello, have we met?)  If you exaggerate that, you get dryer and bitchier.  “Hysteria,” is this whole other deal.

We do things to challenge us as performers, so I’ve done my fair share of farce and comedy, and though I’m not horrible at it, it ain’t exactly my forte.  So, the information I get outta rehearsals like last night’s, is that: “It didn’t work. Again.” 

…Now, I don’t always know WHY it didn’t work, in fact, most times I don’t at all…but I know when it does, and it has nothing to do with the reaction from the house right now…because this many weeks in, people never laugh at anything anymore, anyway. Cuz shit is only funny the first 20 or 30 times you try it.  After that, you’re kinda “over it.”  You just have to sorta trust it’s still funny, and go with it, until previews and things.

…Only I know it isn’t working.  I can feel it.  But I don’t know “why,” or what the answer is to MAKE it.

Here is how I look at comedy: Comedy is to timing, as Fosse is to a choreography. 

…That dude was fucking intricate.  One half millimeter of a finger arch and you were out of sync.  It’s like “this,” not “This.”  Specificity is the KEY. 

Comedy is like that

…One hair of a beat is the difference between HILARIOUS, and absolute crickets.  I don’t know why, but it is a fact.  Which is why Comedians don’t get NEARLY the credit they should, for an artform where one breath in the wrong place screws the entire joke up…but some chick blubbering in a corner, with snot running all down her face, will win the Oscar.  Every. Single. Time. 

…The snot isn’t “timed.”  I can almost guarantee you that anyone playing a rape victim, or watching a loved one die, would be able to work themselves up to that level of disturbed ugliness, with very little imagination and timing involved.  Drama is all on your own clock, at the viewer’s expense.  Comedy is all on the VIEWER’S time, with phantom rule books of how long to hold, turn, smile, nod, grin, hiccup, slip, fall, smack, pop, bash, wink, slobber, flash, burp, squash, run, jump, or shriek, at any given time with constantly changing table-ratios of balance, depending on which order they fall in, at what point in the scene, which characters are involved, and if the audience is sleepy, bored, restless, horny, infectious, or has indigestion. 

…It’s like the most intricate math formula ever.

It’s ALL of that, (aka: reading the room) PLUS, just knowing what works and what doesn’t…when to “play” it big and when to play it “straight,” (which is also funny, but a different kind.)

…I KNOW funny when I see it.  And I can figure out most the time, when I DO it…both while throwing it away, and doing it on purpose.  But so far, top of my second act, all I know is:  It isn’t working. 

We open in 18 days. 

So that is really starting to bother me.

…And I’m not goaling for a milk-sop fest of feedback, here.  I don’t need hysterics from them.  All I need is to complete the take without feeling like a giant scene-deflating asshole, or freak other-worldly alien, directly ending into a set change. 

So far, I have not once accomplished this. 

…And I’ve totally done it in legit, no-holds-barred, hysterics at least twice…so it isn’t that I ain’t willing to “commit.”

I need another way to look at it.

…But I don’t know what.

…Time to hit the books (aka: the DVD collection) and fish out some instances that someone used, at some point, sometime, to help me figure this out.  There IS a way to make it work.  People have only managed it for several hundred freakin’ years is all.  And if THEY can do it, I can do it!  And I can do it MY way!  I just need some quiet time, in an open space not shared amongst apartment dwellings, where I can beat the shit out of it, at full vocal level, until it knows it’s place. 

And I need to not panic that I WON’T find it in time, cuz that just is NOT fucking helping me right now.


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