Thursday, August 26, 2010

Reading Ibsen for Joe Papp...

My agent called yesterday to tell me I'm called back for "Garbo Talks" at ITC.  Good.  He also sent me the sides I'll be expected to have somewhat down.  This is all fairly standard procedure.  He also sent me the sides for "Bell, Book and Candle" which I'll be doing today for The Colony production.

A couple of things regarding all this.

First, the role I'm up for in "Garbo Talks" has a Swedish accent.  Now, I've always had a pretty good ear.  That is to say, dialects and accents have always come fairly easily to me.  Some easier than others.  God knows I've done a ton over the years.  Scottish, for some odd reason, has always been tough for me.  Australian, too.  Don't know why.  Scottish always ends up sounding like Mr. Scott from Star Trek and Australian always drifts toward Cockney if I'm not careful.  The sides for Garbo say very clearly, "MUST have Swedish accent."  Hm.  Okay.

I must confess, I've never attempted a legit Swedish accent before.  Just playing around with it from time to time has always produced something akin to The Swedish Chef on The Muppets.  That'll never do, of course.  I've read over the sides and clearly the script is, if not exactly naturalistic, certainly realistic.  So next I decided to scout around on U Tube for something.  I found several clips that might help.  One was an extended clip of a guy, a ranger of sorts, talking to a group of rafters...he's a real Swede with an actual Swedish accent.  I watched it a few times and something clicked in my brain.  And then I realized what it was...the guy sounds exactly like Merryl Streep in Out of Africa.  Of course, in that movie Streep is playing a Dane.  Nonetheless, there it was.  Unfortunately, I don't know any real Swedes so my only recourse is to rent Out of Africa and listen to Streep over and over.  Not the best of solutions but better than nothing.  Apparently the Danish accent and the Swedish accent are similar enough to help me out here.  So today, I Netflix Out of Africa.

The next thing I did to prepare for "Bell, Book and Candle" today was to google all the reviews I could find of various productions of the piece around the country.  This is always helpful to me, especially if I don't know the play, which is the case this time.  I found a whole bunch of notices for the play from as far away as Dublin to a community theatre production in a small town in Texas ("The performances were really good.  The set was really good.  The direction was really good.").  The role I'm being considered for is Redlitch...the "alcoholic writer" who originally suspects the main character of being a witch, apparently.  The press packet for some of the productions say the television show "Bewitched" was loosely inspired by the play.  Don't know if that's true or not, but it sounds about right.  What I did find out from reading all of the different reviews is that Redlitch is clearly the comic foil of the piece.  Obviously a scene-stealing role.  Good.  I have the sides to the play already and now I just have to figure out a way to do it as an alcoholic and not a drunk.  Big difference, I think.  I don't think the playwright had a Foster Brooks kind of thing in mind.  That would, of course, be the easy and cheap way.  I'll work on that a bit this morning.

Last night Angie asked me if I wanted to work on the sides for the play.  I said no.  I told her I didn't like pouring over a side before an audition.  I prefer to read it a couple of times, get a sense of it, and see what kind of instincts emerge during the actual reading and go with those.  She gave me an odd look.  But that's how I've always felt.  So often I've been in auditions, most notably back in my NY days, when I've looked around a room and watched all the actors silently mouthing the words to the side and living in their own little world, making choices right before they go in to read for the part.  I've always thought that a little too staid for my taste.  There's a spontaneous thing that happens when one doesn't do that, I think.  The people behind the table, having seen the same scene a thousand times already, pick up on it, too.

Once, years ago, right after I had moved to NYC, I improbably got a chance to read for the late, great Joe Papp for something in the park.  Or maybe it was The Public.  I don't really remember.  But anyway, I didn't have a snowball's chance in Hell of actually getting it.  But just to be seen by the legendary man was pretty cool.  Anyway, it was an Ibsen piece, as I recall.  We were paired up, male/female, to read a scene.  I was asked to do the scene with another actress there, a young actress, with clearly even less of a chance than I had of getting the role.  She came over to me and asked if I wanted to run through the scene a few times.  She had big hair and a really pronounced Jersey accent.  I politely said, no, I didn't like to plan a scene out ahead of time.  Let's just read it and see what happens.  Go with our gut, I said.

So we wait for our names to be called and finally go in.  I'm nervous.  Reading in front of the great Joseph Papp.  Wow.  I think I was about 24 at the time.

She has the first line and it goes like this:  "Poor Richard, shut up in that monastery all winter long."  We each turn to the table, say our names, nod quietly to each other to indicate we're ready, and start the scene.  She says:  "Poor Richard."  Long pause.  Looks off into the wings.  "SHUT UP IN THAT MONASTERY ALL WINTER LONG!"  I was stunned.  Speechless.  And then I heard a sort of snorting and gasping from the table and looked over to see the great Joe Papp with his head buried in his hands, laughing uncontrollably.  And that was it.  My big chance to be seen by the great man.  At the time I was horrified.  Today, of course, I think it's pretty funny.  Wonder where she is today?


I'll read through it a couple of times, print it out, try and get an image in my mind that will help, and see what happens.  Right now I'm leaning toward Albert Finney's amazing performance in "Under the Volcano."  Truly one of the great alcoholic performances of all time.  Not out and out funny, just sort of befuddled and foggy from all the drink.  Later in the movie, of course, it's tragic.  But early on he's dead on.

And there you have it.  Just a quick insight into what may or may not work with all this audition stuff.  Sometimes I'm way off track with this approach.  Sometimes it's exactly right.  All auditions are a bit of a crap shoot anyway, so one has to start somewhere.  Impossible to know what they're looking for.  The important thing is to make SOME kind of choice, any choice, really, and commit to it.  That's really the best one can hope for.

Tomorrow I've got a reading for an industrial to be shot in Virginia next month, a ridiculous amount of money, travel, stipend, lodging all provided, of course.  And Sunday a short read for a feature film.  An audition every day.  I hope this keeps up.  As Angie reminds me all the time, it's a numbers game.  Eventually, I'll be what someone is looking for.  I hope so, anyway.  The good thing is, the agents keep sending me out.

See you tomorrow.