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

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.

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

An Academy Interlude: I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

by Nick Healy, Academy Student

Let me begin by saying that I have no idea what I’m doing.

IMG_2783

Nick in class (wearing a very appropriate shirt) with J. Apicella moderating. Photo by K. Canavan

I’ve never written a blog. English essays, college applications, emails, yes, but never a blog—and certainly never anything for public consumption. Nevertheless, the Powers That Be thought that my perspective as the youngest student in the Archetypes Class would be at least not uninteresting, so I said I’d give it a shot. With that in mind, please bear with me as I try to make the next few paragraphs as fun and painless as possible for the both of us.

Basically, I’m an eighteen year-old high school student trying to keep up with twenty professional actors. My acting experience is limited, to say the least; and that’s to say nothing of my never having even heard of half of the playwrights from whose works we are choosing scenes. Take Beaumarchais—until Wikipedia told me otherwise, five years of French led me to believe his name was Bon Marché. I know (or think I know) Shakespeare, Chekhov, Mamet, Williams and some Sophocles, but give me a Shaw or a Plautian scene, or a character who embodies different Commedia archetypes at different times, and suddenly I devolve from the hot-shot high-schooler into the caveman rubbing two sticks together in hopes of a spark.

Nick NOT botching The Cherry Orchard

Nick NOT botching The Cherry Orchard

I decided to audition for the Academy after a like-minded friend emailed me the Spring Antaeus Academy audition bulletin with “Let’s consider this?” as the subject heading. We were finishing a production of The Cherry Orchard at school, and with the student-written/acted/directed Playwright’s Festival not long afterwards, I did not have an unlimited amount of free-time to spend walking around as Aphrodite; nevertheless, I immediately decided to audition. Having just botched my way through my first Chekhov, the notion that a character could be understood and crafted in terms of simple, established cultural constructs appealed to me enormously.

Fast-forward one month to the first class. At the requests of John and Geoff, our instructors, we each performed for the group the classical monologue that got us into the Academy. Watching these speeches was its own course on the art of the monologue. Everyone at once conveyed a sense of character, of continuity between the past, present and future and an in-the-moment vitality that seemed effortless. Meanwhile, in Nick Land, I struggled to maintain focus while vomiting out would-be poetry. Don’t think I am overly harsh—I am very proud of my work on that soliloquy (Hal’s “I know you all, but will awhile uphold”), and of having placed into the Academy in the first place, but, and sorry for mixing metaphors, there’s nothing that puts you on your toes quite like being thrown in over your head.

None of this—my lack of experience, the intimidating talent of my classmates, of my teachers, of the institution itself—none of it weakens my resolve to do the work, to, as they say, fight the good fight. On the contrary, studying at Antaeus is liberating because of my relative inexpertise. “Failure” means nothing in a room full of experts willing to instruct, so in class I should err freely on the side opposite caution. To do otherwise would be a waste of time and money.

Something happened after class this past Wednesday that speaks volumes about the supportive environment at Antaeus.  John stopped me as I was leaving the theater. I had struggled that evening with a scene from The Revenger’s Tragedy by Middleton (or Tourneur—nobody knows!).  To cure my stylistic ignorance, Geoff and John spent much time explaining in depth the nature of Jacobean drama.

John Achorn teaches Commedia.  Photo by G. Wade

John Achorn teaches Commedia. Photo by G. Wade

Of course, the scene then immediately made perfect sense.

“Did you understand all of that?” John kindly asked, obviously sincere. Before I could say yes and thank him for the earlier discussion, he continued, “’Cause we’re not giving you the A B C’s here. We’re just jumping in.” I agreed with a somewhat exaggerated, self-deprecating laugh.

A silence. Then, his eyes pointed straight at me, “But you are keeping up just fine. I’m proud of you, man.”

N HealyAcademy member Nick Healy admits to the fears that every actor faces on a daily basis.  He 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

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

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