THIS IS ALVINA KRAUSE HERSELF.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Ensemble acting at its very best: we leave the theatre thinking not of individual acting honors, but rather of what will happen to these five people, or why it happened, of questions raised; why can’t we come together in a home; Mother, I want to know you, bless and be blest; lines, ideas, relationships fill our minds. Even now it is Clive, Walther, Stanley, Louise, Pam I think of, not the actors who played the roles. This is what great acting must be: involvement in a whole, in caring about a whole, in total response to others, to situation. These five actors know their techniques well enough they could forget them. Rarely did they fail to punch a line, rarely did they fail to lift words, never did they have to be reminded of timing: their outer techniques were used unconsciously, and the inner techniques were released without effort, without pressure.
The unspoken drama is a poignant memory -- as it should be in true realism. What happened to these people, within these people, between these people, is unforgettable drama. This was the art of realism at its best: truth, unmistakable truth, absolutely luminous through form, through clarity. Where imagination took over, where personal experience contributed, where author’s stimulation influenced, it is impossible to know, nor is it necessary. The actors achieved the total assimilation which stamps acting with the mark of truth. However the actors arrived at the goal does not matter; they achieved truth, and to a superlative degree.
The play is a good play, tightly written, with inevitable dialogue, but these actors made it almost a great play ranking with Chekhov and Ibsen in illumination of human behavior. This is a fine example of what I mean when I say acting must illuminate a script. We not only understood the present dilemma, but these characters had perspective: they emerged from a past, from a background, and we are concerned about their future: fully developed, many dimensional characters. The subtle relationships, the old pattern, the new threads woven into the old pattern -- all unspoken. Pam and Clive: beautiful interplay telling whole chapters in a single moment. Clive and Walther: needs, longings, unfulfilled, half expressed. Pam and father, Pam and mother: a little moment left incomplete, saying what words can never say -- a child about to become adult, a difficult role to play without tricks as Ellen did, so incredibly true to childhood, yet illuminating childhood.
These actors created off-stage lives for these people: Walther in his room, Walther teaching Pam, Walther probing and identifying English flowers; Stanley with the Bentons; Stanley in his factor’s; Clive at Cambridge talking his language; Louise, anywhere, from kitchen to modern art exhibition, reaching, searching.
Nancy did an amazing illumination of the frustrations of this middle-aged, grasping, unhappy woman; so illuminating that in the end we could not condemn, only pity. Nancy has an amazing grasp of human motivations, amazing insight into inner conflicts. In this case she played the role of a woman she could not possibly admire, yet she played her with an inner conviction, an inner fire that made her every action completely credible. Does Nancy “live” in the role or “act” the role? She is such a superlative artist and person that one will never know.
Stanley was a fully dimensional human being as Bob played him: not to be approved, nor yet condemned, a man destroyed as Clive described him. Bob has learned to become more involved in the stream of the action that I have known him to be. Less -- much less -- in fact, almost no evidence of trying to respond, trying to be involved. He let things happen to him, let forces play upon him -- bravo!
As in Dinner with the Family, Frank’s artistry comes to its height in the simplicity and ease with which he plays his sustained scenes. He seems to bring to such moments whole lifetimes of thought and experience, all of which add up to this present moment when words must be spoken. The words come as understatements of all that cannot be said, and they are given impetus by the immediate need to communicate, the immediate deep concern.
Of Clive what can one say except that here was a blend of reality and art we seldom see. Richard’s work is governed by a fine sense of degree: it is passion and it is art. since I catch no signs of manipulation, I an only believe he has a fine organic sense of degree of passion to release, of degree of art to restrain. One always feels there is more, much more, unreleased, that he always knows where and when to draw in the reins. That fine balance of artistry and truth is rare. It was a strong unifying force in this production. It radiated in all directions -- on stage and in the auditorium. It filled the place with importance; the importance of the drama, of the people in the drama -- the importance of caring: it touched and reached everyone, on and off stage. It was a vital force in ensemble acting at its best.
Sunday, January 13, 2013
You achieved success -- Tremendous success. But at what a cost! And so unnecessary a cost! A cost due to the fact that you ignored -- even fought -- what you knew about Shakespeare. You brought your fuddy-duddy High School Ideas; you were like stupid people who do not go to Shakespeare, or who go unwilling, because he may be Shakespeare but he is stuff. Thank God we sent them away as Elizabethan audiences must have left: laughing, chuckling, even punching each other in the ribs still, smiling at each other and at strangers, amazed, not quite believing: in love with the theatre and a new playwright. That’s what Shakespeare will always be if you trust him, give him half a chance. In the future, avoid mistakes by remember that.
Shakespeare is a master showman. As Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kaufman and Hart know what people like, so Shakespeare knows how to appeal to everyone from groundlings to Francis Bacon. And he has endured for 300 years -- we don’t know that our contemporaries can match that record in popular appeal. You may trust his sense of showmanship: he has something for all: that love of clowning, love of magic, that romanticism which pushes out the boundaries of the world in all directions to the limits of the imagination. In short, that love of real theatre, innate whether you are eight or eighty. You achieved this eventually; who laughed loudest, children or their parents? who were the most enchanted, the eight-year-olds or the bankers, doctors, lawyers? Even the teenagers succumbed completely to this master showman, once you stripped him of the trappings of “idolatry” which Shaw rails against. Wednesday night you were still shackled by ingrained conventions or fears or unbelief. Thank God you knocked them into a cocked hat and abandoned them forever -- I hope! Begin your next production with the knowledge that Shakespeare is a showman. Trust him! Tragedy or comedy he writes for the theatre and for red-blooded people who love theatre whether they know it or not. What a pity our M.N.D. cannot tour the country!
Elements of Shakespeare’s good showmanship to be embodied by actors: Exuberance, love of living, vitality. These can be expressed only by totality of body activity, by strong, free, follow-through movement. Manuella developed great beauty of movement, complete follow-through grace without affectation, a joy to watch. Kate is full of Shakespearean love of life; she makes the curved line of movement realism springing from space and garments and inner spirit. Barbara is on her way to this achievement. Exits and entrances were beautiful but she has not yet made it integral enough to follow through continuously: still lets movement break at the waist line. Vance did a nice job of sending us soaring into the sky, off the earth. Kovara has a marvelously flexible body and uses it with imagination and wonderfully stimulating effect on the audience. The empathic response of the audience is part of the total delight in Shakespeare as unconsciously they run, leap, dance, spin, with the movement onstage. If that movement is right, free, spontaneous and vigorous. Frank Chew has not yet quite achieved it. He has the idea, made progress, but it has not yet become integral, organic, total. In walking he does not stride from the hips with a strong pull and a strong push off. Work on leaps that turn into leaps, turns. Work with Tom while you have the chance.
Titania and the fairies are delightful in movement: had style without being “stylized,” freedom in form, amazing in variety of movement within a pattern, in individuality within a group. Nancy’s frustrated “Moth” was particularly fascinating in her suspended reversals: Susan was excellent in contrast in directness of attack, in certainty. Ellen’s wind-tossed gyrating “Pease Blossom” could fill a stage with movement all by herself.
Costumes, movement, used with imagination, filled the stage with enchantment and the auditorium, too. It seemed they might flood down from the fairy ring above the audience. The total movement of the production corroborated Tom’s scenic idea and seemed to extend out and over the footlights: amazing empathy. Remember it always: Shakespeare has no boundaries, no proscenium limits, no ceiling; thoughts and feelings and music overflow the stage, bounded only by horizon and sky. You captured this admirably. Next time don’t work so hard at it. Another element of Shakespeare’s showmanship is: something for all. He reaches the groundling in us, the aristocrat in us, the poets, the philosophers. Trust him: every sequence has its individual appeal and note that none excludes the other: Theseus has a Shakespeare mind in a huntsman’s body. Frank was doing pretty well with the mental philosophy. His tongue needs more music: tongue and body more fluidity. Lovers, very romantic loves, indulge in good vigorous name-calling on an earthy level.
Among the dumb, inarticulate mechanics is Bottom: man with a dawning imagination; man growing to articulateness; man with creative impulses and instincts. Bob wasn’t quite able to realize the fullness of Bottom’s capacities. He came closest in rehearsal when he himself felt chills at Man’s capacity to dream. His was a fine Bottom: believable, understandable; the actor in every human being responded totally to him. We laughed at him with great affection.
Now the artisans realize how stupid they were to make clowning so difficult, there is little to say about them. They became real clowns once they stopped being afraid to play the situation. Each became endowed with a single dominant character trait; armed with the right character prop each responded to the realities of the situation. Striglos’ playing of the scroll Saturday night was masterly clowning, improvised, yet within a framework. Keep focus on the main action and let the situation play is a sound rule. Marc has an especially alert mind ready to respond, and this is the basis for the improvisatory quality all comedy must have. Striglos would not trust his mind to respond, shut off responses when they came. All good comedians are quick on the trigger, they have no fears, they lay themselves wide open to stimuli, knowing that they can and will respond. Once Bill started doing this, he was excellent. Now he could play it for weeks and it would be fresh and stimulating.
Phil was slow getting the image of his role although Shakespeare indicates it clearly, “ling” meaning little, little tailor not quite all there. Phil’s tendency is to turn his roles into himself -- perhaps not consciously. The difficulty comes when pieces won’t fit together -- when Phil and the character are at war with each other. In the end, in this case pieces dovetailed pretty well. Particularly in the final scenes, playing “Moonshine,” he was effective in his clowning in character. In earlier scenes, character could have been more solid.
Chris’ best performance was Friday, I think. His well-planned business came off as improvisation -- it seemed to happen spontaneously. Saturday night was still very good, but reactions were not so spontaneous, so alert as before. Chris did a good job of playing opposites; he found them early and he put them in play, let them develop. Chamont had difficulty in reading the one level of concentration state. In the moments when he did, he did some good clowning. At other moments, an intelligence entered in, an amusement, which did not quite fit the stolid dumbness of Snug, who is an opposite, absolute opposite, to Bottom who could even roar with imagination. Wiping fuzz out of his mouth was a nice imaginative pieces of business. A little note of fastidiousness entered in, however, which made it less incongruous than it might have been. All in all the artisans wound up as a superlative group of clowns, playing logically and realistically and brilliantly. Don’t make it so hard next time.
In the magic of words Shakespeare is a showman, too. He reaches every ear. For those who love beautiful verse, there are the Oberon passages: beautiful in sound and in imagery. Vance spoke them well. He is a little afraid of the rhymes -- unnecessarily so. His transitions from the sustained note to the didactic command could sometimes be sharper -- short sounds made more brittle and sharp, but Vance speaks to both ear and mind very well indeed. It’s in sharp distinction of long and short sounds that you all need work. You have begun to sustain full vowels pretty well, but your short vowels are not well articulated and consonants are not definite, do not divide syllables crisply. this was Niki’s trouble. She was beginning to achieve it. Titania is a spitfire; this quality is expressed vividly and most articulately in language. To add vowel effusions to dramatic outpourings adulterates the meaning. Always start with the words as written, speak them as they are written; they give you the key to character. Titania spits and hisses: consonants are crisp, vowels are short. Niki’s histrionic gift took her way from the words for a long time. In the end she came to a vivid Titania, almost as Shakespeare created. But train your ear to hear sounds accurately, and your tongue to articulate them swiftly, deftly and with brilliance. Ellen needs the same sort of work. Her fairy was perfect in every way but vocal articulation.
This, too, is the one flaw in Kovara’s Puck: clarity of short sounds and consonants in the swift passages: tip of the tongue articulation. In all other respects he created a Puck long to remember. Puck, the mischief maker, was brilliant comedy: alert mind functioning in an expressive body; the mystic elements were not quite so completely assimilated, but they were present and they touched us. We believed in Puck. Kate has an excellent sense of language. She still needs to balance resonances when she goes into the upper register; her high tones get thin. Sing up the scale, speak up the scale, keeping tones supported as you go up. Kate’s Shakespeare is excellent kinesthetically. Barbara needs more voice work. She has a splendid comic sense and brilliant grasp of content. Friday was her best performance because vocally the truest. She made the mistake of starting with effusive artificial tones -- why, I don’t know. Shakespeare uses such effects only for people he does not like -- Le Beau, of “As You Like It.” In all romantic characters play against the effusive.
As Barbara discovered, Helena uses concrete words for concrete images, and her mind is most logical and realistic. When Barbara began to play these aspects, comedy developed. She is still handicapped by an upper register which lacks support of open throat resonance. She needs to open her mouth two fingers in width, in order that vowels may be full and open. Work on short distinct S sounds. Acquire speech that is adequate to express your real abilities, Barbara. Work with Judy -- both of you will profit by it. Judy’s Hippolyta was stunning, and the low full voice was most effective. it was not totally assimilated, not completely easy and “natural” but it is good progress. Keep that fullness in all registers now. Reimold’s bright tones are good to hear always; he needs to work for freer expression. It will relieve tensions. Mike makes a good Elizabethan: speaks the language with ease, plays with ease.
“MUCH ADO” is verbal wit. Work on your diction and trust Shakespear. You are actors he would like.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
In our lifetimes -- long or short -- we can scarcely say we know ourselves. We may explain our behavior in various ways, we may seek reasons, find excuses, but rare is the person who can truthfully say: “I know myself.” If years of living with ourselves provides only partial answers to who or what or why am I, how can you dare to become someone else, in the space of a few weeks, a few hours, with only a few lines, a few words as ground work. Yet several of you seem to believe that you can create character, that you can become another human being by mouthing words and moving according to directions, that personality goes no deeper than the words we speak and moving on cue. Such egotism can well be the death of an actor for it will lead to shallow, superficial, one-dimensional, character creations: bastards -- neither you nor yet anyone else, illegitimates. A dramatist can only give you the words his people speak, a descriptive phrase or two about behavior and from this an actor’s mind takes off to discover what pattern of living has produced this man, this woman. We are the sum total of our experiences.
To create you, an actor would need to know what experiences have made you what you are, how you met those experiences, how you adjusted to them, or failed to adjust, etc. . .etc. . . ad infinitum. the next time you are tempted to go into rehearsal not even knowing the lines to be spoken, much less the years of living which have made these lines inevitable at this moment, what era had put its stamp on personality, what the basic issues of that life are within the author’s framework, ask yourself what an actor would have to know to experience, to understand, if he were to play you in a play about your life. The finest actors, those who rise above the ordinary, the mediocre, the average, those who have manifestations of greatness, are people of humility before the challenge of creating human beings. Even with a background of percentage experience, of reading, of study, of observation, of thought, the task is a colossal one not to be undertaken casually as one tries on new garments, rejecting until an exterior is found pleasing. (Even a coat has to be worn months before it is you!)
The truth is -- the truth we have avoided for three weeks -- that you came to Barrie empty. Emptiness was the answer to all my questions. Actors -- and director -- empty, hollow. Nothing to touch off, nothing to ignite. You can fill an empty bottle with some kind of liquid, but how can you fill an empty actor -- twenty of them -- with the substance that is the life of the character, the spine of personality? Imagination can only work with realities: images, perceptions, stored-up materials; you can’t start a fire with nothing at all. A director can work only with what an actor brings. Next time you try out for a play, start rehearsals, ask what do you bring? What do you have the capacity to bring?
The characters of “Crichton” are not complex: no strange deviations, no neuroses to untangle, no mixture of racial characteristics, of economic involvements: just English men and women with recognizable British traits: but human beings who think and feel and have inner lives of their own, different from all other inner lives. Every character you play must have a subtext, a line of thinking behind all behavior. There is a line of thought that goes into words, another that is never expressed in words, another that will be expressed in the future. These must be present all of the time. With the exception of Tweeny, Agatha and Kitty and occasionally Crichton, there was no evidence of levels except the one that went into words. And so you were shells of people, exteriors of something that had no perspective, flat one-dimensional pictures that cannot exist offstage. If roles are well-played, we go away expecting to meet these people again, on the street. We think of them living their lives continually. Tweeny is the only person I feel I know, that I could meet in England, chat with if I do meet her. Crichton, the butler, I might know; Crichton the man, no. He never came into real being. He spoke the ideas of Barrie, but he was not the man Barrie created: he remained an actor playing a role.
Techniques finally pulled the show together but your techniques are shaky and techniques will never produce Barrie’s people. Of course, you had difficulty topping and linking because you had no thoughts which were linking and flowing. Of course you had difficulty with comedy because comedy springs from so many levels of thought and feeling. The Crichton-Polly love scene, the Brocky-Mary confession could not possibly come off because the thinking was shallow, was one level -- nothing amusing, or moving could happen.
Judy learned a great deal about acting, but she is not yet able to create character. Mary’s world had not come into actuality for her. Judy knew about this world, she did not exist in it; she did not follow the B43 process of character creation. And so, my after-image of Mary is a beautiful girl, and then a beautiful Tom-boy, and no more. Bob knew Crichton and Barrie well, but he did not become the man; the characteristics he knew about, he did not convert into internal thinking patterns, he did not assimilate these characteristic emotions. The last stage of the character creation process never happened: belief in the whole. And so the end of Sc.3 and Sc.4 were stage devices that left us cold. No tug at the heart strings as Barrie should have.
Jeff’s Brocky was totally empty. Jeff apparently has stored up nothing from which he could work -- no ideas, no impressions, no images to use as building material. A director cannot provide you with an inner store -- he can only touch off what is there. Even the outer resemblance was wrong and meaningless. Jeff looked shoddy -- it wasn’t the clothes his wore, it was his failure to create the Britisher’s attitude toward clothing and appearance. A Britisher dresses for dinner even in the jungle -- whether he has a change of clothing or not: he dresses for dinner. It’s an ingrained way of living, a way of thinking that your shell of a Brocklehurst did not possess: a fastidiousness toward self and clothing and the world: he could appear to be dressed for dinner in rags as Charlie Chaplin’s tramp in tattered, oversized garments had -- the fastidious sense of gentlemen. These qualities are expressed by exterior patterns of behavior, but they spring from within. Jeff -- and others -- tried for the exteriors, particularly of speech, with no idea of the cause, the motivation for the exterior. And it came out as ridiculous posturing and made the 4th scene completely impossible to do. Jeff, before you can act, you will need to do much reading, observing, thinking, and understanding on the subject of human beings and why they are as they are, do the things they do, say the things they do. Store up materials which you and a director can use.
For instance, Vance’s entrance in Sc. 1 -- a brief moment, but a person was created: out of a Dickens novel or film. It wasn’t what he did -- you all brought on “bits,” but his bit cast a light on a whole below-stairs way of life. I don’t know what Vance drew upon: reading or observation or imagination -- but it was a second of reality. Susan Houstle created a definite image, too. She did not develop it sufficiently, but it had a reality which took stage. The rest of you had to be satisfied with “bits” which directors in turn had to settle for in order to save the act from boredom. The three maids would have been fired from a British household -- study your British movies.
Ernest, too, was made up of generalities, mannerisms, vocal sounds which had no roots. I fear Phil tends to work from generalities -- as do many of you. You must be able to see the person you play projected like a movie before you. You should be able not only to see him there, but to hear him and understand why he is as he is. If you can’t do this, you are playing from emptiness and from emptiness comes emptiness. Effective techniques may partially conceal the vacuum, but we discovered that your techniques are extremely shaky. Bright tones were a necessity to cover other lacks, but Phil and others cannot produce them consistently. And Phil -- and others -- have not yet learned how to terminate a sequence with a flat, tossed-off understatement.
Chris did a good job of most of his pointing and a good job of suggesting the healthy, outdoor, cricket-playing curate.
Reimold is at the unhappy stage of trying to learn inner and outer techniques all in one lump. He knows what he wants to do with the outer techniques, but since he has not yet assimilated them, he works too hard at it and evidence of work always ruins the effect. For the inner ones: he thinks of how Lord Loam looks at things, of what he does and says instead of letting Lord Loam taking possession of Reimold to the extent Reimold never had to think of what to say or do, that an inner line of action is set up, thought occur involuntarily; they flow into words and action. It’s an unhappy, uncomfortable state to be in -- Judy is there, too -- to know enough to know that you are wrong but not yet to have discovered the remedy -- which is not easy to give in one lesson: to see from the eyes and viewpoint of another person -- not to try to see, but to see, hear, respond. Not to try to respond in the manner of someone else, but simply to do it as you yourselves hear, see, smell, respond. Judy has B43 to draw upon; Rich will have to discover it, perhaps through watching others.
Marianne was effective because she is vital and her techniques are fairly secure -- not quite secure enough to conceal the fact that Marianne did not really know why this woman is as she is. Consequently there are moments that went dead because there was little inner triple-thinking. You have the capacity for illuminating character, Marianne; don’t be content with shallowness even when it gets laughs.
Ellen has some good moments of double thinking. Her role needed heightening: it was too near the miniature stage when it should have been more than life-size. Kate was probably the most Barrie and the most British being on stage and she played with Barrie delight. She was British, she was also Barrie poking fun a little of the British.
Tweeny was perfection. I do not know what Nancy draws upon but you feel she has a whole treasure house of images stored up just waiting to be tapped. Words on a page, a director’s suggestion, and a whole new world opens. Note how secure Nancy was in her image of the role from the beginning. Visual, auditory, vocal, action images were concrete. It isn’t that she saw herself doing Tweeny: she saw/heard Tweeny so strongly that empathetically she had to become her. There was no fumbling in that role, no changing traits: she had her design, her blueprint. The role grew, developed as rehearsals progressed, as the situations developed, but the original conception was so true. Why? Because Nancy has stored up the materials with which imagination can work.
The next time you approach a play whose author you do not know, read other things he has written, read what has been written about him, discover the world he was writing about, find out why he was loved -- in short: identify with his people and his world. Every night we met people who had come to this one play of the whole season because they loved Barrie. Our audiences were amused and entertained, but they did not depart in that glow of delight which is J. M. Barrie.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
In all verse drama, meaning is conveyed through sound, through patterns of rhythms, of tones, of phrasing. A dramatist writes in verse because he has meanings to communicate above that which prose can convey. He plays upon our minds and hearts through implications and connections above and beyond the literal meaning of words. The people in verse drama are real, their emotions are real, the situations are real, but they are cast in a framework of sound, a melodic structure which evokes a super-meaning, more real that life -- the dramatist’s interpretation of life, the meaning of life as he sees it. Violate this verse structure and meaning is destroyed as a symphony can be mutilated by instruments that do not play together.
The actor who plays in verse drama must have sensibilities that are like a musician’s, tuned to vibrations of sound, of melody, of theme variations. His job may be more difficult than a musician’s for the sounds he speaks can not be scored as is a musical composition. He must have an innate -- or a cultivated -- sense of the time and tone values of the sound of words. As a musician reads half-notes, quarter notes, grace notes, etc. . . . as he plays them accurately on his instrument, so an actor must recognize and sense the true tone and combinations, for these are the basis of verse construction. Then he must have the musician’s sense of phrasing; the dramatist achieves this through his line-length structure; varied by caesuras, stops, half-stops, over-run lines, cadences that result from these subtleties of phrasing. And then, the actor must possess the instrument which will play these values truly. He may not be a piccolo when a bass viol is scored. The actor must be sharper than the musician because his ear, his musical sense, must tell him what is needed to balance sounds to make a perfect orchestration. This is why it was put in verse: to remove it from reality, to give it meaning above reality, aesthetic distance which makes it endurable for it is art. It has a living pulse beat which makes it something only verse and music can capture -- yet it soars above reality to the meaning of life.
Form is more real than reality. We achieved this admirably -- the agony, the torture, no matter how well played might have gripped and shocked the audience; it was, however, the music of the whole that kept those audiences silent and motionless. The company as a whole played as an orchestra. People who are particularly responsive to spoken music are Foral, McAndrew, Jefferis and Emery. The woman’s chorus did a fine piece of choral orchestration -- Kate seemed, with Tucker, to set the pace, rhythm and intensity. Those choral interludes, for all their vulgarity and harshness, were welcome releases, giving time to adjust, time to think. those who need to concentrate further on verse, on sound values, on sensitivity to variations on a theme are Chew, Pomerantz, Frankel in particular, and the Comforters, while they achieved eventually the blending and rhythm needed for their scene, need to make themselves more aware of basic rhythms. Learn to hear it when you read a scene. Become aware of vowel values and consonantal effects that set up the melody. Learn to hear the cadences set up the length of lines and the sounds which terminate lines. Then: develop voices.
Chew has made a slight beginning in that he can open up some good tones. Reimond has a basically good voice. Pomerantz, Frankel, Striglos, and Tavonatti need much more work -- basic voice exercise. Pomerantz and Frankel need ear training, too. They apparently cannot distinguish between major and minor notes, direct and indirect tones. All have made progress: learning economy, for one thing, is an advance. Pomerantz must learn to hear his monotone and hollow note. Then learn to listen to the speech of others: all qualities, all times and reproduce them. Frankel msut learn to receive from others and to return something to them. He had worked out very well exactly what he wanted to do, to say and how. And he was able to reproduce it consistently. Good! So far! There will be more spark in what he does if he did all this in response to the moment. His directing will improve, too, when he can touch off in actors the by-play that makes good theatre. The messenger scenes became very effective. Now work for the inner and outer technique that will make your next acting job easier.
Foral’s work grew steadily. It was good at N.U.; here it was superb. The role became his totally: assimilation of traits and of thinking was complete. He could be J.B. now in any circumstances. Further, it had grown in depth of comprehension. “Those actors knew what they were talking about: they understood,” said a university professor. “He was right,” another said. “MacLeish feels deeply on this subject, doesn’t he? He must have been compelled to write this.” Which means that we achieved the fourth dimension: the author’s concern. Tom has become a real actor: he should be able to take on any role fearlessly. He knows how to work, he has sensed what it means to identify: to give himself to the role and to the play without forcing the outcome.
Marianne’s work was beautiful. I can ask for nothing more: music, poetry, depth, significance -- all were there. Occasionally on the last two nights, a pause, a reaction. was played a fraction too long. You all must guard against becoming too relaxed. Sustain the dramatic pulse which is not merely life, but theatre. Fortunately, the play was so securely formed that the little lapses scarely marred it. But if you ever get in a long run, check on the length and vibrancy of your reactions.
Vance’s work gained in subtleties in undercurrents. He achieved durability of character: Nickles the actor and Satan both became comprehensible: disillusioned man and seeing-god became one. In N.Y. I often resented the triviality of the Satan scenes. They didn’t tie up. Vances does a splendid job of closing a scene in such a way that it says: “You wait. It’s not over. I’m not through.” Here I found the audience not only waiting for Satan’s response, but wanting it, needing it. He released one tension -- an emotional tension -- and set minds going, realizing. I believe he, with the rest of you, created a drama, not merely to feel about, but to think about and talk about.
The Thanksgiving scene stays in the memory -- as it should. Thanks to all participants. Special mention must be made of Ellen’s brilliant consistent playing of the Girl: hard, clear, packed with meaning. Brilliant playing against the emotion. Many of you can use this as a model for effective communication through a hard, metallic attack. You will all need it someday. Learn it now. The drama was made of moments like this, beautifully knit together.
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Anouilh comedy of wit. You admirably projected the Anouilh longing for a return to the lost innocence of youth in a sordid world which makes such a return impossible. The ending, as you played it -- and rightly -- was bittersweet. The hope, the longing, the desire to return, was there; the odds were high against it. The love scene, as you played it, was the most beautiful I have seen in a contemporary drama: beautiful because you did nothing but let the words go home, freighted with their implicit connotations for every individual listener. With no effort at all, you let Anouild voice his longing. if is beautifully written -- you were right to let it play itself, and so you achieved the appeal to both heart and head. You took every member of the audience off into a world which does not exist, or rarely exists, but which we all wish could exist, and what people thought and felt in that world was their own business. That they did think and feel was evident by the way time stopped in the auditorium -- everything stopped but the longing that this might be. Frank and Ellen played it with beauty, spoke it with the nuances of the flow of thought from moment to moment. This is the way Anouilh should be played. Remember it always. Giraudoux, too. The French dramatists write well; they articulate well both thought and feeling; trust their words, their images, their rhythm patterns; speak them well. There is no need for further dramatization. Only on Saturday night did you slip a little. You did not speak with such clarity as before; you did not intensify to the size of the house; you did not let Anouilh speak so clearly. It was still beautiful, but not as evocative as on previous nights; it was keyed too low. Even though a pianist is going to play a tender Chopin, his instrument is tuned to concert pitch. Your instruments, mind and body, were not tuned high enough.
Remember, all of you, that the drama began to take meaningful form when you all began to speak with French clarity, when your minds and tongues were alert enough to speak with wit. Whether characters are young, old, bitter, sweet, villainous, or what you will -- whether the emotions are tender, violent, sordid or sweet, they are manipulated by a dramatist of wit, and the lines they speak must be brilliantly vocalized. All French drama must have this quality. From Moliere on, no mugging, no gimmicks, no tricks pulled out of a director’s bag will work if actors cannot speak with brilliance, versatility, and flexibility.
Barbara sometimes obscured a word, held a pause long enough to lose electricity. Otherwise, her work, and her appearance, were stunning. She epitomized all that Georges had described. She built a splendid last act climax whose image held after she left the stage. We saw her in Christine’s room; her presence in her absence sustained the bitter note of the drama. Barbara created a force in a decadent world -- a winning force that makes one fear for the happiness of the young lovers.
Reimold wonderfully captured the decadence of the elderly who once were romantics, but sold out to indolence -- a parasite. Reimold could play well The Fighting Cock or Waltz of the Toreadors. He achieves that strange incongruous combination of vitality and ineffectuality which amuses and angers. He cannot talk about youth, but he has lost all sense of youth and innocence. I think Rich worried a little because he did not get laughs he may have expected. That may have been a compliment, for Rich epitomized so completely the opposite of the father Georges wanted, that we saw in him exactly what Anouilh wanted us to see: the decadence of a world that has lost, and can never return to, purity and innocence. Rich’s opening scene could have been keyed a bit higher.
Niki still needs to hold her dramatic flair in leash, but her Esme was a dark, unscrupulous force, a realistic appraisal, a relentless evaluation. Susan’s Proprietress was still in the process of evolution, but was a most believable person. Susan can continue to work on giving lines a snap ending. Her exits were improving every night. Saturday, they were excellent because she achieved arrests in her progress to the door, instead of mere stops. She needs to work further on really reading the eyes of people playing with her. In her next role, let’s have people speak to her in foreign languages or sounds, so that she is forced to read eyes and body and tones of voice.
I am not sure that Striglos created the butler Anouilh imagined, but he landed everything and everything fitted in the framework. He was the the hired butler, with an imagination limited to food and service -- a good solid contrast to everyone. Ken Chamont created character brilliantly. His has-been actor sticks in the mind as a three dimensional person. One remembers him. Ken needs to work on shoulder muscles that will raise arms with a freer movement, a more complete follow through, than the straight, angular scarecrow movement. In vocal pointing, I believe Ken was most effective Thursday and Friday nights. Saturday he slipped again into the indefinite line ending. Work for a middle of the line caesura, and a snap at the end of lines.
Marianne has a good theatre sense: he knows when something does not come off; she makes some kind of mental note of it, and the next night she makes a change. Her performance became more secure each night, and each night the role had greater clarity. The mother improvisation with Frank was brilliantly played; the transitions were perfect. As directors, in our effort to set the drama spinning, we keyed the physical dramatizations a little too high on the entrance of the actors. It was keyed a little too high -- a flaw in directing, rather than in acting.
Vance gave his finest performance Friday night -- crystal clear every moment and as a consequence the histrionics of Act II, Sc. 2, and Act III were securely motivated in character. Jacques is thoroughly despicable. We have only one brief glimpse of a might-have-been childhood decency. The only other likable facet is his complete honesty about his villainy. It is so open, it is almost attractive. All this Vance achieved brilliantly on Friday night. The adding up process was brilliant: each sequence added a new dimension until the inevitable taking of money from Isabelle. The clarity of design, important in any drama, but absolutely essential in Anouilh, was brilliantly achieved. Vance was playing with finessed, but with a sure, secure sense of direction. Saturday, just as Frank went a little lax in the love scene, Vance loosened the reims on his super objective. When that happens, the highly emotional scenes seem a little out of proportion. You all need to cultivate a sense of dramatic objectives, of continuity, of a straight line from the opening lines to the inevitable close. It will be a timesaver in all rehearsals when every actor has this sense -- and every director. A drama is a structure as carefully designed as an architectural structure. It is built sequence by sequence. Vance has this sense innately, I believe. Frank has it, too. Kate most certainly has it. She may fumble in early rehearsals trying to find the means of communication, but even in her fumbling she knows what she is seeking. She has a strong, clear sense of dramatic purpose. Her Barbara was a total character creation, so complete that if we didn’t know Kate, we would think she was playing herself. It was a beautiful assimilation of traits: the imagined, the observed, and the personal becoming one unified, believable whole. Kate has a fine sense of vocal pointing of meaning. Even in the most emotional and moving moments, she never fails to point the significant world. She not only has a mind that grasps the dramatist’s meaning, she has also a musical sense, a sense of melody, rhythm, and phrasing that is invaluable. This melodic sense is part of building the architectural structure of drama. Cultivate it.
Whether you participated in this production or saw it form the front, let it be a guide to you in any French drama in which you may be involved. You will search far before you find Anouilh better done. Keep it clear in your memories.
Monday, January 7, 2013
Intellectual comedy, aimed at men’s minds to make them think on the achievement of peace through the use of reason. The author is bitter about the modern situation, but he conceals it by taking us far into the past, seeming to poke fun at an ancient civilization; then he begins to insert modern references which at first are comic in their incongruity. The veteran is the turning point.
Intellectual comic high style: brilliant vocal style particularly, and movement timed with deft precision. Characterization is the realistic basis for the drama, but it conveys nothing without style. In fact, it can obscure. Striglos is one example of vocal style that is an asset in intellectual comedy. One might wish that he could get rid of some of the grating in the vocal production, but all other vocal elements are present to make lines land with telling effect: bright, hard, well directed tone, no messy emotional involvements -- simply sharp and direct and well perfected. His lines hit the entire audience, and consequently all respond as it on cue, with laughter. Bill ends lines with a good sound snap that makes him hold for the recovery so that he never comes in too soon on a laugh.
Now Pomerantz gets so involved with the emotion of the role that he plays it at the expense of the intellectual content. Feel all you can, but play against it all the way with a bright hard-palette tone, sent to the back board of the auditorium. Those curtain lines will not come off if played with realistic introspection. Duerrenmatt has to speak with sharp impact through the soldier; the last Roman soldier. Join the society of those working on front direction and hard-palette tones, Jeff. All of you must learn that only when techniques are mastered can we judge how much talent an actor has.
Chamont is on his way to style: tone is very good, intellectual stimulation is excellent, clarity of concentration on one element at a time is excellent. Sometimes he does not achieve complete crystallization at the close of a line or sequence. He moves on too soon with a realistic undertone into the next sequence -- which muddles the point just made. Try for the Striglos intense concentration following a line, as if he has been hit hard. Struck dumb by his own sharpness. Your actor in “Dinner” needs this quality in a lesser degree, but still very present.
Gore was doing excellent pointing, landing lines with mental comment, until Saturday night when his tone was slightly muffled, not so well directed. It was still a fine performance, but not so perfect in scoring as on previous nights. Chris is mastering techniques and shows that he knows what he is doing. Note that his techniques are not limiting his total participation, but rather heighten his comic spirit. McClory achieves the same result: plays totally with good technical discipline. Marc is on the way to this. His characterization was excellent. His excess of military zeal was in the spirit of comedy. If his point did not always land, it may because he has not quite learned that art of tossing high a middle word, stopping slightly, and then making a surprise change in pitch or acceleration with the rest of the line. Also master that stop at the end. (See the Chamont comment.) Marc’s work is achieving a security, a solidity, a certainty not evident before -- a good sign of the right kind of progress. Frankel comes up with a good characterization -- a sure fire one, but he never achieves form, style, so what he is and does does not make a point. One or two moments he crystallized. For the rest see the Striglos, Chamont, Overton comments. Without form no drama is effective, but intellectual drama in particular cannot strike home. All the Apollonius sequences should have been variations of the auction procedures: the going, going, gone attack. We did not quite make the time come off as such. Reimeld plays “to scale” magnificently. He had two moments and he played them to the scale of the fall of Rome. His first entrance fully motivated the second and the “et tu” which Frank finally landed. Reimold has only to guard against excess actor tension which sometimes obscures the clarity of his work.
Pyramus became more delightful and more pointed every night. Phil has acquired a good, bright, direct tone, but he sometimes does not hit it on the first word, he does not always vocalize fully and his lines gets off to a slow start. Also, everyone: if a line or word does not come off one night, try another comic device the second night. If a clincher, capper, consists of one word, sometimes it can be landed with one flat stroke, sometimes it needs a middle toss-up: “Tone” I think might have needed a lift at the beginning and then flat. So with “succinctly”’ the “inc” portion might have gone up a note or two and then flattened out.
There should have been a sudden focus, even double takes from the whole stage at the appearance of the trousers at the end. Vance, alone, could not create the startled focus and make the point. It seems to me now, that we should have had someone with whom the audience could identify on the comic level. As it was, after his entrance, we identified with Aemilian and Rea and thus, it was after the mention of Rea that the strong antagonism started. Perhaps instead of going serious immediately, Romulus should have made some comic reaction of incredibility -- Pyramus and Achilles -- even others. We may have missed some surprise moments with which the audience could identify. Vance’s work was excellent on both the comic and ironic level. There was a moment we missed which left a dead spot around the Rupf exit. I think the eyes of Rupf and Romulus should have met and held on “Goodbye, Mr. Rupf,” until the smiling Romulus eyes dominated the Rupf grin, and we saw that grin give way to comic incredulity, from which he recovers, goes into the doorway and plays the recovery there. We need to keep this audience viewpoint in mind in all directing. With whose eyes must the audience see?
Niki did a remarkably fine job. She did not have time to achieve the totally superior, worldly, tradition-bound snobbism that Nancy had created. Niki did not quite achieve the bored superiority of a woman who had lived with Romulus for twenty years. Niki’s dramatic flares were those of a younger wife, a newer experience; Nancy achieved the long, long suffering contempt. Nancy’s eyes were coldly weary; Niki’s flashed with anger of the moment. Both are brilliant actresses.
The Tucker-Manuella scenes were beautifully played. The fire and passion with which Frank played were refreshing vital notes which the comedy needed at that point. When played so brilliantly you need have no fear of breaking the comic spirit. Both Ellen and Frank need to guard against a tendency to slow down, thus losing the dramatic sweep of the current. Saturday night there was a slight lapse in dramatic tempo.
Frank’s Romulus was not complete, but was, nevertheless, excellent. The first act was brilliant -- not only in comedy playing, but in wit. It set exactly the right notes. It was laugh-provoking, but more than that, it was signaling “there is more in this than meets the eye.” Frank was tossing off lines with beautiful effect: not merely being funny, but being witty. There was much Duerrenmatt back of his thinking. It was acting of more than one dimension and excellent. it was in the last two scenes that acting inadequacies became apparent. Within the framework of intellectual comedy, there are episodes of a serious nature. Great vocal skill is required for such scenes. Frank Manuella was greatly aided by the brilliance of tone he used. The sharp edges his full tone had, which kept his emotional scenes on the intellectual level. Tone, in itself, has implications. As actors, you should become aware of this. Had Manuella lost that brightness and edge, his scenes would have changed to tragedy, pure and simple. (Saturday night, it almost slipped.) Now: Chew must acquire these brilliant tones, those edges. They connote intellectual passion, they keep the head alert, even while the heart is touched off in the final Empress scene; we should have heard them even in the tender daughter act. Subliminally they tell us that this man is not clown nor buffoon; they prepare us for the Ottakur meeting. Frank needs vowels in his speech -- full, sustained vowels. They ring bells.
Friday, January 4, 2013
Intellectual comedy reaches the mind and provokes through the disarming effect of laughter. That you were highly successful was evident by 1) the impact of the theme line: “War is a hollow sham, like love,” which you sent home quietly in the pause following hearty laughter, and 2) by the resounding laughter which followed the reversals. “How did you find me out?” and Bluntschli’s undercut comment on Sergius, “He’s found himself out now.” You made those points with real Shavian style.
Wednesday night was a little shaky, although very good. But other performances were witty and brilliant and clowned in the right spots as Shaw would have wished. Since Mrs. Petkoff and Major Petkoff do not change, do not come to realizations, you were right in making them the clowns, for Shaw wants us to laugh at them, even as we like them -- as you made us do. It is always important that the audience sees all characters -- and the play itself -- from exactly the right perspective, and that perspective is the author’s. (We have not yet achieved it in “Romulus.” It was the point of our Friday discussion.) All comedy is criticism; in varying degrees, by poking fun, it criticizes society, or laughs at human foibles. Shaw is critical of the hollowness of heroics in love and in war, but he admires people who are capable of realizing this posturing within themselves, and who are capable of making reversals. You were admirably successful in establishing both the admirable qualities and the ridiculous ones. And your characters had brains, which is a must in Shaw, and as actors you were using your brains to direct your pointing of Shavian barbs. This all adds up to good Shaw.
Frank needs to sharpen his sense of comedy, or to let it activate him more. It should keep tickling him even in serious scenes. Shaw is passionately serious about all subjects he criticizes, but he found out no one listens to sermons or serious debates. So he uses buffoonery, clowning, wit, low comedy, high comedy -- anything to shock, to surprise, to provoke, to disturb, to delight. Every actor, regardless of the nature of the character he is playing, must be Shaw playing his role to shock, to surprise, etc. Every serious moment must be played so that it can turn comic in an instant; every comic moment must have in it the possibility of turning serious in a second, as you did so brilliantly in the war sequence. This means that you must act on two levels always: 1) the author’s, 2) the character’s. Frank still has difficulty playing on both levels simultaneously. It is a temporary difficulty. He is on his way to conquering it. Bright tones are a means, for bright tones psychologically alert the actor’s mind and the audience, too. The words spoken may be serious, (the author takes care of that). The bright tone in which they are spoken adds another dimension: the author’s attitude. Also, the facility in pointing, of giving just the right flick, the right toss, the right lift to exactly the right word, is a great asset in intellectual comedy.
Vance was tremendously successful in this respect: all of Buntschli’s lines require understatement, underplaying, the casual manner of the un-dramatic realist, yet they carry the barbs that make the Shavian comment his understatement, managed to lift exactly the right word, and it always -- by sheer accident it seemed -- landed out front. Vance always divides his concentration between someone right stage and something left stage, and always, accidentally it seems, he turns from one to the other, and accidentally, it seems, the important part of the line has come at the arc toward the audience. The rest of you need to work on this art. You were all successful in landing lines front but some of you are much too obvious.
Bill and Tom still do not seem to happen to glance up and out at the right second. They are throwing lines too directly at the audience. Both, too, need to discover how to toss off the last part of a line. A line up to the key word after which there is a slight stop, and then the last of the line is tossed off with a surprise effect, and you go about your business. Vance has most successfully learned to toss off a line casually while sitting or standing still, and the moving after the line has been snapped; the laugh comes during the movement. Work on this art: everyone.
Saturday night you were all letting your laughs play longer, to the greater delight of your audience and yourselves. Vance did some particularly good holds for laughs. Note the sense of control it give you, how it relieves excess tensions. Vance’s first act clowning was excellent throughout, but reached real brilliance Saturday when he let the audience laugh fully.
To touch off responses in the audience -- laughter, emotion, thought -- to control those responses, direct them as you will, with ease, this is the real joy of acting. Audience reaction is part of the total orchestration of a production. It should be part of your rehearsals. Directors and actors both should incorporate movement following every line that will elicit a strong response from the audience: laughter, surprise, shock, whatever it may be. Without this allowance for audience response a show does not have true pace, and this pace should be established before opening night.
Marianne gave a brilliant performance throughout. She started off well on opening night and each night thereafter crystallized or developed, or played more fully. Saturday’s performance was electric. Marianne has totality -- character is total, responses are total -- so complete that now she has achieved the true improvisation spirit on stage. Her mind is free to respond to the unexpected. She keeps within the framework as directed, but every sense is alert, and her characterization is so complete that you know she could be Madame Petkoff anywhere, anytime, in any situation. Her playing of the breakfast scene was exceptionally find clowning within the character and situation framework. Her totality makes her playing effortless, yet vital. She “plays through” completely.
Bill’s Petkoff was good comedy, but not as effortless as Marianne’s. He punches too hard sometimes and too obviously. So did Tom in his heroic moments. His sequences with Louka had more finesse, were free of actor tension which interfered with his free flow of comic sense in the last act.
Kate’s Louka became more secure with every performance. Kate is a good ensemble player; she is alert every second, her involvement in the situations is vivid and in itself telegraphs ahead to create interest and suspense. We look forward to her next entrance knowing that something of consequence will happen. She foreshadows events without giving them away. We are interested and concerned -- never forget that interest in and concern for a character is the essence of suspense. Kate touched off our liking for her and aroused our interest in her very first entrance. The nice pointing of “running away” identified her with a Shavian surprise throughout. Kate takes a joy in pointing Shavian lines and consequently does an expert job with them. She -- Tom, too -- needs to learn to balance resonances more easily and fully. The voice still needs flexibility in “big moments.” Continue work on singing, speaking up and down the scale.
Frank knows Shaw but does not yet completely play Shaw. GBS should be like a troll inside actors, making them have fun perfecting his ideas. Nicola is a servant, yes; he has the soul of a servant, yes -- but add to the character another dimension, an intensification that reveals Shaw’s joy in the honesty of this soul of a servant -- the plus quality that makes Bluntschli say, “Best man of all.” Frank’s acting is good, is right, but does not yet have the imperative plus which lifts it above life. Life plus is what acting is. Play with sheer physical and mental joy of acting. You have it when you talk about theatre, Frank -- take this zest onstage with you. Borrow a little from Niki. She is gloriously alive, without effort. She joyously takes possession of the stage. her Raina was truly Shavian and the basis for all Shavian women. Her acting is total: mind, heart, body, everything alive and responsive. She doesn’t think about what she is going to do. Niki gets the idea of the character, the author’s idea of the role. That idea touches off imagination immediately taking her into total (not mental) action. She gives herself to the idea of the role and lets it carry her into total responses to the given situation. Then the drama of the situation sweeps her along. Since she has a body which responds completely, she has an instrument which is vibrant and flexible and responds as the imagination plays upon it. Her voice still needs work. She is developing range and flexibility and sometimes has some thrilling tones. Her high notes are still without lower overtones and can become strident and unpleasant; and her low tones are sometimes a little hollow. Work on singing and speaking up and and down the scale, keeping the throat open as you go and directing low tones to the front so that they are combined with head resonance.
The Soldier, being Russian, could have used more resonant tones. He was well-played, but always find a vocal or physical characteristic quite different from you to set up individuality.
The spirited animation of the audience was testimony to a good Shavian production. People were chatting animately as if they were part of a brilliant party. That’s good theatre.