I Was a Teenage Whore

by Nicole Erb, A2 Ensemble Member

Nicole Erb in our Classical Styles class. Photo by G. Wade

Nicole Erb in our Classical Styles class. Photo by G. Wade

Now that the title of this post has your attention- I know what you’re thinking. Ugh. ANOTHER production of The Crucible. Are you kidding me? I’ve seen that play a billion times (not a hyperbole). So why, oh why, would Antaeus make it part of their season? The answer is pretty simple. It’s a story we still need to hear. Really.

You’re saying to yourself, “But Nicole, every time I see The Crucible I just start thinking about that Monty Python bit where they’re screaming about witches.

I know! I totally get it- it’s really hard not to equate ducks with witches. Or you say, “But I saw the ‘quintessential’ Crucible with blah blah blah and I don’t think I’ll ever see a good production again.”  I get it. I actually saw Liam Neeson (pre-his punching wolves in the face and destroying terrorists phase) and Laura Linney as John and Elizabeth. I cried the whole time. The back wall of the set was made of window panes and as the world of the play got crazier and crazier, the panes began to fall and shatter. At the end of the play, all the remaining panes crashed to the floor and shattered. This production is one of the reasons I decided I wanted to be an actor.

So why are we doing it? The Crucible remains a story that reverberates in our world. And it’s a great big giant ensemble story (for a great big giant ensemble company). For those of you who think The Crucible is stale, consider this; we, as a nation, have seen a whole lot of violence and pain in the last couple of weeks. As a response, this TED talk started floating around the social media sites. It’s a lecture by Philip Zimbardo on ‘The Nature of Evil’.

Zimbardo’s “The Nature of Evil”

The Poppet.  Photo by A. Goodman

The Poppet. Photo by A. Goodman

Mr. Zimbardo has found  that evil is born of the intersecting of three different things: 1) personality (Abigail Williams is a teenager in an incredibly violent world, who understands the value of power) 2) environmental (Salem is a town that still lives in both colonial and Puritanical levels of fear of Indians, God, the Devil, famine, plague, etc.) 3) institutional (the conventions of Puritan society, the management of the trials themselves- the Salem witch trials are the only trials of the time where spectral evidence is allowed). This isn’t just a philosophical rambling- it’s integral to understanding both how societies create evil like the witch trials and how we’ve managed to let it happen time and time again.

Is this all too general and highfalutin’ for you? Think these characters are unrealistic? Then let’s get specific. Go back a couple weeks ago- a letter was leaked to the internet from a crazed Delta Gamma sorority president to everyone in her chapter. If you haven’t read or seen a dramatic reading of it at this point, you probably need to watch Michael Shannon’s dramatic reading (I’d even call it the “quintessential” dramatic reading of the letter).

Sorority Letter by Michael Shannon

I find myself completely surprised by the letter. When I first saw Michael Shannon’s take on the whole thing I thought, “Wow. That girl is nuts. Straight up crazy.” But when I went back and actually read the letter, I realized that even though an insane tone is being used some of what she says is probably pretty on point.

Act One of The Crucible. Photo by P. Proctor

Act One of The Crucible. Photo by P. Proctor

To get back to The Crucible– I couldn’t get Abigail’s speech to the girls in Act One out of my head. Is bringing a pointy reckoning really that different from asking someone to “tie themselves down to a chair and punch themselves in the face”? In contemporary terms it’s fairly close. And this comforts me IMMENSELY. I’ve been fighting a real battle to not make Abigail a total monster- a portrait of evil. That’s what she becomes, not what she starts out to be.  You have to keep in mind, she’s a queen bee in Salem, she’s had a REALLY hard life (Indians, smashed heads), she thinks John Proctor is going to leave his wife for her, AND she’s a child (17 in the show and 11 in real life). All these things create a perfect storm of personal crap, opportunity, and pressure. As wrong as the girl who wrote the Delta Gamma letter was, you can hear the personal stress that she is under. There’s something there that (as nutty as it is) I can empathize with- that’s how I begin to see Abigail as something other than a complete monster.

Get to the point, Erb! What I’ve been attempting to get out is that Miller’s world and our own are not that different. I’d like to think that we’ve changed a lot since the Salem Witch trials and the McCarthy hearings, but I’m not sure that we’re that fundamentally different. Human psychology is tricky that way. And what The Crucible gets at, at the most basic level, is that mounting pressure and fear.

Ann Putnam puts it best: “There are wheels within wheels in this village, and fires within fires!” Everything is conspiring against this town and these people. And in spite of that we hope. John Proctor changes. Rebecca Nurse and Giles Corey stand for their principles. It’s a level of heroism that we aspire to in modern day. But when we can’t get it in life, isn’t it great to see it in the theater? I hope that you find yourself thinking John Proctor will triumph. I hope for the sake of Salem that one night the heroes win.

ERB_Nicole 2012A2 Ensemble member Nicole Erb 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

Academy Spotlight: Marjo-Riikka Makela

Tell us about yourself (where you’re from, maybe where you studied, how long you’ve been in LA, your favorite credits):
I’ve been to Los Angeles for about 3 years now. I’m originally from Finland. In my early twenties, I worked as a professional actress in a big repertory theater company in Finland. I had the wonderful opportunity to perform many lead classical theater roles, and also have fun with completely different, more modern characters, such as Peppi Longstocking. Even though it was a very wonderful experience to work on a repertory company, doing 3 shows simultaneously and having a monthly paycheck from the theater, I felt that I needed to learn more and grow as an actor. Working can at times be very result oriented and there is not always much room for exploration or “taking risks” which is a necessity for any artist in order to grow. With only a little amount of actor training at that point, I was simply doing it all by instinct (and probably pure good luck!) so after working non-stop for a couple of  years, I got worried that I would start repeating myself or developing mannerisms and therefore was hungry for learning new ways and gaining deeper understanding of the actors process and character transformation. I decided to expand my artist journey to study acting and directing in Denmark, Russia and U.S.A. I trained at the Russian Academy of Dramatic Arts (GITIS) and also have an MFA in Acting from CSULB.  Here in USA some of my favorite roles include Medea in direction of David Bridel, Yelena in Uncle Vanya at the Classic Stage Company’s summer series in NYC,  and my work with Sarah Kane and Andrei Malaev-Babel at the Stanislavsky Theatre Studio in Washington DC. My directing credits include Shakespeare, Chekhov, Schiller, and devised work.Tell us why you love acting or what made you choose it as your profession, etc. I feel that acting chose me. First it was a hobby for me, as I already had two other professions (I had prior degrees both as an equestrian trainer and gymnastic on horse, and as a psychiatric nurse) but very quickly theater took over all my time completely and there was no point of returning or doubting since then. I knew I had a whole new life in front of me right at my very first theater rehearsal, and at the opening night of my very first play, I knew I had arrived home. I believe that acting is a profession of calling. I wish to be serving something greater than myself, working together with the ensemble to tell a story of another human soul, and this way striving to expand empathy in the world. As one of my student’s so well put it: “Actors are professional human beings!” I feel so very blessed to be able to practice this art form and to PLAY all day long! What keeps us young is inspiration, and I am allowed to bath in it daily! Antaeus is a wonderful place for any artist to grow and share this love for theater!


What brought you to Antaeus?
I was so very blessed to meet Liz Swain via our mutual Michael Chekhov acting technique teacher friend. We spoke about the art of acting and of course Shakespeare all night, and I immediately knew that I wanted to deepen my understanding of Shakespeare with her! She is truly  a world class teacher! I have been very impressed by Antaeus as a company. The high level of training and talent at Antaeus is undeniable!What do you want to gain from the class?  Do you have a specific “problem” on which you want to focus?

I really wanted to embrace the whole experience with “new-born eyes (and ears!). Even though I have a lot of experience (and technique) as an actor, I’m a complete beginner in my Shakespeare in English. The images are so much more vivid and beautiful and the text works me in a completely different way than it did in any foreign translations I worked earlier in my career.  Liz has opened up a whole new universe to me!

What do you think of the class so far?  Absolutely in love with Liz and the class!

What is your experience with classical theater?  Has class reinforced/changed what you previously thought, or have you learned new things, etc? Yes reinforced many things and opened new doors to language!
 
Tell us a fun fact about you or highlight one of your unusual special skills. I don’t know if I have any special skills, but I speak fluent Finnish and can stand on a horse while it’s galloping! ;o)
 
Anything new and exciting going on in your life? (doesn’t have to be acting related, can be an engagement, upcoming trip, new dog, etc.) My acting studio has a little scene study showcase coming up. We call the evening: Tennessee Williams-Cafe, and I’m very excited for the wonderful actors in it! Also, I just got invited to direct a production in Brazil and I’m exited for the trip!

A message from our Summer Intern

This summer, college freshman Sydney Berk came to work with Antaeus.

She was a tremendous asset to our organization, from managing our Box Office and Assistant Directing some of the ClassicsFest workshops, to just being an all around life-saver.

Here are her words about her summer experience:

Dear Jeanie Hackett,

I hope all is well at Antaeus and with you. The summer was such a great success and I’m happy I got to witness it all unfold. I want to say thank you for the wonderful opportunities you gave me this summer. I feel incredibly lucky and so appreciative for all I learned and the experience I gained. I could not have found a better company to work with. Antaeus is truly one of a kind. Every moment I was there I could see how invested every company member and friend was in the success of the mission. There is always a feeling of support; people help each other, listen to each other and grow with one another. Antaeus showed me what it means to be in a company and gave me a model of the kind of company member I want to be in the future. This summer, I learned boundless amounts about acting, directing and managing a theater. Watching the actors prepare, work and perform was a blessing. Observing the way the different directors interacted with their casts was so beneficial. It was one of my first professional theater experiences and I feel that I could not have been luckier.

I also want to personally thank you because I learned so very much about running a theater from watching you. The way you make decisions, the way you take every opportunity and the way you are always efficient. Thank you for constantly communicating with me, for showing me how to properly run a theater but also for explaining to me why each step you took was important. I really appreciate it.

I miss Antaeus already and am really forward to seeing Autumn Garden later this fall. It was a truly inspiring place to work. The actors, directors and crew all welcomed me so lovingly. The way so many made a point to say hello to me daily meant a lot. It is such a wonderful place to work. I feel so grateful that I got to witness and be a part of the success. I hope I will be back in the future. It is definitely something I would love.

Sincerely,
Sydney

Dakin Matthews Responds

Antaeus’ Founding Artistic Director, Dakin Matthews, wrote a satirical response to Sunday, August 8th’s LA TIMES article, “Dialogue: Critics Charles McNulty and Steven Leigh Morris discuss the state of L.A.’s small theaters.”

Over a tube of Pringles recently, actor-martyr Genisio Santo and director Meiningen Sachs began a dialogue on the state of theatre reviewing in L.A.; and this give-and-take, subsequently pursued over a second tube of Pringles, seemed worthy of a larger forum.

MS: I think it’s a shame the way not just the major critics like Nutty McCharles tend to be marginalized, but even the—shall I call them minor?—critics like Maury Lee Stevens.

GS: For the record, we don’t tend to think of the latter as “minor”—we prefer “waiver journalists.”  But be that as it may, how do you mean “marginalized,” Meiny?

MS: Well, literally.  I mean, they have to write in columns, they have to stay inside the margins. It’s sad, really; they’re treated like three-year-olds forced to stay inside the lines in coloring books.  I’d love to see their stuff spilling all over the page.  Wacky fonts!  Occasional gibberish!  I mean, what about their creativity?

GS: I hadn’t looked at it that way.

MS: I blame the marketplace.  They’re required by their public to write syntactically and coherently—

GS: Well, I’m not sure that’s true. . . .

MS: And to pander to that 99.5% of their readers who actually read, by having to conform to the stifling, old, traditional spelling and punctuation rules.

GS: Yes, what about that other half a percent who can’t read?  They’re the real cutting edge.  They’re the future.

MS: Yes, print reviewers these days can’t really write what they want; they’re so font- and format-whipped by their editors.  I look forward to the day when they can really cut loose, you know, dump those style sheets in the wastebaskets and write something I could honestly call a McCharles review or a Stephens review instead of that conformist boilerplate stuff that passes for reviews these days.

GS: I agree.  I mean, come on, who needs paragraphs?  What’s in a paragraph?  A screed by any other name, , , ,  But now, Meiny, let’s think even further outside the box.  I’m thinking interdisciplinary reviewing.

MS: Hmmm. How would that work, Genisio old chap?

GS: Well, all the big papers have websites—why shouldn’t Nutty or Maury sing their reviews in streaming video?  Or better yet, write them and then have somebody else deconstruct them, you know, pick out a line here, a line there, reassemble them into a collage, and then stage them as puppet shows?

MS: Yes, Travesty Presson might be just the person to do that!

GS: Whoa, wait—here, let me open that second tube of Pringles, Meiny old boy, I’m a trained actor.  What if we throw away the box entirely, and let the reviewer go to one play and review another one entirely?

MS: But don’t they do that already?  I mean, I often get the impression that they tend to review the play they wanted to see or thought they should have seen—or the one they would have produced (if they actually were in the producing business)–instead of the one they actually saw.

GS: Okay, then how about this—they don’t even see plays.  They just write reviews.

MS: Now you’re talking.  I’ve always thought the ideal situation would be for a reviewer to call me when a production was announced and I could explain to him my concept and what I wanted to do, and he could just review that, without have to deal with all those pesky playwrights and actors.  (Beat.)  No offense, Gen.

GS: None taken.   I mean, who do we think we are?

MS: Or, back to the interdisciplinary idea, how’s this for a picture? All the reviewers in spandex tights with lots of artificial fog, posturing their reviews to pretentious music—Critique de Soleil!

GS: Or–wait a minute—how about a mime review–live and in streaming video; and you could print it in the paper as well.

MS: Yes, fabulous!  And then—no, wait a minute—a mime review in the paper?  Then it’d just be a blank column.

GS: Exactly.

Meet the Staff: Cecily Lerner

This installment of Meet the Staff originally appeared in The August Antaean, our quarterly newsletter.  To receive The Antaean, sign up for our mailing list.  With all the great events surrounding our 2010 Season, this way you won’t miss a thing!

Cecily Lerner

Cecily Lerner
Working as a full-time nonprofit professional for the past 11 years, I was contemplating making  a change.  Though I wanted to continue my work in fundraising, I was looking for something more flexible and part-time so I could spend more time with my four year old daughter.  A friend of mine told me about Antaeus and suggested I talk to Jeanie about how we might work together.  At the time, Antaeus was looking for a grant writer.  I was looking to do something a bit broader in scope.  Meeting with Jeanie and Kitty for the first time, in the library, I felt right at home.  Having worked in the arts before, I was inspired by the creative, passionate and dynamic spirit that is typical of many arts organizations, especially Antaeus.  As it turned out, Antaeus was at a turning point in their growth.  Collectively, we decided that adding a fundraising professional into the mix would help Antaeus build the infrastructure and deepen the relationships that it needed to take its fundraising to the next level.  In the four months that I’ve been working with Antaeus, I have come to discover that the people here (from the staff to the company members to the audience to the donors) are warm and interesting, and dedicated to the mission of performing great theater.


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.