Tag Archives: process

Hi, I’m Your Brain On “Creepy”

27 Jun


I’ve been off book for three days…which is weeks past my usual time in the process. Absurdist Theatre and my memory sectors do not like one another. In fact they have fast become enemies. I think if I hadn’t finally managed to commit that goliath fuck-all Norma-Desmond-monologue-from-hell to my brain by Tuesday, I was gonna shiv that script with a spoon.

…But I did. So I didn’t.

…Which now brings us to deeper book and character work, while constantly murmuring disturbing monologues about singing songs while cutting up people to bits, burying them in the garden, and at night, “watering their toes with a little hose.” Or the one where I almost strangle my own sister, or the one where we plot how many pills it takes to poison someone…or the most grimacing one: about stabing pins into my belly to abort all the foetus’ I throw into the gutter thanks to being continually raped by the milkman.

…These are not happy places to be going, in one’s brain. It’s disturbing enough when you’re just chanting the words on a technical level in order to word associate, picture them on the page, and retain them. Once you step OUT of the book, it becomes this whole other thing to actually “deal” with them…to internalize them…to justify them, to give them emotional power and support…to OWN them.

…This kind of text, when you are burried in it, when you eat, sleep, and dream it…is a kind of poison you voluntarily consume. You have to be careful mentally to build up your immunity to it, as the drinks you take of it get bigger. You can’t expect to come in as a lightweight and kick back a whole bottle, cold, and be able to function in any way at all by end of the night. It takes time to train for this shit…to prep, self- monitored slow accumulation to build up tolerance…and (perhaps most importantly) you’ve got to aquire one hell of a “cleansing/hydration plan,” to help rip you out of that mental space every night before going to bed.

…It doesn’t always prevent the creepy brain hangover, but it surely helps…till the project is finally done and you can check yourself into mental rehab.

…Which (from where I sit at present) is still four weeks away.

Perhaps now isn’t really the best time to become obsessively in love with “Orphan Black” Season 2 (team Helena/Cosima)…but I am. The terrible/wonderful part being that I’ve nearly consumed it all now, which means there will soon be no more left to feed on. I will have to then go to other pastures. Hopefully ones with less eye-gouging and blood. Someplace where my poor little exhausted brains can rest peacefully…without the help of a whiskey, neat.


So Meta

15 Apr


So I’m watching film about actors in the  theatre…which is like my favorite thing.

…You know: “All About Eve,” “Bullet’s Over Broadway,” Being Julia, ” “Noises Off,” “A Midwinters Tale,” “Somewhere In Time,” “Mrs. Henderson Presents,” “Curtain Call, ” Stage Fright,” “Tootsie,” “Waiting For Guffman,” “Shakespeare In Love,” every Mickey & Judy movie…to name a few?

…I’m secretly addicted to this practice.  It’s like the best of both worlds.  You get your cinema effects and star power on instant never-aged replay for life, but your little foreign freak world of hysterical “will they make it work or not” deal, of the world I know best. Plus really good smarmy one-liners. Cuz it’s internationally known that “actors” are whip-smart diva-bitches. Like, as a race.

It’s always fun when actors get to make fun of actors. No one knows how fucking neurotic we are better than ourselves. We can slip-stream right to the guts of it and make the “ouch” of truth, fucking hysterical. Cuz we are crazy freaks in our own way…not always the media-enhanced one, but faintly strange non-the-less. And we know it. We know the normals know it. And they know we know we know it. So to see one of us, BE one of us in all our process-filled glory, is a secret delight.

…Maybe because in true fashion of how the world looks at us, everything in all of life seems to be about an Actor when an Actor is in the room. Which is not (I guarantee you) the fact as it stands. Almost nothing is about us. Ask my creditors, and customers I serve 40 hours a week…the reports I run, the laundry that needs doing, groceries that need to be bought, the sleep I don’t get.

Actors are just people. And while it might be weird to think that Meryl Streep buys toilet paper…so did your first grade teacher, and you got over that whole shock and awe moment in the grocery aisle once…so maybe you’ll survive this too.

Thanks to my taxes I just filed, I happen to know for a fact that in 2013 in five shows, I’ve gone to 107 rehearsals, did 63 performances and traveled 5,958.36 miles. So that’s 170 days out of 365…and on most of those I also pulled a full 8 hour shift at the office. So sure, it’s my “career” and my “other full time job,” but if you think my landlord, or the guy I sell a garage to at work gives a flying shit, you are sorely mistaken. Like “theatre,” the cinema about it is a heightened reality of the truth…it shows what we want to think of as the lifestyle in the best of circumstances. Which means it’s semi-autobiographical…but only in the “working like a sunofabitch” sense.

…For instance: I’ve never known anyone who shows up to the theatre in full makeup, hair, and designer threads, with an entourage of handler’s in their wake. Even the famous people. We all show up the same way: looking like junkyards…it’s what yoga pants and oversized sunglasses are for. This is also true of our dressing rooms. They are never the elegant well-lit mirror-fest of solitary joy, full of flowers and blue M&M’s. It’s 99% of the time, a tiny pit, in the back corner or bowls of the stage, populated by anywhere from 4 to 47 other people. Even the nice theatres upkeep this tradition. A face-lift in the lobby and front-of-house…state-of-the-art sound systems and light boards mean dick to the non air-conditioned backstage, sweat fest, badly lit, real-deal where we all live.

…But for some reason, film (for the most part) likes to glamorize us while simultaneously showing how socially fucked up we are. Basically this makes it 50% right. Films like “Bullets Over Broadway” and “Noises Off” capitalize on the sheer ridiculousness of our lifestyle…the stakes we play at, how bad the really bad can be…and how psychotic we must be to do it all voluntarily. This is mostly true. Which is the sad/hysterical truth. Films like “Being Julia” and anything by Noel Coward, like to give us “class” and grandeur, wit and elegance. This is true maybe 5% of the time, though we’d like to claim it as biographical truth…yet it is difficult to be those things while sweating like a motherfucker, through endless quick changes, and wig swaps, in period underwear that keeps riding up, with an audience full of coughers.

…Mickey and Judy “lets put on a show” films are basically like tech week with teenagers…and don’t even get me started on the faux reverence of “Shakespeare” and his haloed language, when it’s contemporary people trying to wrap their heads around an inside joke that’s hundreds of years old, and relate it to people in the seats more occupied with remembering to pay their gas bill than watch a show right now.

In my opinion, there is one perfect example of theatre as shown by film. and that is Mankowitz’s “All About Eve.”

…Prob’ly cuz it was written and directed by a theatre boy from way back. He should know. And he gets so much of it right…from the raw longing, to the near misses and near hits, to the dive dressing rooms, and bliss of Openings…the politics…the power plays…the self-conscious aches, euphoric highs and shitty, shitty lows…showmances, and sexual drive…to sense of family and loyalty…all rolled into one. As well as the smarmy, bitchy, luscious extravagance of quick wits and one-uppers. Basically, it’s creative sex on film for the theatre kid. It’s our story, told extremely well…by people who get it…by people who were there.

…By people who got us here.

…So it goes that sometimes, I open up the decedent little box of joy that is the story of our life in what we do, and I watch it. Not, I think, for nepotism. Mostly for sense of “togetherness.” Like Christmas dinner with the family.

…It’s a strange little freak of a gene pool…but it’s mine. And I love it.


Two Minutes, & A Title Card

30 Jan


So I’ve an audition next Monday, the day after closing…and its the first time I’ve had to do the full process with a monologue et al, in about forever.

(Working with the same people over and over again, does have more than just one perk, you know.)

…Anyway, I’m having to start from absolute scratch on this, as my go-to dramatic piece has now been disqualified for use, by the happy circumstance that I am currently performing it on a stage at the moment.  And once you’ve done a role, it is faux pas to ever air it in an audition setting again.

Back when I started working at my first Union House and home theatre, I began primarily in Tech. The thing was: I loved theatre…LOVED it…and though I always knew I wanted to be an Actor…I didn’t want to be one of those hopeless ones who couldn’t so much as change a light bulb. I had this crazy idea that to train in all aspects of it, was to pay honor to it…to gain respect and understanding of all the jobs and respect and understanding from my peers. But what I DIDN’T know (at the time) was how much about my end-game craft, I would be learning along the way.

…I have very distinct memories, like a reel of home movies, with moments all strung together on one loooooong piece of celluloid, that I still play in my brain, to this day, which are the lessons I learned while being granted a behind-the-scenes peek at the world of what it is to be an actor.

For instance…when else would a 14 year-old be granted access to watch professional actors from all over the country (and sometimes world), undertake their process from first table read to final performance? How many hours of rehearsal, to be on book with just you, the SM, the Director and Actors as they work out bit-by-bit what this moment and meaning is really all about…and the fact that it is important to justify and work your actions and reactions and talk about “feelings” and fearlessly throw your emotions out there for just everyone to see?

…By 16, I was joining them on stage…only in bit parts and cross-overs, as I was still very much Teching my way through the jungle…but with notice in my level of dedication…and so was given even more responsibilities…with smaller casts…and more dramatic shows.

It was then, I was contracted to work with the biggest theatrical idol I’d ever had…a woman I’d seen work there years before, who as a child, I’d remembered as the person I wanted most to be when I grew up.

She was (and is) a devastating performer, whose work was so palpable it would make your hair stand on-end. A woman whose command of her vocal instrument could manipulate any characterization, her body movements meeting it with precise measure. A woman who would end a monologue to a pin drop, and a play in such silence…you’d forget to breathe, or clap. She was the kind of performer who would disappear five seconds after touching the stage, and not return back again until curtain call…so real was she in this other being that she was now living in front of you. And all I wanted my whole life (up to that point and for the rest of it beyond now) was to be like her. To hold THAT kind of power on a stage, to practice the art of Acting at THAT level.

…And I was going to be her crew now. It was almost too much goodness to be true.

It was a one-woman show, written expressly for her, and I was to work all of backstage…from cues, calls, light patches and any other incidentals. And with that, I was also given leave to sit in on evening and weekend rehearsals…(being in classes during her day-calls.) This, though not the norm for my crew station — until further into the rehearsal process — was granted me, I suppose, as by now the powers-that-be knew me, and how serious about all this I was…and what a hugely educational thing it would be.

…So of course I did…

…In the back. In the shadows. So as not to disturb, or accidentally fall in her sight line during expressly difficult moments.

And like with other rehearsals I sat in on, I would listen to the invaluable give and take between the Director and his Actor…their conversations and debates…the working and isolation of each specific moment…the dialing in on the emotions…the endless, endless futzing at this one line interpretation, or that movement there, or the emotional stakes at hand. She would beat herself up mercilessly…aggravated at what she considered a sub-par interpretation or presentation that only looked like perfection to my eyes (and I’d swear, anyone elses.) And she was often difficult because of it…because she WANTED to find it…and NEEDED to realize the moment, and other people’s assurances were not enough…not to fight the precise gauge of truth that she held herself up against to the point of sometime absolute, roaring, frustration.

…I learned a lot about “process” from that show, and even more about how much of an athlete a good Actor must be. You must stretch, and prep, and lift, and lift, and lift, and lift, and run, and jump, and dive, and lift and lift again. Emotions. Body. Mind. That woman did no less work than an Olympian, a Therapist, and a Theorist all rolled into one, in order to give an Opening Night performance, that shut everyone down and up…just before nearly tearing the entire fucking theatre to the ground with ovation-appreciation.

…And I had been given the opportunity to watch it all happen.

…Which (fast forward), graduated and grew with my roles on the stage, as I moved from Tech to one of the Chorus, to Supporting Characters.

By the time I left my home state (and my home theatre as well), I was 20 years old, and aside from Talent Shows and School Productions, had never done anything but Professional Theatre for seven years. I’d Stage Managed, been offered (and turned down) a Union Card, and won the respect of the the people I respected most…in prob’ly the whole damn world.

…And in that time I learned prob’ly a zillion-million little tricks of the trade. Sitting in on auditions from SF, LA and NY…the “trends” that Actors adopt that makes for mind-melting sameness in audition, after audition, after audition…the “shock value” every woman assumes will make them memorable by dropping the F-bomb as frequently as possible, or sobbing endlessly about being raped or having an abortion. The men that will come in and just scream at you, thinking that this somehow shows a visceral-animal rage. Ill chosen pieces based on age, or body type, or sex (believe it or not)…and a whole collection of other incidentals that one never really might think of as important but in the end, turns out to be all but essential.

I may have never attended University for this Acting thing…but I didn’t emerge into the world totally without training. It wasn’t until later…moving here, seeing how big the world was, how lucky a steady paycheck is, how snobby (on accident) I’d become to the other types of theatre, that I was slapped with a few stings and had to learn this whole other lesson about what REALLY makes you a professional and serious artist…then try to marry all these worlds together to figure out how to use what I’d been given and worked for, to work for me.

…And the fun (or not-so…depending on how you see it) thing is that Acting is an evolution-art. It never stays still, you can never “win” it or “conquer” it…even the greatest people who do it…ESPECIALLY the greatest people who do it…are forever learning how to evolve and push themselves into new directions with it…through the only way you can: good, hard, work. And no matter how many years you’ve been at it, this doesn’t change. Not if you want to move forward.

…And I do.

…So here I am: flipping through plays like a maniac…trying to remember all the little unspoken “dos” and “don’ts” I learned about a million years ago…to choose a new companion…a new friend…to join me in study and on a stage for a two-minute audition, while my old one joins me on stage in that one part in Act three for three more performances…before I say goodbye to her forever.

…’Cept in my heart…where she’ll always have a special place.

…Which is the longest way to go about saying: “I need a new monologue…and I’m having a hell of a time finding it. Cuz I know it’s not good enough to be ‘good’ for what I’m going for…it needs to be ‘The One.’ And that ain’t as easy to find as you’d think.”

That’s all.


Four Openings

11 Jan


…See, there’s a reason I always take Opening days off from work. 

At the ass-end of Hell Week, after an often frustrating Preview where you very quickly learn all the shit NOT to do, and you’re tired and inevitably don’t sleep really well because of troubleshooting in your head all night long — the last thing you want is to go into the Office and put up with 8 hours of bullshit on TOP of it.

…But I didn’t have any choice today.

…Because Boss is MIA again, and we Opened 3 Road Shows this morning.

…Making that 4 shows I’ll be Opening in total today…

…And while the bulk of the B.S. is being handled right now by the WHS Pimp…we are still tag-teaming on the info and resources stream, while I finish payroll, work orders, and whatever last-second Corporate reports are thrown at me.

The shows started at 10 a.m.. in three different cities, branching out in three different directions from our Warehouse…up to 185 miles away. One over the pass through snow, one across the bridge through traffic, and the other: south. Inevitably the relocation of our product was held up, tossed off, mutilated, stripped and partially deconstructed before we finally got it to where it needed to be…P.O’s then sent to local hardware stores for immediate repairs, and we are still late on the last one with a salesman on the floor, even while a contractor is climbing on the roof to re-shingle.

…Meanwhile reports I turned into Boss earlier in the week for forwarding are all being bounced back to me again with exclamation marks because he forgot to turn them in…am trying to figure the schedule for a bunch of repairs with no idea how the sales specs are floating, or if we have time to book them as early as next week…and someone ate the last of the stale donuts in the fridge from Wednesday.

Look: I know I haven’t been in the greatest mindset lately, but I think this crap would challenge anybody about to wretch their guts out in front of God and everyone tonight, on no sleep and one cup of coffee.

Straight up, I knew this wasn’t exactly going to be a “fun” Opening to begin with.

Frankly, it’s a total mind fuck of self-consciousness, regrets, frustrations and some strange game I’ve unknowingly been playing with myself that goes something like: If I focus hard enough, kill every last ounce of self-vanity, and let everything come out at it’s most ugly, shameful, despairing, naked, hopeless, frustrating, gut-wrenching state…I will “Win.”

…”Win” what? I dunno.

…I still haven’t figured that out.

I’ve only just realized the sick little torture I’ve been allowing me to do to myself.

…All I know is the total self-rage and hopeless sense of inadequacy when something comes out “wrong” or I’m not really “in it” or I try something new that doesn’t work, is on a whole other level with this show. Mercifully I have two intermissions in it to go outside, try to cool off, re-focus and re-group. But for a person who has always been hard on themselves on performance levels…I’ve taken this one to a whole new intensity.

…Which isn’t good.

…And probl’y more than a little frustrating to the others around me when I start to lose it.

…So today, now that I’ve seen what a live audience can do to me…now that I know that feeling of being watched and pointed at in circumstances of self-conscious levels that I am more than a little familiar with…in fact the REASON I wanted to do this role to begin with…I HAVE to try and be a little kinder to myself. Doesn’t mean I will be, but I’ve got to at least try.

…I have got to realize that for most people in the audience: this is just a “show.” They cannot be expected to care or understand what it takes to put oneself through it, what it feels like afterward, or the actual, actual horror of realization that maybe if you pissed your pants right now, that would be about the only more degrading thing you could be putting yourself through, up on that stage. Because for me, it ISN’T just a show. It is highly personal. Which is a dangerous thing to play with.

…For some reason, I thought that with all those weeks of rehearsal and living through it over and over again, it would somehow get easier to deal with by the time we’d Open.

But it isn’t.

That’s the truth.

And while I certainly don’t want to be little Miss Debbie Downer on an Opening Night that we have all worked really fucking hard for…I feel like if I just admit this crap now, it’ll somehow help later.

That’s what I’m going for.

…I actually could not be prouder to work with these young people, who have pushed themselves to do and say things with a hideous truth of deception, with the kind of dedication that makes them viciously hateful. It is so incredibly brave of them, to face not only us, but a full house of patrons every performance, who don’t KNOW how wonderfully joyous and deliciously fun they truly are to be with.

…I am grateful, further, for the mind-games thrown from every-which-way direction by our “Aunt Lily” and “Mrs. Tilford”…who make it so easy to remember this emotional place of existence and revisit it every time with a fresh shock of slap marks still across my face.

I appreciate the good man, who is our “Joe,” for seeking a kinder less vengeful version of his character…even when “Martha” presses him much further than she should.

…And I lose my shit…maybe not always “fully”, maybe not as “snotting ugly” with consistency…but at least legitimately, and painfully…every time, because of the person I face most on that stage…who has taught me so goddamn much about so many things, not least of which how to trust someone so hard, so far, so faithfully that no matter how wrecked I am at the end: she will always, always be there.

Dear Marty, my dude-chick of love in every-day life:

On stage, even if I didn’t know you as the friend that I do…I’d be jealous of anyone who faced a partner like you, in front of all these people, who can somehow make them all go away, and keep you safe.

Happy Opening, “Children’s Hour” family.

With Love,

~ Martha.


I Totally Know That Guy

24 Oct


A year before Christopher Guest’s, Waiting for Guffman, Kenneth Branagh got a bunch of his peeps together and created, A Midwinter’s Tale.  It is a black and white mockumentary of a group of theatre offcasts, mounting an entire production of “Hamlet,” location: the buttcrack of nowhere…in two week’s time.

…It may sound slightly familiar, yes?

…And It is also fucking ridiculous

Freakishly true in it’s characterizations of theatre people in general, you really can’t watch it without laughing your ass off and saying, “I totally know that guy!  I worked with someone just like that in (fill in the blank.)!!”

…The melt downs are beautiful, and totally realistic in both their timing, inappropriateness and largess.  Everyone becomes a shameless flirt, surrounded by sexual enticements at every corner, merely because someone with a pulse is standing right there. Bitchy comments are flung about at will, name-dropping is a favorite past-time, people become so tunnel visioned in their own characters and selves that nobody listens to what anyone else is saying until people start blowing up at one another.  Stakes are insanely high, specific, important and necessary as if life and death were constantly on the line.  Weird habits and traditions are catered to, fits and passions are excused on account of “artistic temperament,” and it is so full of buried and thrown away one-liners and Improv moments that you could watch it twelve times in a row and still not get all the jokes on account of laughing at the other new ones you just, for the first time, finally heard.

In short: it is perfect.

…And it was my “homework” last night, in study aides.

What I was reminded of, while watching it again, is that this entire process of “theatre” is almost nothing but a “constant” of manic urgencies and self-doubts, hysterics, excitements, depressions, anticipations, exclamations, fashions, foibles, habits, traditions and high-maintenance filled melodrama. Even the “mellow” shows are that way, at some point. What we do is a frustrating business of self-challenge, which is a major contributing part of why we do it to BEGIN with. So my little “shit-fuck-damn!” of yesterday, is mere water under the bridge compared to things like “First Dress,” “Tech Week” and “Opening Night.” In truth, I am actually a perfect example of every fucking character in that movie, and it’s only a matter of time before I hit every one of those points of biographic archetyping (if I haven’t already), and the same goes for every other person in the show.

The truth is: we are ALL “that guy.”

At SOME point.

…Even if only in the privacy of a bathroom freak-out, or tears in the shower, or arguments with ourselves in the car, or frustrations over that one fucking line that just won’t stick. Some will be more obvious with their “process”…with anger diva implosions on stage, or bitchy head-bites, or line blanks, or costume emergencies or any of the other zillion-million things that can and do go all to hell at some point during a run.

…Yesterday I was just mid-archetype, is all. In the: “for fuck sake, figure it out you damn idiot, it ain’t like it’s rocket science!” phase. And because I was forced to look at it square in the face, (via the mirror of a very lucky homework idea), today I’m much more calm and realistic about things.

Currently I’m residing in: “New idea, in a different direction entirely” phase…wherein I decide to stop forcing what doesn’t feel right and isn’t working, and just go with the gut instinct instead. Thanks to varied discussions with cast mates at the pub, after rehearsal.

…It’s a decidedly calmer world to live in, during this phase. I appreciate that. And I realize it will only last so long before some new “hell” begins to dog me in some other way. But that is part of the the FUN of it, for shit’s sake. SO HAVE FUN WITH IT. And get over your damn self!

So, thanks “KB.”

And the cast and crew of cuties I’m currently working with, who totally have my back 🙂

It’s like the OTHER part of the film that holds just as true as the rest, and keeps the “theatre family” (in all its myriads of dysfunction) afloat. We genuinely do respect and enjoy one another’s work and friendship. S’pecially when the going gets tough. There’s no one better to “go to the mattresses” with, in the world, than the people who stand beside you, on a stage.

For reals.


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