An Academy Interlude: Mother & Daughter

“ Why did you do that??-I can’t believe it, what is wrong with you?!,” my daughter is screeching at me, incensed that I have made a plan that involves her and I am about to holler back that she doesn’t have to go when suddenly I say excitedly, “That’s it –that’s the moment.”

“What are you talking about?”, she narrows her eyes.

Mom and daughter

Daughter & Mom Then

“What Rob said in class…for our “Delicate Balance” scene that’s how pissed Julia is at Agnes- like you at me now.”

At this point most observers would probably be appalled at this mothering style- but I am merely doing what comes naturally- honestly calling the attention of my teenager to the nitty-gritty emotion locomotive as it tears through the room, and teaching her to mine it for some art. It’s what I’ve been doing since I myself was a teenager and first started studying acting- applying mindfulness to the feelings that play us and turn us into instruments.

Delilah Napier

Delilah Napier

If you had told me when Delilah was a child that we would both be actors in a scene class together I would have resolved myself into a disbelieving dew and said, “I’m not that crazy…” but life takes its turns and we find ourselves in places we did not expect- like L.A.  I am a set in her ways New York theater rat, maybe on good days a mink, too accustomed to subways and bookish black box immortal shadows to be entirely comfortable with the Light. Action. let alone the Cameras of L.A. Imagine then the deeply orienting, flickering beacon that is Antaeus as we navigate the choppy waters of this new world-where there is even an inviting library-row upon row of shelves housing plays with well-worn spines.

Cut to: INTERIOR-NIGHT

A MOTHER and DAUGHTER sit in a black box theater in North Hollywood amongst actors trained in theater, many earning their livings in television.

antaeuslogoGreywithBlackROB NAGLE is on stage twisting his body into an impression of the Antaeus logo- A man firmly planted on the ground reaching forcefully towards the sky…

“Who is Antaeus?” he asks, and explains that in Greek Mythology he is the half-giant son of Poseidon and Gaia, who derives his super human strength through his contact with mother Earth. He is insuperable until Heracles discovers his secret and holds him high in the air and crushes him as his strength drains away.  Rob springs up, smiles impishly and reads to us from “Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams”-reconnecting us to our hallowed theater earth.

Mom & Daughter Now

Mom & Daughter Now

The next week my daughter and I will work on Amanda and Laura from” The Glass Menagerie”. I am an actor like any other but here, now in this iconic scene, in this class, with Rob’s help, I can realize the Gaia in myself-by reconnecting with my roots I can find the strength to pass on this art to my daughter-this wild mix of earth and spirit that is acting.

Picture 001- Rob

The impish AND puckish Rob Nagle. Photo by G. Wade

We have found a home for serious play. As we rework the scene with Rob encouraging us to blow every last bit of dust off our conception of these classic characters, he puckishly places himself on the wall of our scene; Williams describes the set as being dominated by a large photograph of the absent pater familias-and before our eyes Rob plasters himself against the stage right wall and becomes the portrait of Tom Wingfield Sr.-suddenly the father is no mere ghost but a living breathing presence in our scene! Talk about connecting us to the earth and the present moment! I am filled with gratefulness to be in this room right now. There are sun-soaked days of late when I can feel weary as something of youth seems to fall away-my daughter’s as she enters young adulthood, my own as I stare down the throat of middle age, but here, in this class we can find the common ground of theater, where we seek the paths to eternally becoming and where we remain ageless. Rob embodies the spirit held aloft as an ideal by my late-great theater teacher, Herbert Berghof, in whose studio I met my husband doing a Williams scene! On the walls of the H.B Studio, Herbert had framed a favorite quotation of his late-great theater teacher Max Reinhardt, “I believe in the immortality of the theatre…it is a joyous place for all those who secretly put their childhood in their pockets and ran away to play to the end of their days.”

Thank you, Rob. Thank you, Antaeus, for providing us with an authentic place to play.

Alex NapierAcademy member Alexandra Napier shares a very unique experience with her daughter Delilah Napier in our Classics: Rebs/Yanks class, which meets Tuesday evenings this Spring.  Lead Moderators: Rob Nagle.  For more information on the Antaeus Academy, please visit our website: www.antaeus.org/theacademy.html

In Search of Lost Lines: Prepping for THE CRUCIBLE

by John Allee
Company Member

The nightly email from our stage manager Kimberly arrives in my inbox.  It’s the usual heads up for the next day’s rehearsal, outlining which scenes we will be working on and which actors are called at what times.  And because I am generally conscientious and thorough, also because we have been reminded (if not actually admonished) to scroll all the way down to the very bottom of each production missive, I dutifully read through to the end, where the dreaded words leap out at me as if from some dark and sinister Middle-earth forest:

IMPORTANT DATES: **THURSDAY APRIL 11TH: OFF BOOK.

Diablo-3-Diablo-Tree-Monster1

For the uninitiated, this item simply means that the directors’ battle plan calls for the actors to be rehearsing without their scripts in hand by the date given.  Sounds fair enough.  After all, we attend the theater expecting that the actors will have their lines memorized for the performance and that it only makes sense that at some point in the rehearsal process they have to actually make the transition from page to stage.  But, why April 11th?  Doesn’t that seem awfully soon?  After all, it’s already March 29th and I am having difficulty memorizing the first two pages.  I dare not go before them — no wait – I dare not be taken unaware when I go before them…

John Allee, The Malcontent, post off book & looking rather confident

John Allee, The Malcontent, post off book & looking rather confident

As an actor, perhaps the most common question I get asked by people who are not is “how do you memorize all those lines?”  It’s a reasonable question, certainly, and one that actors don’t give much thought to, other than to fret about when they are going to memorize all those lines.  But, in much the same way I might wonder how an economist can stand in front of a group of people and extemporize on the finer points of Post-Keynesian macroeconomic rigidities and adjustment processes, someone else might not easily grasp that having the ability to ingest vast amounts of dialogue and regurgitate it all is part of our skill set.  At the moment, that someone is me.

No Heath Bar, John? For shame.

No Heath Bar, John? For shame.

The trick now is to invoke a Proustian involuntary memory – what was it – eating tea soaked cake?  I settle for a half a pint of Ben and Jerry’s coffee ice cream.  But what memories will it bring up, the next ten pages of the scene that I am beating into my head with a ball-peen hammer, or childhood memories of my auntie?  Or will it merely keep me awake all night worrying about the lines I still have yet to memorize?

Proust also warned that escaping to the past cannot completely soothe one’s suffering in the present.  Given that the present is now the morning of April 11th and we are to be off-book today, I would be willing to take my chances with time travel if even for a modicum of relief from my current state of peril.  As I drive to the theatre for rehearsal, my mind is racing faster than my six-cylinder engine, and the feeling of apprehension is pressing down harder than my foot on the accelerator.  Though, why I am in such a hurry to get to my destination is difficult to understand, given my conflicting desire to run away from it.  I practice the lines in the car, and for one panic-stricken minute it seems as though all memory has evaporated, like the mist on the windshield as I propel myself forward, further away from the past, but remembering now, suddenly, involuntarily, that I will not be taken unaware as I go before them.

Allee_headshot_B&WJohn Allee Antaeus member, Tolkien reader and one of our Reverend Parrises – bemoans the actor’s process… at least the boring bits.  We hope he’s learned his lines by now, since  The Crucible goes into tech next week and opens May 16 & 17. Tickets now on sale at www.antaeus.org

Proctor & The Crucible

Mr. Proctor in the 2012 ClassicsFest reading of The Crucible.  Photo by K. Flaathen

Mr. Proctor in the CFest 2012 reading of The Crucible. Photo by K. Flaathen

by Phil Proctor
Company Member

I’ve been asked to write something about the rehearsal process we are presently experiencing in exploring and mounting Arthur Miller’s masterpiece The Crucible.  So, okay, here goes.

It’s a nightmare – for me, anyway. I’m sharing the role of the old, irascible farmer Giles Corey with the loveable, even-tempered Steve Hofvendahl, but I am the only authentic PROCTOR in the cast, and whether or not I am a direct descendant of John Proctor (NOT played by ME – go figure), it’s not easy sitting in the theatre and hearing my name thrown around like a bale of hay every day!

They even dress alike.

Dueling Proctors.

Furthermore, not only are two wonderful Antaeans playing ME, (Bo Foxworth and Chris Guilmet) but they are being guided in the process by two brilliant directors, Armin Shimerman and Geoffrey Wade (alphabetical billing) who are annoyingly in sync when it comes to blocking and interpretation.  Unlike “The Scottish Play”, there is very little stage blood shed – so far — and as I believe this is the first time Antaeus has doubled directors, it seems to be going smoothly. Furthermore, the players get the advantage of Armin’s keen dramaturgy and Geoff’s theatre-games warm-ups.

The Weber twins celebrate their birthday!

The Weber twins celebrate their birthday!

But it is also a little disconcerting that even our stage managers are doubled – and by IDENTICAL TWINS, no less — Kimberly and Kristin Weber!

The dramatic design of this production is based on the Classicsfest reading initiated by Bo Foxworth and Ann Noble, and involves a challenging “full-frontal” presentation with occasional character interaction as dictated by dramatic necessity.  Sounds mysterious, doesn’t it?  Well, it is, and as we all are just beginning the staging process, we are also all part of the excitement of discovery and experimentation, in the proud tradition of our skilled company of classical masters. Miller’s language is exotic and poetic at times, so Geoff and Armin wisely insist that we honor the words and treat the text as we would if it were by Shakespeare.

It’s also a wonderfully diverse cast, and in addition, the gender-blind casting presents a unique challenge in assuring that characters are addressed in a manner that works for males and females, depending on who’s playing what role in any particular performance.

He's not kidding, folks.

He’s not kidding, folks.

And finally, in another ironic twist for me, our costume designer, E. B. Brooks, is using Amish-style clothing as inspiration for the look of the show, and being a Yoder of Amish-Irish ancestry on my mother’s side, I probably have an Amish hat or two from Shipshewana, near my home town of Goshen, Indiana, to contribute to the cause.

So, off we go!  These are, of course, just my first impressions as we embark on another great theatrical adventure together; and I’m looking forward to seeing what my fellow cast members think as we continue to revitalize this timely and timeless work as only we Antaeans can…

Proctor_Phil 2013Antaeus member Phil Proctor draws back the curtain on rehearsals for The Crucible, our next mainstage production opening May 16 & 17. Tickets now on sale at www.antaeus.org

The Life Force of THE CRUCIBLE

Last year's CFest reading of The Crucible

Last year’s CFest reading of The Crucible.  Photo by K. Flaathen

by Lily Knight
Company Member

I have seen three productions of The Crucible through the years, and although none blew the top of my head off, each time I found myself absorbed by the play, and interestingly troubled by it. Unfortunately, I missed the ClassicsFest presentation last year. And I was out of town for the first read-through of the play, so I came to the second rehearsal in a curious state of ignorance.

What caught my attention during the table work was that already there was a palpable culture or life force of the play in the room. I had a cold, and to avoid sneezing on my fellows, I moved to a seat in the audience and when the other actors came back from their break and left off their banter, a distinctly different sensibility took over their faces and demeanor. I’m not used to seeing it so soon. A fully formed world seemed to be not created, but allowed, through them, to take hold.

There didn’t seem to be anything in the way. Usually, the process of finding the world of a play involves a certain period of manipulating and bargaining with the parts of yourself that aren’t useful. You tell them to sit down, shut up and let the necessary parts come forward, and sometimes, the ego doesn’t give way easily. Sometimes, actors are searching and some of their top forty choices come out; good, but not right. In this case, without exception, everyone’s faces were focused on the problems confronted by the character, not the actor. Nothing, but nothing, was in the way. I thought, this is going to be fun.

A. Shimerman and The Crucible cast.  Photo by A. Goodman

A. Shimerman and The Crucible cast. Photo by A. Goodman

At the next meeting, our first blocking rehearsal, our intrepid directors, Geoffrey Wade and Armin Shimmerman, outlined the presentation style they conceived during ClassicsFest, which they were engaged to develop in this production. It involves speaking almost every line out to the audience (and not seeing the face or behavior of the character to whom you are speaking). I thought, this is not going to be fun.

But it turns out this somewhat difficult technical requirement — (and I say difficult because it flies in the face of most of our training and almost a hundred years of camera-inspired hyperrealism in acting craft) — can actually further focus us and has the effect that other senses, hearing and kinesthetic, become more acute to fill the void of the visual. I notice the actors seem to be listening much more intently than usual — (which makes everyone very fascinating and good).

And it may be an amazing and brilliant way for us to experience a bit of the repressiveness of the Puritan worldview! (Am I just making lemonade?) Many of the actors who did the ClassicsFest reading are already sold on the idea and provide inspiration and side coaching for those of us who feel stark naked in the face of this bold choice. They tell us, it’s like a mirror, and our doubles spring up to be the living mirror for those onstage. Someone makes a joke about what an ensemble we are, but I think, yes, we are all engaged in a way that feels very alive. Good things will come from this.

Photo by A. Goodman

The “presentational” style. Photo by A. Goodman

It makes me think that asking actors to do something difficult right away, that takes a large percentage of their attention to do, is a GREAT way to move a rehearsal process along. Actors then don’t have any attention for vanity, for their authority issues, for their doubts. I must think about this more.

There are moments when I think this style may be tedious to watch (by the way, it doesn’t last throughout the play) or I won’t be able to communicate shifting allegiances if I can’t exchange glances or other shared non-verbal behaviors. I think about my body in the space and its relation to other bodies and the story that gets told without text. And I wonder if nuances of the story will be sacrificed. Meanwhile, the arguments of the play come across loud and clear, and there are other awarenesses, like the isolation you feel within this society, which seem just right for the material. And really, it is way too soon to know whether it works.

Shannon Clair studies her script.  Photo by A. Goodman.

Shannon Clair studies her script. Photo by A. Goodman.

Geoffrey said, in further clarifying this presentational style, that you are speaking to the other character through the audience, like a prism. And it struck me as being a beautiful idea, because, after all, the fourth wall is a pretense (or a dispensable convention), and to acknowledge the audience’s intrinsic function seems more holistic somehow, and could open the space to a larger, um, conversation? And if we’re speaking of invisible things, we need to open the floor metaphysically, don’t we? After all, the play asks real questions about our human predilection for invading private space. Where does private space end and public space begin?

Because the theatre space is itself a crucible, purifying and decoding the ideas of a culture, and on any night, it is the alchemical blending of those consciousnesses who sit together in the dark and those who play before them in the relative light, that creates any truth which emerges. I am curious to see where this takes us.

Lily_Knight_0018Antaeus member Lily Knight discusses the “fully formed world” of The Crucible, our next mainstage production opening May 16 & 17. Tickets now on sale at www.antaeus.org