To Speak or Not To Speak…

Shakespeare’s New Masterpiece:
       I feel as if every eye in the theatre is boring into my back as I slowly pace the stage, thankful that there are several other actors around me.  We wander the space, just being aware of the theatre and the other actors, waiting to see who will be the first to speak their sonnet.  The first group did theirs so quickly!  What is wrong with us?  I can feel my palms sweating and I just know I’m going to forget my piece…….well, I’d better just go for it.  I grab a friend by the shoulder and laugh as I picture him a shriveled old man.  “When forty winters have besieged thy brow/ And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field….”  I attempt to educate him on the virtues of children as I bend all my energy to my objective, “have kids!”  He looks at me with deep concern as I speak and nods in agreement with my points.  However, just as I feel I have made my point well and my sonnet ends, another actor breaks in contradicting my point with her own sonnet.  Full of deep pain and regret, she paints a picture through Sonnet 129 of the sorrow and loneliness following a casual fling and urges him to be careful.  One after another, the other actors share their sonnets, but it is in a new and meaningful way as we exchange thoughtful wisdom, one sonnet responding to the material spoken before.  It feels like breathing life into a brand new Shakespeare play!
       You see, since this was the last week to work on our sonnets (my monologue is going very well, thank you for asking, I’m all memorized and just need to tighten up a few things before we really dive in next week) and we had implemented our critique from last week, Liz wanted us to play with the pieces differently.  She brought about half the students down to the stage and had them use their sonnets to create a scene, no rehearsal, no working out an order.  She just told us to come forward with our own sonnet when we felt motivated by another piece before us.  I could see this going very badly in one of two ways: 1) everyone would try to go at once so they could get their piece finished early, or 2) no one would go because they couldn’t find a way to make their sonnets early.  Not only did the first cast jump in with their first piece, but they blew the rest of us away with the ease with which they tied their pieces together!  Everyone was engaged in what was happening and one person responded to another, even adding blocking, while just using their sonnets!  The words didn’t feel like disembodied sonnets anymore.  Instead it seemed like there was a new play taking on a life of its own!  I was impressed, but would it work a second time?  And the answer, as I showed above, was a resounding “yes!”  I told you I worked with some amazingly talented people. 😉  You should see these people!
       In addition to our sonnets we received brief notes for our monologues.  I give you guys full leave to hold me accountable for these things to make me a better actress…promise?  Ok then…first thing, I get this little “cute” and breathy voice onstage apparently.  Since I have never received this comment before in my acting career I think it is safe to assume I am nervous and need to focus on relaxing (this can easily be accomplished by holding a chair over ones head as one speaks. Great for practice…not so great in a scene. Got to fix this problem first thing).  Second, I need to have more fun and play with the other characters more.  I got better with this as I rehearsed, I tried to really enjoy making fun of the peasant girl I am talking to and playing “matchmaker” to two lower class “fools” (I am playing Rosalind in As You Like It, Act 3 Scene 5, for those of you who forgot).  I also need to work on “scoring” the piece.  This means highlighting and drawing colorful notes in colored pencil all over the monologue to draw my attention to alliterations, antithesis, onomatopoeia and all the other lovely rhetorical devices I talked about last time.  I am looking forward to it…I like colors and I like words.  Life is pretty wonderful right now.  And now I will dash off and locate my inner Rosalind! Fare you well friends!
–Hanna Mitchell
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A Rose By Any Other Name…?

“Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo?”

“The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.”

“Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe top full of direst cruelty.”

“Think not I love him, though I ask for him; ‘Tis but a peevish boy; yet he talks well.”

“Call you me fair? That fair again unsay.”

So many options and so little time!  Oh, my goodness!  I am overwhelmed with the wealth of wondrous words open to me (you like that? That is an alliteration).  How many of these quotations from monologues do you recognize?  They are all beautiful characters whose words flow from their tongues like so many crystal water droplets, one following hard upon the next (that is a simile) and yes, I am getting carried away with this rhetorical speech.  Fun fact: In Shakespeare’s day, “rhetoric” was not a word which implied insincerity or any sort of negative connotation.  To speak “rhetorically” simply meant speaking in figures and artificial patterns which were not usually used in everyday life.  Some people say that everyone in Shakespeare’s day understood his verse because that was just how people spoke.  While the audience did understand his verse, it was not because this was how they spoke in real life; it was because they had a much more auditory culture.  Interesting, no?  We studied more of these Shakespearean forms of speech in class this week and so many of these things are coming together to make sense in my mind.

Liz asked us to read a really helpful little book called “Shakespeare Alive” by the famous director Joseph Papp which was packed full of helpful little historical tidbits for better understanding of the Bard’s work and world.  For instance, did you know that the players in Shakespearean theatre presented a different play every day and a new work somewhere around every two weeks!?  Can you imagine the work involved in doing that?  With this in mind it completely makes sense that so many works are in verse…to help the actors memorize quickly and create word pictures in the minds of the actors and audience.  Liz reminded us that before we speak any kind of imagery in the text we must first see the image in our mind’s eye.  It is these images which produce life in the imagination of the actors and enables them to convey that energy and passion to the audience.

Although we touched upon language and rhetoric again this week, Liz’s primary focus was on breath and breathing.  I have had only a little bit of vocal training in my theatre education so far and some of the vocal exercises she gave us were fairly difficult for me, requiring my full attention.  However, she gave us a mental image that really did stick in my head and helped me so much.  She told us to think of our breath as being a line which we were throwing to someone as we spoke to them.  Every single thing we said had to be thrown to the person we were speaking to and connect us to them by a line.  You try it…take a deep breath and feel your ribs swing out to let in more air, then toss a line on your breath to someone.  This vocal support really feels very enjoyable, particularly when paired with those lush, round Shakespearean words I mentioned last week.  I will hold this picture a long time.

So now, the moment of truth……….What am I going to do for my monologue?  It has to be good, something I can really enjoy as I work.  It should also be something with a lot of imagery and rhetoric which I can sink my teeth into as I play with this language.  And Liz said it should be a character we could actually play now, someone near our own age and experience.  Well……..I think I have made a decision.  “As You Like It” has always been my favorite comedy…. Can I handle it?  I’m going to go for it.  I may not have this chance again!

Ladies and gentlemen, for my first performance as the Antaeus Intern in Shakespeare, I will be presenting Rosalind (my dream role) from “As You Like It,” act III, scene v.

I thank you!

–Hanna Mitchell

14 Lines In One Breath???

“When forty winters have besieged thy brow

And dug deep trenches in thy beauty’s field…”

Oh, I’m sorry everyone!  I was just working on my sonnet. 😉  It is so much fun playing around with the sounds and the pauses and the iambic pentameter!  And yes…the class…oh my goodness the CLASS!  I am way in over my head in this talented group of people, but I had so much fun and I absolutely love every minute of it!

First of all, Liz Swain is amazing!  She has so much knowledge that she is waiting to share and so many fun stories that I could sit and listen to her for hours.  She drew all of us into the group, regardless of our previous Shakespeare or theatre experience and met us right where we are.  The people is this class come from a vast majority of places and backgrounds and she matches her teaching style to each of us, praising our successes and helping us pinpoint our biggest points for improvement.  I was really thankful for this since I try to remember too many things at once when I act.  I let my brain run away with me and fall head over heels…well, at least tie my tongue in knots.  And my class mates are the best!  I got really nervous going into the evening, I always do in acting classes, but they welcomed me in and encouraged me as I fumbled along in my ignorance of this bright new world opening up before me.

We ran through some basic Shakespearean writing tools (well basic to people who are more familiar with Shakespeare) and methods of speaking first.  How many of these do you know?  No cheating…just right off the top of your head:  scansion, spondee, caesurae, elision, onomatopoeia and dactyl.  You think I’m making these up…but no.  How many did you get?  Well I knew only one, but now I know them all!  Hurrah for handouts!

When we got up to begin our sonnets, I took one look at my classmates and got so flurried I think I said the whole sonnet in one breath.  No pauses, no emotion, nothing.  Liz patiently slowed me down and pointed out that the sonnet is divided into fourteen lines for a reason (wow! He did that on purpose?) and let me go back over the piece with some technical ideas in mind.  I was blown away by how much more relaxed I felt and how I was able to really focus on what I was saying, an important detail when working with Shakespeare.  Even when I was sitting back just watching the other actors I was able to glean so much helpful information from their artistic choices and thoughtful conversation.  I think I could learn in this class by just sitting in the room and inhaling all the talent there.

So now, armed with my notes, I prepare for week two of sonnets.  I am slowing myself down.  It’s hard, but it does make breathing and not passing out much easier.  I am also on the hunt for a monologue.  The problem is there are just SO many from which to choose!  Which way should I go?  Any suggestions?

–Hanna Mitchell

Brave New World!

Hello, world!  I’m Hanna, the new Antaeus intern and your guide for the next fourteen weeks on a journey of playing Shakespeare!  How fun is that?  I am so excited about this class with the fantastic Elizabeth Swain and an inspiring group of professionals brought together by a love of learning and a love of the Bard.  I’m sure there are many of you out there who are just as passionate about Shakespeare and his works as I am. How did he manage to come up with so many engaging and brilliant plots?  How could he breathe life into characters hundreds of years ago who still fan our emotions to flame today?  How can any actor or director feel that they are really doing justice to works considered foundational to society for ages?  I am looking forward to learning the answers to these questions as much as you are and I thank you in advance for venturing off with me!

To set the stage for this tour on which I will be your eyes and ears here are a few details:  I am a senior undergraduate student at a school with a brand spanking new theatre program.  We are so very new in fact that I will be a part of the first graduating class ever!  While this is all well and good and we have many opportunities to do things other students don’t, this also means we have a very small class roster so far.  Although I have been in love with Shakespeare since I was very small, I have never had an actual class to learn about him and bring his works to life.  When it was suggested that I, as the Antaeus intern, should participate in the Shakespeare class and blog my way through it, I jumped at the opportunity!  I could not believe my good fortune!  And so here we are!

Our task for the first class is simply to memorize a sonnet. I have selected Sonnet 2.  I am memorizing it in the car on my way to and from Hollywood (this is something else you must know…”I am slow of study,” at least as far as memorizing goes) and I’m in love with the images in the piece and the feel of the words on my tongue.  I know that sounds strange, but try it sometime.  Read a sonnet out loud and tell me it isn’t a strange and wonderful feeling letting those rich old words flow over your tongue.  That is your assignment for this week.

As for me, I’m off to my first class session!  Bid me godspeed!

When forty winters shall beseige thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask’d where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days;
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserved thy beauty’s use,
If thou couldst answer ‘This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count and make my old excuse,’
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.

–Hanna Mitchell

An Academy Interlude: Hermione Man

Human Sculpture in Gender Bender Shakes 2013.

Human Sculpture in Gender Bender Shakes 2013.

In high school, like just about everyone else who has an American public school education, I was made to read Romeo and Juliet in English class.  And at some point, we were told that in Shakespeare’s day boys played the women’s roles.  Why?  Because it was illegal for women to perform onstage in Elizabethan England.  I don’t remember if an explanation was given; immorality or prostitution, religion or just plain old chauvinistic prejudice.  I do remember my fifteen year old self thinking, “What about all that kissing and stuff?”

I’m glad to say that the current, and hopefully more evolved, version of me isn’t concerned with kissing at all.  Now, after 20 years of working as an actor, my questions are about what an individual, rather than an actor of any particular sex, can bring to a role.  Did Elizabethan audiences care that they were seeing men portraying Juliet or the Nurse, Hermione or Paulina?  It was the convention of the time, after all. Did it even register that Cleopatra was a boy?  And how would I approach playing a female character if I were given the chance?

Those questions are what drew me to The Cross-Gartered Bard:  Exploring Shakespeare with Gender-Blind Eyes class, led by Rob Nagle, at Antaeus Academy.  Every Tuesday afternoon my classmates and I take on roles we would never get to otherwise perform.  And by working these roles through scenes and monologues, we gain a better understanding of our preconceptions of gender and gender roles.  We talk about how men and women move, sit, gesture; the physical aspects of each sex, but more importantly, how each approaches and works through problems, how each reacts to the world, how each thinks.

Jonathon in Coward's Private Lives

Jonathon in Coward’s Private Lives

So far, I have tried to do justice to the roles of Lady Macbeth, Hermione, Beatrice and, soon, will attempt the Nurse from R&J or Emilia from Othello (still trying to pick between the two). My male classmates have taken on Titania, Imogen and Isabella.  And then there are the women in the class who have played characters like Macbeth, Oberon, Iago and Cassio.  At first it was a struggle, I think, for most of us to get a handle on the shift in gender.  For example, I found that memorizing lines was more difficult than I usually experience, a feeling that many shared.  Each gender approaches the world from a different angle, a different power base, a different way of thinking;  because of this shift in world view, I have also had to shift my awareness as an actor in order to memorize, to try to do justice to my characters, and to think in a new way.

Chekhov's The Seagull

Chekhov’s The Seagull

Something that struck me a few weeks into the class was how we had stopped talking so much about the gender of the characters and how much more our discussions focused on their humanity.  Gender had become secondary to the truth of each moment, feeling, action and reaction, which, after all, is what we do as traditionally-cast performers.  Taking on challenges like switching gender can be intimidating and frightening. Leaping into the challenge and the fear is so much more satisfying and fun than staying in our safety zone.  Rob, and everyone associated with the class, has provided an open, positive, safe environment for our group to explore, make mistakes, and make discoveries.  In fact, I’m looking for the first opportunity to use my Hermione monologue for an audition.

 

LAMER_JonathonJonathon Lamer is currently a student with the Antaeus Academy.  He will also be appearing in our upcoming production of Corneille’s The Liar, “translapted” by David Ives and directed by Casey Stangl.  For info on our Academy classes: www.antaeus.org/theacademy. Auditions for the Fall 2013 Semester begin this weekend.

Moderating “The Classical Cure”

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it, but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour.  The search is your task.” – Harold Pinter

Janellen Steininger in the CF2013 reading of Little Women. Photo by G. Wade

Janellen Steininger in the CF2013 reading of Little Women. Photo by G. Wade

This past May, I attended the Antaeus Academy auditions. I enjoy taking part in the evaluation, whether or not I am going to teach for the upcoming term, in order to meet the potential incoming students, and observe my colleagues work with them.  I was particularly interested in Ron Orbach’s interaction with the auditionees.  He was scheduled to lead a new class: Take Two Aeschylus and Call Me in the Morning … The Classical Cure.  It was a pretty daunting undertaking to lead a class to diagnose and tackle the particular challenges and obstacles each student felt was holding him or her back in their craft.  “He’s a braver man than I,” I thought.  Then, as so often happens at Antaeus, Ron booked a job at the last minute -in this case, the Broadway show: THE SOUL DOCTOR,-  which prevented him from moderating the course. So the very morning of the first class, I was notified that Rob Nagle and I would switch in to moderate the first session.

It doesn't get more collaborative than this.

Janellen & Rob teach. It doesn’t get more collaborative than this. Crappy iPhone photo by D. Murphy

That evening was great.  Rob and I volleyed the comments, warm up exercises, and feedback on the students’ first monologues back and forth by the seat of our pants, and we complemented each other’s work with the actors.  The actors in the class were extremely straightforward and candid about their goals and what they felt were their shortcomings. Some common threads from their issues included trusting themselves and their skill, harnessing their fear and letting go, commitment to the process, and getting out of their own ways.  After this first class, it was decided that I would helm the course, as Rob already had a class to teach for the term and had prior commitments, which would conflict with some of the sessions.  He would join me to moderate when he could.

Janellen teaches "The Classical Cure"

Janellen teaches “The Classical Cure”

I felt a tremendous responsibility to honor the students’ commitment to face their demons and work toward releasing their best art – their best selves as an actor.  And this is where communicating the craft of acting, of expressing the emotional core and intent of a character, can be the most abstruse. It’s not easy to articulate the intangible processes of such intricate work; therefore clarity in my comments to the class would be imperative.  I instructed the students that when I comment on their efforts or offer adjustments, the question “Does that make sense?” is not rhetorical; they mustn’t let me go on unless we’ve connected!  I have found that no matter the era or style of a play and its unique demands, our approach as actors to the characters and their circumstances must be grounded in emotional reality. I feel that the great pleasure for actors is digging, exploring, and discovering what the text reveals and then connecting that to our own inner intuitive inner life and imagination. This “geekery”, as I fondly call it, is nurtures the freedom to grow in a role and live in the play, and here at Antaeus it this is part of the process that fortifies our ensemble.

J. Steininger in our 2012 production of You Can't Take It With You. Photo by. K. Flaathen

J. Steininger in our 2012 production of You Can’t Take It With You. Photo by K. Flaathen

Everyone in “The Classical Cure” class has been eager and willing to take the plunge to deeply probe not only the texts of the assigned scenes and monologues, but also the depths of their own emotional core.  We also flex the instruments of their work – their bodies, voices and imaginations- with exercises to keep them strong and pliable.

 In the past several weeks I have witnessed some frustration and fear, yes, but also overwhelmingly, courage and breakthroughs from every actor in the class.

Fears, obstacles and bad habits are gradually giving way to risks, stumbles, laughter, and a lot of huge steps forward. The line between “moderator” and “student” has become blurred as I continue to learn from them how to communicate, to commit, and importantly, how to stifle the demons and release the joy of acting.  Thanks Ron Orbach, and Break A Leg, and thanks to my students for your perseverance to reach that elusive emotional truth in drama.

STEININGER_JANELLENAntaean Janellen Steininger is the current moderator for “Take Two Aeschylus and Call Me in the Morning: The Classical Cure.” Last year, she introduced our students to Absurdism.  Auditions for our Fall 2013 Classes begin next week: http://www.antaeus.org/theacademy for more info.

An Academy Interlude: One Foot at a Time

by Teresa Marie Doran,  Academy Student

Each Wednesday night in Archetypes class, we have the privilege of spending three hours getting out of our heads and into the bodies of some of the most iconic characters in Greco-Roman, Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Modern theater. No matter what the evening brings -be it Masks, Commedia, tension-focus exercises, textual analysis or scene work, John and Geoffrey create an atmosphere of trust in which we can let loose and play. 

AC (Antaeus Company): Why Archetypes?

Geoffrey Wade teaches Classics: Archetypes - photo by K. Canavan

Geoffrey Wade teaches Classics: Archetypes – photo by K. Canavan

TD (Teresa Doran): Last week in class Geoffrey said, “It is the actor’s job to serve the playwright.” John then added, “And it is the job of both the playwright and the actor to serve the audience.” The responsibility of the actor is to communicate a story to the audience in the clearest and most effective way. Archetypes are among every actor’s best tools for doing just that. They represent character patterns that have stood the test of time. Traits that people recognize and relate to almost immediately. Through archetypes, the audience sees familiar faces; the mean girl from high school, the snooty next-door neighbor, the mother, father, sister, brother.  

AC: Why Antaeus? 

TD: Being new to LA I was lucky to join Antaeus Academy. Not only has this class quenched my thirst for the classics but it’s also introduced me to a community of like-minded artists. John and Geoffrey are wonderful. It’s been a privilege having two teachers – with two distinct opinions – teaching at once. Their incredible experience as performers has made their lessons both extremely informative and a lot of fun.

AC: What was challenging about the class? 

Teresa in class - photo by K. Canavan

Teresa in class – photo by K. Canavan

TD: Working on the role of Medea. She seemed, at first, to be the most distant or iconic character I have yet to face. After approaching the text, memorizing, and deciding which archetypes I assimilated with her, I played under the guidance of John and Geoffrey to build her “from the feet up.”  -a phrase which has become almost a class mantra – and not surprisingly a useful tactic in helping me take on the feat of stepping into Medea’s archetypal shoes.

AC: What do you take away from this class?

TD: Consideration of Archetypes when I approach a text. I  recognize that there are incredible specific truths to be discovered within the broad brushstroke that is a character’s “type.”   Archetypes define initial truths about a character – a foundation or framework that when laid allows an actor to dig deeper and create a more specific image for the audience.  Investigating Archetypes doesn’t do all the work for you, you still have to paint your specific portrayal … but it gives a solid foundation beneath you and there are great advantages in building from there. (“From the feet up!”  )

DORAN_TeresaMarieAcademy member Teresa Marie Doran puts on her acting pants the same as everyone else.  She is currently enrolled in our Classics: Archetypes class, which meets Wednesday evenings this Spring.  Lead Moderators: John Achorn & Geoffrey Wade.  For more information on the Antaeus Academy, please visit our website: www.antaeus.org/theacademy.html

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