Sunday, June 6, 2010

Blow Wind, Crack Your Cheeks!

Talk about your cues....oy.  Still nine pages from finishing the cue to cue.  This after about ten hours of cue to cue yesterday and the day before.  We'll finish up the process on Monday morning.

There is a moment in the play, a monologue, a rather long one in fact, that I've been avoiding.  The play is non-linear, that is to say it pops around in time quite a bit, especially in the first act, so as to comprehensively tell Sam's story.  At one point the play goes back to the night Sam proposes to his wife, Susan, played by the terrific Tara Lynn Orr.  It is a terribly emotional piece of writing.  After singing, solo, the old country-western, Eddy Arnold song, Welcome to My World, Sam tells Susan all the things he will be to her.  Actually, I've had the speech memorized for several weeks now but have been intentionally avoiding doing it full out in rehearsal.  The truth is, I'm just downright scared to do it full out.  The emotion involved is just too overwhelming and it's the part of acting I've never been fond of.  I can do it, have done it before, but as I get older I become more reluctant to expose myself so completely on stage.  I feel somehow violated when I go that far.  When Brando finished filming Last Tango in Paris, he said something similar.  He said he would never again take a role that made him so vulnerable.  And he didn't.  He steadfastly refused to let us see that extraordinary access he had to his emotions ever again.  As is my pattern, I've carefully plotted out the physicality of the scene, knowing exactly what I'm going to do on what line.  It's a peculiar working style, but that's how I like to do it.  I plot the roadmap and then go back later and color in the emotion and honesty, etc.

I'll have to do it full out tomorrow night.  No more getting around it.  I simply don't like taking myself that deep.  It hurts to go there and it's difficult to pull myself back once there.  And it's a piece of writing that demands it, no cheating on this one.  It has been weighing heavily on me.

There is another section, the end of Act I in fact, that I've been 'marking' as well.  It is a scene in which Sam is screaming into his cell phone, blind drunk, begging Susan to let him into their apartment.  It's another scene I don't like to do full out very often.  I call it the "King Lear" scene in reference to the "Blow winds, Crack your cheeks!" speech in that play.

It's a scene that brings to mind a note the great Sir John Geilgud gave to Richard Burton when the latter was doing Hamlet on Broadway in the early sixties.  There's a book out there, out of print now, but I think it's still available in some libraries, called Geilgud Directs Burton.  The author was allowed to sit in on the one-on-one sessions they had together.  God, to be a fly on the wall for that.  Anyway, at one point, Burton is apparently working the "O, What a Rogue and Peasant Slave" speech and Geilgud stops him halfway through and drops this little tidbit of astonishing wisdom into his lap.  He says, and this is a direct quote, "Richard, you have a trumpet for a voice.  It is a marvelous stage weapon.  I envy you your voice.  I, myself, have an oboe.  Not terribly effective as a stage weapon.  But remember this, Richard, when you use your voice in that way, as a weapon, I mean, it is your LAST weapon."

It is an incredible piece of advice for the actor.  Any actor.  Essentially, he is saying once the actor begins to shout, to reveal the verbal pyrotechnics, there is no where else for him to go.  It is the last line of defense for the actor.  So keeping that in mind, I have to be very selective about that scene.  I have to time the moment when I actually let fly the volume and intensity inherent in the speech very carefully.  Once I reach those heights, there is no where else for me to go, nothing else I can do can top it.  It is my last weapon.

So, I'll be working on those two speeches today, privately, in my home.  I'll test the waters.  I'll see how far I can go emotionally with the proposal speech.  I'll find the exact moment to turn up the volume in the King Lear speech.

I remember another Brando quote in his book, Songs My Mother Taught Me.  It's a disappointing book overall, because Brando sort of tells little stories throughout it and rarely actually speaks on the subject of acting.  But he does here and there.  In one f those sections he talks about the shouting and emotion thing.  He says, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Never show them everything you have.  Never give them more than eighty percent.  It's like an opera tenor with a high C.  Never sing it in public.  Just show them the B.  The audience will somehow know you've go more to give and that's what makes it exciting."  Another wonderful piece of advice from the man who was, arguably, the best actor of the twentieth century.

So it's back to the script, locked away, working privately.  This is the part of acting that is really lonely.  Just the actor and his untapped reserve of emotion.  It is, at the same time, the most difficult part of being an actor and also the most exhilarating.

I am so grateful right now for Victor Warren and his seemingly endless patience with me.  Victor is an actor himself and understands how punishing some of this stuff is.  He gives me a lot of space.  We work entirely differently as artists, but that's okay.  He sometimes laughs at the way I work.  In a good natured way, I mean.  He doesn't do things like I do, and he finds it amusing.  I told him a few weeks ago that I'm never worried about whether something will be 'honest' or 'truthful' on stage.  I can do that.  It comes easily.  So I tend to literally skip over that aspect of the craft and move straight to the physical stuff.  I know I can go back and pick that other stuff up when I want.  For the non-actor reading this, it's odd in the fact that it is almost exactly opposite of the way most American actors have been taught.  Actors in this country are taught to find the honesty first, find the truth in the scene.  Until that is found the actor cannot go further.  This approach, of course, is a bi-product of Stanislavksi's bastardized Method as filtered through Strasberg, Adler, Lewis, Meisner and a few others.  I don't buy into it.  There's more than one way to skin a cat.

I think I can say unreservedly the play will be wonderful.  A great night of immediate and urgent theatre.  I will do my best.  I am surrounded by exceptional talent:  Tara, Rob Arbogast (an actor seemingly incapable of doing something dishonest onstage), Brad Blaisdell (a scene-stealer from the old-school style of scene-stealing), Melanie Ewbank and Bonnie Cahoon.  With that kind of depth in the bullpen, how can we fail?

See you tomorrow.

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