Tag Archives: Theatre

The Latest 01-31-2016

January was an unusually busy month for me. Along with two business trips there was a lot of extra-curricular activity that filled our evenings and weekends.

Rehearsals continue for Almost, Maine. Wendy and I have really been enjoying the 3-4 rehearsals each week. The fellow cast members are awesome to work with and we’ve loved the ensemble. Our friend, Kevin McQuade, is a blast to work with as a director. Wendy and I play three scenes together as three different couples. We’re loving the challenge of developing completely different characters and quickly moving from one to another. On Thursday night Kevin called an early halt to rehearsal and took the cast to Kaledra for drinks. He knows how to keep his cast happy! Almost, Maine will be performed here in Pella April 14-17.

Taylor will be moving out next weekend. She’s decided to move to Des Moines and live in the Catholic Worker community full-time. She’s working on a couple of different creative projects and has taken up gaining a more in-depth understanding of photography. She and I took a couple of hours this week to play around with light and lenses in my office studio.

Matthew and some of the men who attended the More Than Conquerors workshop at Westview.
Matthew and some of the men who attended the More Than Conquerors workshop at Westview.

My friend Matthew Burch and I have been doing a four-week series of Sunday morning messages in the Third Church auditorium on the subject of shame (audio here). The messages were a microcosm of our men’s workshop, More Than Conquerors which we then presented at Westview this past Friday evening and Saturday. Wendy and I headed to Des Moines on Friday. While Kevin Roose and I were at the workshop, she and Becky enjoyed some girl time and Wendy helped Becky organize their basement storage room.

The More Than Conquerors workshop uses Shakespeare’s trilogy about King Henry V as a backdrop to discussing issues of shame. We loved our time with the 24 guys who attended. It was a great journey. How did it go? I think the answer to that question is in the picture (above) I snapped of Matthew sitting at a table of guys who stayed well after the conference was over to ask more questions and continue learning. When men give up their weekend, sit for almost 12 hours listening to you, and then want to stay for more…I’ll take that as a good sign.

Wendy and I are looking forward to a quiet day today. Here comes February.

The “Sui Generis” Moment on Stage

It happened last night at rehearsal for Almost, Maine. It surprised me. It’s early in the rehearsal process and, while it’s not unheard of at this point in that process, it’s relatively rare in my experience.

The Latin term “sui generis” means “one of a kind,” and there is an experience that occasionally, mysteriously happens on stage that I find to be sui generis in life. It is an experience I have found unique to the art of acting, and actors who experience it once usually long to experience it ever after. It is a moment on stage that is other worldly, when actors cross over into another dimension, into the reality of the scene they are playing. It doesn’t happen all the time. You can’t predict it and there is no formula for conjuring it. But, when it happens you never forget it.

When this moment happens, when you cross over, you feel the emotions your character feels and think the thoughts that are flying through your character’s brain. You are at once in both dimensions: being two actors on the community center stage in Pella Iowa, and being two characters in a living room at 9:00 p.m. on a dark winter’s night in northern Maine.

It is an indescribable experience. It is sui generis.

Wendy and I were rehearsing our scene Getting it Back last night. We haven’t rehearsed it many times. Our lines are not memorized, we don’t have all our props, and we’re still struggling to remember our blocking. Yet, as our characters began to argue and things escalated between Gayle and Lendall, it happened. We crossed over. It was incredible. When it happens, I can sometimes also feel those watching being ushered into the moment with us. That happened last night, too.

Wendy and I often comment that we love the rehearsal process almost more than performances. Last night was an example of why. It is in the rehearsal process that you do the work of excavation and exploration. It is in rehearsal that you seek out the doorway to that sui generis moment. Like the portals into Narnia the portals to those moments can mysteriously appear and disappear. The same entrance can sometimes usher you to that moment multiple times. Then, suddenly, the way is shut and you pick up the quest once more.

The quest for that sui generis moment is part of the mystery and magic of acting. It is what draws me back again and again. And when the moment surprises you, like it did at rehearsal last night, it is a one of a kind experience of Life.

I can’t wait for rehearsal on Thursday.

Power of the Art of Acting

I have observed along my life journey that acting is largely misunderstood and under appreciated as an art. To many who have asked me about my experiences on stage, acting is perceived to be nothing more than adults engaged in a child’s game of make believe. That notion certainly contains a nugget of truth, as good actors tap into a child-like sense of play and imagination. It does, however, fall short of the whole truth. One might equally say that a painter is simply “coloring” or a composer is simply “making up songs.” In every one of these examples the notion falls far short of understanding both the art form and the work of the artist.

Acting, to steal a term used by Tolkien and Lewis with regard to their writing, is a form of sub-creation. It is the art of creating an individual being, from the inside out, in all of his or her (or its) infinite complexities. Think how intricately layered each one of us are in our unique experiences, gifts, talents, intentions, thoughts, feelings, desires, quirks, flaws, handicaps,  strengths, and idiosyncrasies. What a Herculean task to start with nothing more than words in a script and attempt the creation of a living, breathing, believably real human being on stage. Even more challenging is the fact that the actor must fulfill this task utilizing his or her own existing body and voice. Imagine a composer being asked to take exactly the same notes, key, and time signature that exist in one piece of music and rearrange them to make a uniquely different work.

An actor’s task is made even more difficult when his or her creation must interact with others on stage whom they do not control.  Your creation, in all his or her uniqueness, must react and respond to others in the moment without the assurance of knowing exactly what will happen or be said (or not said) in that moment. Like all other artists actors put their creation out there for all the world to see. It is a courageous act fraught with the risk. Unlike artists in other mediums, actors are, themselves, the canvas, the composition, the sculpture, the sonnet. When actors step on stage they present their own flesh and blood as part and parcel of the art itself. The risk is more personal and more public than almost any other art form.

In the process of creating this living, breathing creation on stage, the actor becomes psychologist, historian, private investigator, sociologist, theologian, and priest. Actors become among the world’s most accepting and empathetic inhabitants because they are required to find understanding and empathy for some of literature and history’s most heinous villains. In this pursuit of the embodiment of a real person on stage, an actor comes to embody love and grace that believes, hopes, and endures even for the most tragic of characters.

As with all art mediums, there exists in this wide world of actors a diverse panacea of education, talent, experience and ability. You may not find Olivier, Hoffman, Streep, or Theron at your local high school, college, or community center. You may, however, be pleasantly surprised if you take the risk of venturing out and buying a ticket. You will find courageous actor-artists stepping into a real world created on the other side of the fourth wall. They will transport you to another time in another place. You may just find yourself swept up in a story that not only entertains, but also causes you to think, laugh, weep, and feel. Your disbelief may be suspended just long enough for you to care, truly care, about these characters, these persons, these living, breathing, real creations and their stories. That is the power of the art of acting.

Related Posts

10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success
Preparing for a Role: Digging into the Past
Preparing for a Role: Digging into the Script
Preparing for a Role: The First Rehearsal
Preparing for a Role: Digging into the Character
Preparing for a Role: The Rehearsal Process
Preparing for a Role: How Do You Memorize All Those Lines?
Preparing for a Role: Bits and Moments in the Grind
Preparing for a Role: Production Week
Preparing for a Role: Keeping Focus When Siri Joins You on Stage
Preparing for a Role: Ready for Performance
Theatre is Ultimate Fitness for Your Brain!

 

Photo: Arvin Van Zante, Wendy Vander Well, and Karl Deakyne rehearse a scene from Ham Buns and Potato Salad. Pella, Iowa.

“Almost, Maine” Rehearsals Begin

Last night the rehearsal process for Almost, Maine began in earnest and it killed me not to be there as I’m traveling on business all week. Wendy and I were cast as part of the ensemble back in December and the show will be performed in Pella April 14-17.

Almost, Maine, is likely unknown to many people though in a short period of time it has become arguably the most produced play in schools and community theaters across America in the past few years. It is a wonderful script.

The setting is a moonless night in the dead of winter. The action takes place in the mythical, unincorporated small community of Almost in northern Maine. A solar storm has kicked the the northern lights, the Aurora Borealis into a spectacular display of heavenly fireworks. At exactly 9:00 p.m. there is a magical moment for several people in Almost.

In a series of eight scenes (plus an ninth story that acts in an overarching theme) we meet and witness that magical 9:00 moment for 18 people who are all searching for and struggling with love. The show is poignant and thought provoking. It’s the perfect show for a date night or a small group evening out to the theatre.

A few reasons I’m excited about Almost, Maine:

  • Wendy and I get to play opposite one another in three different scenes and there is no one I enjoy being on stage with more than Wendy. We’ve had precious few opportunities to actually act together, and I’m so pumped to work with her.
  • The show is being directed by our friend, Kevin McQuade, whom I love and respect as a fellow lover and student of the stage. I am really looking forward to being directed by Kevin, exploring the world of Almost, Maine, and putting together an awesome show.
  • The ensemble cast and crew are a spectacular group of talented individuals. Some I’ve worked with before and a couple people are new to me. It’s so much fun working with a great team.
  • In the course of two hours I get to play five different characters. While I’ve occasionally played dual roles, often that means one or more characters are smaller, secondary roles. In Almost, Maine I get the challenge of creating five fully developed characters and presenting them to the audience in a way that their unique differences are distinct and believable.

featured image by Mat Kelly

Costuming Degas’ Little Dancer

Little Dancer - 1

For photo Friday I wanted to share another shot I took at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio a few weeks back. One of the things that Wendy and I love about the McNay is their commitment to the art of theatre. They have an entire wing of the museum dedicated to stage art and design.

degas little dancerOn this particular visit their exhibition was on the ways that the visual arts have influenced stage design. The photo above is one I snapped of a costume designed for the musical Little Dancer which brings to life one of Edgar Degas’ most famous sculptures (left).

I loved the way the costume from the musical captured Degas’ original. When I walked into the gallery and saw the dress displayed in the distance I immediately thought of the sculpture that I’ve had the joy of seeing in person on a couple of different occasions.

 

Being Watchful

people in a mall

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
Colossians 4:2 (NIV)

Back in college I had an assignment for my Acting I class that took me to the local mall. The assignment was simply to watch people. Not just to merely look at them, but to really watch them. Acting is about creating believable characters on stage, so our assignment was to watch how real people walk. We were to observe how different people move and carry themselves. What are their quirks? How do they relate to other people.

I thought about that assignment as I read the admonition to be watchful in today’s chapter. I have found that people largely make their way through life’s journey unaware. People are neither observant nor considerate of others. I find people giving little thought to what is happening around them nor how they are engaged in what is happening.

Jesus was fond of saying, “They who have ears, let them hear.” The lesson is clear that there is a difference between merely hearing and really listening and understanding what is going on around you. We just finished going through the Book of Acts and it ended with Paul quoting the prophet Isaiah on this same subject:

“You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.

Today, I’m thankful for my education in theatre and the life lessons it provided, such learning to be watchful, observant, and considerate of what is happening around me. I am thinking about my progressive hearing loss, how each year the whole world sounds a little bit more like Charlie Brown’s teacher, and how important it is for me to consciously listen. I’m thinking about my need to be more watchful and aware of others, their circumstances, and their needs.

“To Kill a Mockingbird”

Cast of National Players' "To Kill a Mockingbird" source: www.nationalplayers.org
Cast of National Players’ “To Kill a Mockingbird” source: http://www.nationalplayers.org

Wendy and I feel so blessed to live a community this size (roughly 10,000) that has such great cultural offerings. Last night we ventured out to the gorgeous, historic Pella Opera House to watch National Players touring production of To Kill a Mockingbird. The wandering troupe of 10 players had performed Shakespeare’s The Tempest in the morning to a house full of students, and exposing many to their first experience with live Shakespeare.

It had been many years since Wendy or I had ready or watched Harper Lee’s classic story of racial injustice. The National Players production was a great way to refresh our memories of the incredible story. We loved the production and our post show discussion raised three great take aways…

  • You don’t need a lot of window dressing. While we all love our Broadway extravaganzas, the truth is that great theatre requires very little spectacle. National Players had ten chairs, a few moving set pieces, and two pillars at the back of the stage. Yet, their performance effortlessly took our imaginations to a front porch, a courtroom, and a country road.
  • Transitions, transitions, transitions. I am convinced more than ever that one of the crucial details between great theatre and mediocre theatre is in the scene changes. For scene changes, the National Players cast sang a cappella versions of spirituals that both kept us in the period of the play while entertaining us as they moved the set pieces around. The changes were seamless. Rather than being an interruption to the action of the story, they became enjoyable bridges.
  • The script makes a difference. There’s no substitute for good writing. A great script can still inspire even when produced by rank amateurs. A poor script in the hands of the best professionals cannot hide its flaws. The adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird used by the National Players was a great script that told the story in a succinct way without losing its power or inspiration. Last night we had a capable group of talented professionals performing a great script, and we were blessed and inspired.

I hope that Kevin will find time on the Pella Opera House schedule to book National Players again next season. An evening of quality live, professional theatre in a priceless, historic venue for $12 a seat. I love this town!