Beneath the Surface of Russian Irish Alchemy

I love Antaeus readings. I love being in them, I love attending and listening to them. I recently participated in the “down & dirty” reading of Fathers and Sons by Brian Friel, initiated by Michael Murray.

It was really FUN–and this is always a good sign. For me, if I’m having fun, chances are I’m relaxing slightly from the neurotic precipice off which I am all too capable of dangling, and from which I examine every acting choice I make, from the creative to the business to the wardrobe, find nothing good to say about any of it, and spend the rest of the day rehashing how it all could have gone if I had said This instead of That. Familiar to any of you?

So much for being present, being open, being spontaneous –which I hear are good states to inhabit as actors. This was fun, so I think there was some real creativity and not too much self-abasement happening all around the table…(plus the fact that my character Anna falls in love with Bazarov, played by the dashing and handsome John Sloan, so this was going to be OK for me no matter what).

The play is based on the Turgenev novel (that famous one that’s been on my list of should-reads since high school), but from what I hear there are differences—some relationships emphasized more, others less or not at all….Michael says about the two pieces “These writers share the same sensibility–a sense of family, of nature, of the mix-up of comedy and tragedy”. The play was funny on paper; it was funnier when read aloud. In fact Michael was laughing through 90% of Arye Gross‘s lines.

Arye Gross, Antaeus Company Member

Much of the humor comes from people taking themselves extremely seriously, which should be a reminder to all of us to lighten up a bit in life because the universe as our audience is probably laughing its ass off. It’s a Russian story adapted by an Irishman. One of the things we discussed after the reading is that Friel maintained a sense of his Irish identity inside of this story–certain words and rhythms he uses are distinctly Irish. I like that—reminds me that one’s essence is always a part of what one does. Rather than pretending he was Russian and omitting everything about him that is Irish, Friel leaves it in, and it works.

I feel as actors when an audition comes along that seems very far from who we are it can be easy to think I should take the Me out of it because this character is Other, and forget that it’s exactly that Me essence that is so important and wonderful to bring everywhere. Trying to hide it is not only futile but detrimental—hiding what’s deepest and most true seems the antithesis of art, right? So Friel finds the alchemy between Turgenev’s Russian and his Irish, the commonality in their souls. I will do that when I’m cast in the 10th Lara Croft movie because Angie is on baby #11.

So back to the reading—-there is so much subtext in Russian literature and no, not every piece of it came out, but what was thrilling was to sense how much lies beneath the surface and how satisfying it would be to go hunting for it. That’s another great thing about these gatherings—we get excited as a group to get behind something. We sense its potential. Or collectively we feel it isn’t for us. We get enough alone time as artists. This ensemble participation is good for the soul and good for the spirit of the company. Those of us there left wanting more.

Melanie Lora & Richard Miro in Zastrozzi,a reading at Antaeus

Melanie Lora is an A2 member who last performed with Antaeus in American Tales. Now that the biggest production of her life so far, getting married, has opened and is running with rave reviews for 2 months now, she is ready to get back onstage.

Antaeus Diary: Gregory Itzin on KING LEAR

For the last several months, Antaeus Shakespeare Thursdays have been focused on KING LEAR. While not officially billed as preparation for our Summer 2010 production of KING LEAR, having the chance to delve deeply into the text will only enrich our work when it comes time to mount the play.

Ensemble company member Gregory Itzin initiated the LEAR sessions, which began with a full down & dirty reading of the play. After that, we spent each LEAR night combing through the text, inch by inch, exploring, debating, laughing and – often – surprising ourselves with where the discussions led. Now that the process is coming to a close tonight with our last LEAR session, I asked Greg to lay down some candid thoughts about the journey…which in turn yield some interesting insights into the Antaean process.

~Tamara

At the beginning of the process of working on Lear I felt that I/we could be on a bit of a mission. This is, after all, a classical company, and as I said in an opening email salvo in a looonnnnng missive about “mission statement” and objectives (not always realized but I have always enjoyed where it has gone week by week), a Classical Company SHOULD be working on arguably THE master theatrical work in the English language. I wanted to dig deep, as deep as time and inclination and focus and ability would allow, and I figured the Antaeus crowd was just the group to tackle it.

The first hurdle, and perhaps the toughest one to clear, was casting the first, cold, reading. The personnel shifted right up to the evening of the event, and, as I recall, some people were pressed into service with little or no prep. But the first night’s reading went swimmingly, perhaps as well or better than could have been hoped for, and everyone seemed energized by the outing.

Since then, in a way, it has been harder to muster the kind of, oh, let us say drive and ego excitement that a “performance” has built-in, because everyone likes to do their work for an audience. “Just” coming and doing text work, with no immediate production in mind, made it a bit more difficult to excite people into showing up and participating.

Also, I think people thought that they could come and would come later, or somewhere along the way, and many did make it a sporadic habit. But after you miss X amount of the event, I think it gets harder to make yourself come. “They’ll be so far ahead of me.” “I don’t want to feel I am coming late to the party.” This and time and schedules that are all over the map: it is a company of, hopefully, working actors after all.

BUT every week yielded some tremendously valuable or at least scintillating information, many things were learned, and, fortunately, the presence of always a core contingency kept the momentum going forward. Also, the fact that Dakin [Matthews] came in with his wealth of knowledge and his experience with the play itself was a joyous addition to the goings on. Armin [Shimerman] and Peter Van Norden’s presences in the early goings were a steadying, insightful help, as they have invaluable experience with the piece and definite opinions about how to skin the cat. Everybody’s input and curiousity and enthusiasm and talent and expertise as Shakespearean actors and just plain actors was a joy to behold. This is quite a bunch.

SO we learned a lot, or talked a lot, uncovered many approaches to many characters. How much of this will stay in the brain pan remains to be seen, but a worthier undertaking I cannot quite imagine. It was always a place to go to do something different than anything else I was/am doing with my life. AND working on something I love in a way I love is pretty damn special.

So I thank one and all for being excited by the project and for the approbation I received, since I am writing this, after all. I hope, and I sense it was, a worthwhile use of your talent and time.

Sincerely, and with love and respect,
Gregory Itzin

Descending Into Williams

November’s monthly potluck is Tennesee Williams’ Orpheus Descending, initiated by Gigi Bermingham. Antaeus volunteer Jane Whitty interviewed Bermingham about why she was drawn to the play, her history with Antaeus and the enduring power of Williams.

1. Orpheus Descending is not one of Tennessee Williams best known plays. What attracted you to this play?

The heat, the passion, the fearless BIGNESS of Williams’ writing and characters. What a challenge to make it real! I identify with the protagonists, all of them, the feeling of being outside, different, misunderstood, even hated. The desolate sadness that comes after youthful hope has been dashed, and the courage necessary to survive crushing disappointment. I love Lady’s passion, I admire her courage.

2. Tennessee Williams wrote mostly during the 40’s and 50’s. What do you think makes his plays relevant today?

Nothing has changed. The brutality of humankind, the ease with which people behave cruelly. It’s throughout history. Most of the population in the present world is faced with hunger, violence, lack of freedom that we in this country can hardly understand and that the protagonists in this play, each in their own way, experience.

3. What themes in Orpheus Descending do you find to be the most essential?

The outsider – as one who is despised and feared and envied by those who choose to follow the social current, however harmful to themselves and the world. The brutality of humankind. And of course LOVE – it conquers all.

4. What do you most look forward to when working on this play?

Despite the inherent impediment of reading the dialogue off the page, I hope for communion. By that I mean connection with the other actors and the director, releasing – for a time – the social mask, how I think I must behave – as Gigi – to be accepted. I get to be LADY – if I can figure out who she is! And as painful as her life may be, it’s always a relief to release being Gigi for awhile. I would be looking forward to tearing up the scenery – if there were any!

5. How long have you worked with the Antaeus Company?

Since 2000.

6. What do you most enjoy about the experience you have had with Antaeus?

Antaeus is my creative family, I don’t have to prove myself, I take chances and I fall flat on my face and I won’t be kicked out. I’ll get another chance; in fact I can create another opportunity for myself. It’s the joy that comes from sharing a pure love of theater. We aren’t on salary here. We are here because we love plays and theater people and the intimacy that is created when we come together to share our gifts.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Gigi Bermingham

Gigi Bermingham: Antaeus: TONIGHT AT 8:30, PERA PALAS, MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN, several CLASSICSFESTs and many more.   Los Angeles area theater includes productions at the Rubicon, The Old Globe, Theatre@Boston Court and the Odyssey/Circus Theatricals.  Film/TV credits include Alex and Emma, Days of Our Lives, The Bachelor: London Calling, C.S.I., Judging Amy, Any Day Now, State of Grace, Third Rock and Beverly Hills 90210. Awards include a 2004 Ovation Award, a 2003 Garland Award and a 2002 L.A. Drama Critics Circle Natalie Schafer Award “to an emerging comic actress.”

Jane WhittyJane Whitty: Originally from the east coast, Jane moved to Los Angeles in 2006 after receiving her BFA from Emerson College in Boston. At Emerson she majored in Design / Technical Theatre focusing on Scenic and Property Design. In Boston, Jane has served as Scenic Designer for the east coast premier of A Long Bridge Over Deep Waters and Assistant Scenic Designer for the 2006 Evvy Awards, among other work with Emerson College. In Los Angeles she has worked as the Scenic Designer for Diary of a Catholic School Dropout at the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre. Jane is excited to be volunteering for the Antaeus Company and looks forward to working with them on upcoming projects.

Inspiration from Balzac

As the company preps for Cousin Bette rehearsals to begin next weekend, a few words of inspiration on the artistic process from Balzac:

“Constant labour is the law of art as well as the law of life, for art is the creative activity of the mind. And so great artists, true poets, do not wait for either commissions or clients; they create today, tomorrow, ceaselessly. And there results a habit of toil, a perpetual consciousness of the difficulties, that keeps them in a state of marriage with the Muse, and her creative forces.”

15 Minutes a Day by Jeanie Hackett, Artistic Director

Committing to act for 15 minutes a day sounds like the easiest thing in the world.

This is your life, your love, your living.  How could an actor NOT commit to acting for 15 minutes a day? But an ongoing discipline may be the hardest thing in acting to achieve.

First, being given the chance to act seems to be owned by someone else, not you.  And then, everything that hangs around ACTING – “will I have a career, am I any good, do I have what it takes? –are the hardest things in the world to look in the eye on a daily basis.

Every actor knows that work begets work, and this does not just apply to the lucky time you are hired to do a job. Acting everyday increases your confidence in yourself for the times that count, creates a feedback loop on a daily basis that gives you both optimism and cognizance of your own strength and weaknesses, keeps your instrument in tune and at the ready.

Fifteen minutes actually is a long time.   Lots can happen in that time.

The actor who works 15 minutes a day, usually, gradually, allows that fifteen minutes to grow to a half hour or even an hour, but that’s beside the point. Conquering the fear of jumping into the work, daily growing your skills, putting in motion a process that occupies your conscious and unconscious mind throughout the day, is the way to claim the work as YOURS — not as something conferred occasionally from the industry on high. It’s how you own your talent, keep in touch with the sources of your work.

Jeanie moderatingAre you doing a play? Shooting a film? Taking a class? That takes care of your fifteen minutes a day.

Auditioning does not. An audition is conditional; your fifteen minutes a day on the material of your choice is unconditional. Auditioning often is accompanied by a A what do they want mindset; your fifteen minutes put you in a what do I want? mindset.

 

HOW TO DO IT.

Make a list of roles you’d like to work on – they can be your dream roles, they can be the kind of roles you never get cast in, they can be silly things you fell in love with when you were a kid (Scarlett O’Hara or Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music or Capt. Picard from Star Trek). (Yes, you CAN work on these roles! Just writing this is making me want to work on Fanny Brice from Funny Girl, the movie I saw 17 times as a teenager). They can be characters from favorite novels. They can be poems by Matthew Arnold or Mark Strand. They can be scenes from comic books.

Find the scripts if you don’t have them. Buy them at Sam French, transcribe a scene from the DVD, pull a book out of the library. They are any ideas, words or music that you long to   express out loud with your voice and body.

Come up with about 8 or 10 different things. Put them in a special place in your creative workspace. Decide on what time of day works best in your schedule.

For the first month, commit to 15 minutes a day, five days a week. 15 minutes and ONLY fifteen minutes, no matter how much you’re dying to do more. Set an alarm to go off after 15 minutes and then STOP your work. By doing thus, you build an appetite for the work. An eagerness to get back to it the next day.

Make sure when you are working that you read out loud, that you get up out of the chair, that you use your voice and body. Don’t sit and read silently. If you end up wanting to read a full script or a play, make that another part of your day; your fifteen minute commitment must involve your body and your voice. Don’t be dogged, don’t be obligatory, don’t be programmatic, don’t be methodical. Just suss out what you feel like working on, on any particular day, based on what’s up with you.

This is ONLY for you, ONLY for your own fun and inspiration. It is NOT homework. It is not about memorizing — although as you get excited about working on something, you get excited about memorizing. If you’re in a bad mood you may feel like working on Hamlet, or if you’re in a good mood you may feel like working on Hamlet. Or you may feel like singing a Frank Sinatra song. Doesn’t matter what you do. Only matters that you do it.

15 minutes a day. Give it a shot for six weeks. See what happens.