Tag Archives: teachers

To Our Teachers

19 Feb

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Maybe they were your first real crush in grade school. Or a favorite professor in College. They might be your kids, or co-workers…your significant other, Bff, mortal enemy, the guy who got the job that you didn’t…hell, maybe even your faithful dog. You meet them on stages and screen, and behind them…in lines at the supermarket, in the pages of a book, in your family tree. Sometimes they won the race, or lost it…baked the most unbelievable cake, or can’t even nuke a cup of soup.  They give advice to tough life questions, but most of all: they inspire us–To do more. To try harder. To never give up. Never surrender. To never stop: learning.

They are our Teachers.

I’ve had a lot of them. And I’ve learned a lot…(the good, the bad, and the ugly)…from them. And so have you.

…After shadowing one of the most famous ones in the world, for the past two months, what I’ve learned from her is that they are just people like you or me. What’s so special about even the best of them isn’t a saintly demeanor, a genius intellect, the patience of Job, kindness to small animals, good looks, social status, education, or even expertise. The best teachers are the ones willing to get down and dirty, fight through exhaustion, against the odds, often without the technical tools, support, or even decent circumstances to back them. They will take on the mess and hopelessness and pain, frustration, and fear…and power through them.

A good teacher can come from the most inauspicious place, and provide you with a lifetime of knowledge from sheer unintentioned inspiration alone. They needn’t even be aware of it…

…But then, its entirely possible that they would be.

…Because they’ve been literally at your side, every step of the way, every sleepless night, to bolster you up when you need it most, to push a little bit harder to win the race, for late night study sessions, to lend a shoulder when you’ve nothing left to give… to fight for team-you with every affirmation of, “you can do this!”

What I’ve been taught by THIS particular Teacher, among many things, is the behind-the-scene fight that they often must undertake, just to DO the job they do. The utter unabashed fight, tooth and nail, in the name of You. The often hopelessly ignored, “Give me what I need to help this person do what I know they can do!

…The handicaps so many of them fight to traverse, have nothing to do with the lack of promise in their pupils…but the circumstances they are restricted by…the lack of funding, or information…the violent atmospheres, and overwhelming sense of hopelessness and lack of resources, are often the greatest obstacles they face.

…What our greatest Teachers have taught us, we aren’t even aware of, actually. Because the battle began before we even got there, and will last long after they’ve helped us to whatever enlightenment we will achieve at their hands.

…I’ve only even been playing one for the past two months, and the sheer and total exhaustion of that fight has frankly been pretty damn eye opening.

…And truly fucking exhausting.

In short: as we attack Preview tonight and Open our show tomorrow… I’d like to say a public “Thank You!” to all my Teachers, past and present. And and all the ones yet to come.

The amount of things I would never be and never do without you, is a rack-up on the entire resume of my life that would have left many, many holes in it.

…So, THANK YOU!

…And please, don’t let the assholes get you down! Fight on, Life-Professors! We need you!

~D

Waking A Giant

4 Jun

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If Theatre is a family (and it is), then it makes sense that I feel gut-punched right now…

…Because like every self-respecting LGBT-21st-Century-Community with multiple Mom’s and Dad’s, little sisters and big brothers, in a splendidly blended environment of love and universal acceptance…we are the village that it takes to raise a child. All of us were reared in it. And all of us will eventually take our turn (if we haven’t already), reaching out to the others who come after us.

…In that respect, our family has lost a once-“son”, then “father”, and now grand-poobah of a “grandpappy,” who has taken his final bow on this earth with the grace and dignity and showering of respect he has so very much earned, during his time on this planet. In this family.

When I first met him, he was a totally indestructible force of sparkling dry wit (still is), dressed in sooted togs, as the most beautiful Alfred P. Doolittle of all time. Beautiful in the dirt smears, in the picking at a flea in his armpit, in the good-ol-boy jeer and wink that killed the audience every single bloody night. Beautiful in his choices, in his art, in his reckless abandon at whatever his particular version of “dancing” was, as he lolliped about the stage with his mates and us, every night…dead of summer…covered from head to toe in wool-and-such, in a theatre with no air conditioning.

By show’s end, I was eternally gobsmacked and we were “pals.”

…I was 20 years old. A brand new transplant from California, and he was (and is) one of my first friends, in the first show I had ever done, here in this state.

…Which is how I’d eventually book a headshot session with him. And how I first met his other art: conducted behind the eye of a camera lense.

(Naturally, he was quite brilliant at that, as well.)

…As he was brilliant in “talk” in telling a yarn…in summing a story up seen as no one else quite sees it, in private IM’s after reading a blog I had written that particularly tickled his fancy.

Meanwhile: we worked on more shows.

…He: as a “softy” singing, “More I Cannot Wish You,”…watched nightly from the wings by the whole lot of us…the sweetness and endearment so very, very clear in his interpretation.

…Then: a hell of a court case, where I…ME…THIS person, right HERE…got to sit beside him…nightly…in a silent court room, just we two, in a single scene. As Drummond shared a window into his psyche in “Inherit the Wind.” A simple, moment, yes. But “full.”

…And you know the “fullness” that I mean.

…Or at least, I wish you to some day experience it, if you haven’t.

He was, (and is) quite frankly, loaded with “that thing.” That special whatever-the-hell-it-is that defines the “great” from the “good.” He was (and is) that extra step of something special…something you cannot quite put into words, but you absolutely can “show.” Least some people can. He can (and could.)

…And in case you’d ever doubted it…there was his gorgeous, human, wonderfully truthful without being overly sentimental Norman in, “On Golden Pond.”

…He is (and was), one of the greats. The greatest of them. You may have never heard his name, but you should. You may have never seen his work, but you ought to have. He would have taught you so much. He did, me. (And likely hundreds and hundreds of others.)

…Not just “how to be an actor” either. Not only lessons an actor could watch and mentally note for use later down the pike…when…IF… we were (or are) ever so lucky to have the talent and to have gained the access to perform the kinds of roles he did. I mean: just even as a “human.”

Human lessons.

…You know, the kind of things that “dad” and “granddads” are SUPPOSED to do.

…And his last one, for us…on a stage. The last one he took his bow from at large from here in the Pacific NW…was how to face age, and illness, and loss with dignity…with humor…with devotion…with love…with respect.

I’ve always said (and always will) he was one hell of an actor. But I think maybe he cheated a bit on that one. I think, more often then not, he supported that character with his own personal viewpoint and wit and sass. His own brand of “He-ness.”

A giant has passed our way, friends. He lit a lot of fires on his journey, and I am one of them. You might be too. And tonight I’d just like to raise a toast to my (and our) good friend, and head-of-the-family, as we know it…with thanks.

To the great Clark Maffitt.

Sincerely,

One of your many, many friends and fans,

~D

Great Actingness

13 Mar

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I dunno if this happens with every profession, but “acting” I think gets a shittier rap than it should.

…Almost all you see about it are the glories and pitfalls…not the grunt work. Celebrity is great and all…awards are fantastic…excess, alcoholism, bitch-fights, and drug abuse are our biggest downfall…but the media has pushed these things so heavy to the forefront, as to soil the reputation of what we actually do out there in the world with our work, by and large.

This is an honored profession. It is an esteemed collective. It is a group of individuals, striving to show and share the human experience, broaden the brotherhood, celebrate our uniqueness, crossing age, race, sex, politics, religion…it provides another point of view, educates, enlightens, and broadens our horizons. It is a window looking into the best and worst of us, to study in hopes of understanding and relating to one another better tomorrow than we did yesterday, and last year, and 500 before that.

What we do (if we are intent to do it with serious ethic and art, not just for the bucks and golden statues), is an honor of trust. We are the mirror of the world and all it’s dark, bright, horrible, beautiful, terrifying, delightful places. And that, I think, is why we are so hungry to watch and seek and find new mentors from other people’s work. It is why we hold viciously intense emotional relationships with people we’ve known for two months time and might not even see again for fifteen years.

…It is why you can have an enormous amount of pride in another person’s drop-dead-gorgeous performance, whether you’ve met them or not…like it is a personal achievement of your own.

…Because it sort of is.

Great acting makes the world of “other” fall away. When you get sucked into a performance, it becomes a personal experience between you and the actors involved. They are peeling back and showing something naked and vulnerable to you…no half way…no safety net…without knowing how you will react to it, if you will honor it, spit on it, roll your eyes at it, get angry about it, hate them, or want to ravish them for it. It’s a hell of a trust exercise, I gotta tell yuh…and the success rate, even on an Award-winning-everything performance, will never be 100%.

…Because art is in the eye of the beholder, and what speaks to some might not to others.

…But when a performer sees another performer being brave…being honest, and naked and real. When it makes you feel embarrassed for watching, as if you’ve crossed a line that courtesy tells you is too far…when you are shown something that heaves your guts in empathy, or pity, or disgust…when it isn’t pretty, but somehow beautiful with the perfection of reflection on our imperfections, as “people”…it becomes almost a personal triumph of your own as WELL as whoever the hell just did that scene in front of you.

Because you KNOW what that kind of thing takes.

You’ve had to go there too.

…It isn’t about comparing your talents, it’s about embracing the fact that this is “family”…that person is your acting-brother-or-sister. This is OUR TEAM. And holy shit, did you just see what they did??!?!?!

I think this “pride”…or whatever you wanna call it…is in some part based on that familial sense of “we” and “us” that the acting community shares. It’s ties go deeper and get stronger if it is in regards to someone you have literally sweat and toiled with before, or have mentored personally, or have considered a mentor to yourself. But, these people do not need to even be aware of their personal link with you…they may have never met you…it doesn’t matter. If you have become invested in their art personally, then you take their hits and misses like a silent partner in crime…and you are one, because as everyone knows, the audience is the final cast member to everything we do. Whether they become invested and come along on the journey or not, has a huge baring in what our work will achieve.

When I see a performance that really, really arrests me…it becomes more than just an “entertainment.” If it has totally side-swiped my emotions, it becomes a literal part of me. A study piece. I will hold onto it. I will own it. I will make use of it, in some way, at some point, in my own work…it will live with me…in my tool kit of experience I’m constantly adding to.

…Someday, I will be faced with a moment, a line, a scene and in my brain I will think, “This is too much, I don’t know how to achieve all this. How can anybody go this far into the black hole of this character, and still retain a sense of self at the end of the day?”

…And I will open my toolkit, and take out a performance I have seen and say, “That’s how. Right there. You just become brave as fuck…like them…and do it.”

Last night I was up till 2:30 am watching a performance just like that.

Twice in fact.

…And it’s mine now. I own it: the lessons that come with it, and the pride in a sister-performer-teacher, who was balls-out beautifully brave enough to create it.

…Makes me feel “our team” just won a hell of a prize-fight.

…Makes me just itch to put it to use in my own right.

…Makes me proud to be a part of the family.

All good things ūüôā

~D

Indiscreet Ink – Week 5

13 Sep

This week’s prompt was folded into the literal building of the piece , as well as theme suggestion.¬†

…More or less an essay of sorts.

A nod to our teachers.

***Read this week’s writing blog here***

~D

The Trifecta

11 May

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Have been spending quality time studying some lovely Aussies of late.

…Mostly their English works, of course.

The theme is by accident, not design. 

…Have been indulging in “An Idea Husband” where Cate Blanchett serves up a steady dose of dignity and propriety, while playing with Wilde’s words like the pro she is.¬† Followed by a Frances O’Connor kick…because she was such a delicious Gwendolen herself, and though I refuse to watch her working at it (for my own good), I can watch her natural play and ease and bite in other pieces, guilt-free.¬† So I do.¬†

…”Mr. Selfridge”, “Iron Jawed Angels,” Mdm. Bovary,” and currently: “Mansfield Park.”

Every actor has their “forte,” no matter how eclectic their works.¬†

Blanchett was born with the baring of a queen, a woman with insane amounts of strength and power.¬† Quite smartly, she’s played them frequently.¬† With command and elegance and unquestioning authority.¬†

…Very much a Gwendolen trademark, and I will borrow from it liberally, thank you.

Meanwhile, O’Connor nearly explodes with her inward eagerness to explore possibilities.¬† She manages to achieve a frequent feeling as if she is somehow cooking over a slow flame, bringing an intriguing energy, constantly drawing your eye to even her smallest choices.

…If you’re unfamiliar with her, she might be an amalgamation of a Kate Winslet and Jennifer Ehle…I’d say.¬† Though, Kate at her neutral is more explosive and raw, and Jennifer (only the best Lizzy Bennet of all time): more dimply with blatant laughter in her voice.

In the end: I defy anyone to out-English these Aussie ladies.¬† They absolutely own it…giving me two sides of excellent modeling to work from…though I am still at quest for a final third.¬†

From Cate: That deeply-cut and cultured dignity…at the very height of “womanity.”¬† From Frances: That deliciously naughty period-specifc nature of being up to no good and being quite good at it.

…What I need next, is my Farce-queen.

We are pressing the limits of our design, up to the absolute edges of sex and comedy…farce being my least experienced skill, for sheer lack of practice after¬† doing decades of drama, after drama, after drama.

I have a wealth of teachers at my disposal, but have yet to pick the athletically-comedic poster-girl, that will complete my team of artistic direction for planting Gwendolen firmly where she should be.

…Have found the voice.¬†

…Have found the still postures and posings.

…Still exploring the confines and explosions of her sexual nature.

…Not even begun on the boundaries of the “ridiculous.”

I need to find my missing teacher.

…So specific.¬†

None of the screwball comedic ladies of the 30’s will work.¬† It requires more dignity. Maybe a Myrna Loy/Nora Charles vibe?

…Ultimately, I want an almost theatrical vastness and presentation. Not “farce” so much as “grandness.”¬† (Which is different.) Rooted in seriousness, that is funny only because she takes it so seriously. As if she’s seen twenty-too-many three-act love stories on stage, and very much fancies herself as playing the heroine in real life.

…Like a silent movie.

Yes!

That’s what I need!!

I’m not going back far enough!

Time to pull out and play with some Gish and Garbo I think.

Garbo.

…Ohh…..Garbo.¬†

Fuck. Yes.

Totally deliberate.  Completely serious, always with life-and-death consequences. Sexual vibe in spades.  Fantastic body posture usage and expression when words are not enough.

BAM!

Two Aussies, and a Swede walk into a bar, and: My new English trifecta is born.

…Study blogging narration saves us again!

Woop!

~D

Some Quality Stalking Time

22 Oct

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Went on another stalking bender this weekend, during my down time on the couch with a heating pad plopped on my guts.

…It’s one of my all-time favorite things to do, and is usually accomplished in short blips as needed, unless I’m laid out for a significant amount of time and happen to be watching something that reminds me that Actors are fucking amazing human talent-Gods of mad skillz.¬† (Least, the ones I follow are.)¬† So while their super, amazing, talents played in serial episodes of yay on my TV, I got out the tablet and followed some of my current craze-crushes to see what they’ve been up to of late.¬† And because I feel you should be aware of these people (who are not necessarily really well-known “A-listers — though they SHOULD be), I will be including them in today’s blog as a special appreciation day to “That One Dude.”

…”That One Dude” is the known face, but often nameless actor (and by “Actor” I mean “Actress” too…I just prefer it as a general term.)

…So here are my peeps, (in no particular order), currently being stalked. (All English, of course, cuz they’re who I haunt the most.)¬† Some names better known than others:

Julia Sawalha – You’d know her best from Ab-Fab. I love her best from her period works. After a ten year acting hiatus she popped back onto the screen in literary-plums Cranford, and Lark Rise to Candleford, and after the the 20th Anniversary Ab-Fab specials is now sitting on two new series’ from which she has yet to pick. Being kinda the shit at the moment, she is well-open to be choosy, and cuz she’s got killer taste and obviously a good sense of self-humor, am totally chomping at the bit right now to see what she does next.

Imelda Staunton – RADA Grad, and one the best Harry Potter villains, ever. She’s of the original company much used in Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson works like Peter’s Friends, Much Ado, and Sense and Sensibility. Her acting chops are enormous (Vera Drake) no matter how diminutive the package it comes in (she’s only 5′ tall.) And she’s a major fav for her overt Character Actor-ness, sucking your eyes into her direction absolutely every time she pops onto the screen. Next up on her docket: a dark retelling of Sleeping Beauty from Maleficent’s POV.

Brendan Coyle – Right now, you know him as “Mr. Bates,” hailing from Downton Abbey fame, but I know him first from Gaskell’s North and South (also sporting Richard Armitage, in his break-through role.) A solid Actor who often shoulders characters in the working man’s fight, with political morals, (which is a thing I could always take a little more of, coming from a TV screen, thank you very much.) Next up, more Mr. Bates-ness, and cop drama Sunshine.

Lisa Dillon – RADA alum, and primarily a Theatre baby. She was part of the “who the fuck wasn’t in this series,” Cranford, but spends the bulk of her time on The Boards, with a whole slew of Acting Awards already pocketed. (She also wow’d the tabloids with her 43-year-difference romance with Patrick Stewart — hello, Captain!) She’s an acting heavy of her own accord though, with huge range and some awesome reviews for Ibsen’s “Master Builder” (with Stewart), Noel Coward’s “Present Laughter” and “Private Lives,” Fedeau’s “Flea in Her Ear,” Eldridge’s “Knot of the Heart,” Tennessee Williams’ “Period of Adjustment,” and Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew”…to name a few. The woman is only a year older than me, and has such freak credits, that if she stopped acting tomorrow, she would STILL have had a better career than anyone outside of maybe Meryl Streep. True story. With the works she tackles, she’s definitely on my list of people to see on stage, next time I travel London way.

Derek Jacobi – On my trip to London, I missed seeing his Malvolio in “Twelfth Night,” by one week, and it totally tore me up to realize it. He’s a fav from back when I first started following the Branagh ensemble works like Dead Again, Henry V, and Hamlet et al. You’ll prob’ly remember him from Altman’s Gosford Park, or I, Claudius. As one of the co-founders of The National Theatre (with Laurence Olivier), and one of the RSC’s most elite, he’s shared stages with everyone from Ian McKellen, Peter O’Tool, and Richard Burton, to John Gielgud and Wendy Hiller. A major contributor to Branagh’s education when he first began, he works on with the equal force of Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, as war horses of eternal awesomeness. It is always good class time, well spent, to watch him at work…so I’m always on board whenever his name hits a cast list. Just closed in Bernard Shaw’s “Heartbreak House,” at the Chinchester Fest Theatre. Next up, some screen time with Emma Thompson, David Suchet, Robbie Coltrane and Julie Walters in bio pic, Effie…followed by period piece Of Corset’s Mine, and a Shakespeare Uncovered PBS special, as he performs and coaches a session at the Globe on “Richard II.”

Emma Fielding – Another Theatre mainstay, you’d prob’ly only recognize from the Cranford series. She does audio book work on the classics, and had also taken a turn winning Theatre awards for Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” (on Broadway), as well as Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia”, Moliere’s “School for Wives,” and John Ford’s “Broken Heart.” Among her other works: Viola in “Twelfth Night,” Lady Mackers in “Macbeth,” and title role in “Jane Eyre.” She just finished the UK Theatre tour of “The King’s Speech,” (as Queen Elizabeth), and Hesione in “Heartbreak House” with Derek Jacobi…so it’s too bad she has no range or anything…which is good to be mindful of and learn from when archetype boxes start hemming you in. For the life of me, I can’t find what’s next on her docket, but I’m sure as hell gonna see that woman on stage at some point, so need to figure it out within the next year…when hopefully I’ll be back overseas again.

Hugh Bonneville – Lord Grantham to most, this Downton Abbey alum goes back to Notting Hill, and Mansfield Park, for me. Read theology at Cambridge, and a graduate of Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, he is primarily a character actor on screen, always a comfortable, solid edition to any scene he’s in, without needing to trapes out a bunch of bells and whistles to achieve it. On stage, he gets to strut more in the spotlight…his first gig as Ralph Fiennes’ understudy in “Midsummer,” got him picked up immediatly with seasons spent at The National, and RSC, and has a huge reel of credits including “June and the Paycock,” “School for Scandal,” “The Alchemist,” “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” and played Laertes to Branagh’s “Hamlet” at the RSC. Also a Patron of children’s charities, he’s just an all-round awesome fella, which comes through in every print interview he gives. Totally on my list of favs, and people to watch at work live, oneday. Next up: More Downton, and Sci-Fi/History mix Return of Captain Nemo, with Captain America’s Haley Atwell.

Claudie Blakley – First fell hard for Claudie in Gosford Park, with her tiny details of awkwardness and heartbreak making a totally stand-out performance to me as an (at the time) totally unknown, on a screen full of giants. She won me over further with her ensemble work in Cranford and Lark Rise as well, never hogging a scene, always eager to play with her partners and match them and challenge them with continual, solid choices. She’s the kinda person I’d wanna share a stage with every day. A grad of Judi Dench’s Alma Mater, London Central School of Speech and Drama, I will follow her anywhere, on any future project she chooses, because one can never learn enough ways to share a scene, own a character, and exude consistent excellence as a specialist in ensemble working. Most recently in National Theatre Live productions of “Cherry Orchard” and “Comedy of Errors,” and “Macbeth,” at the Sheffield Crucible.

Victoria Hamilton – I did a whole freakin’ blog on her once, cuz the woman is fierce, and we fill the same esthetic theatre shoes including height and general look and build, so she’s an ideal role model to watch and learn from in dynamics, role choice and general chutzpah. A LAMDA grad, she’s swept awards for nearly every theatre role she’s done, from “A Day in the Death of Joe Egg” (which you can watch it here, in total. And yes, that’s Eddie Izzard as her co-star.), to “As You Like It,” and “The Master Builder.” She was Viola in the Derek Jacobi “Twelfth Night,” and closed in June with glowing reviews for Mike Bartlett’s “Love, Love, Love.” You might know her on film from the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice, or Lark Rise, or Mansfield Park. I know her as my more awesome Doppelganger. Either way, she’s always on my list of look-ups, and will always play a part in ticket purchasing, whenever I’m abroad.

…The list went on from there, going on until the wee smalls of the morning. Because I could.

…It’s a fetish that always makes me eager to get to work and learn things, and do them better than the last time. They’re my teachers, these people…as much as the ones I currently (and in the past) have shared the stage with. And at some point, I’m gonna see ’em all live, from a theatre seat, like I did with Dench.

One of my many goals.

…You should cue up and watch some of their work, if you haven’t already, and see what all the fuss is about.

~D

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