28 December 2011


In fact, all of us who live on earth together during a particular time and who experience together all earthly joys and sorrows, seeing one and the same sky, loving and hating, ultimately, the same things, and everyone, down to the last man, doomed to one and the same execution, the same disappearance from the face of the earth, all of us should harbor for each other a feeling of utmost tenderness, of poignant intimacy that moves us to tears, and we should simply cry out in fear and pain when fate separates us, since  ever present is the possibility  that any separations even for ten minutes, may become eternal. But as everyone knows we are, ordinarily, not the least given to such feelings, and we often part from even those most dear to us in a way that could not possibly be more frivolous.
Ivan Bunin, Way Back When

26 December 2011


(Roslyn) “Oh don’t be mad! I just meant that if you loved her you could have taught her anything. Because we have to die, we’re really dying right now, aren’t we? All the husbands and all the wives are dying every minute, and they are not teaching one another what they really know.”
The Misfits Arthur Miller

Raindrop Prélude

23 December 2011

21 December 2011

I take an acting class, scene 4

For the next class, we played our scenes. Again, the teacher let the actors run through the piece without interrupting them, then asked a few questions, and next broke the work down, detail by detail. A lot of this was specific to the scene, and would be boring to read, unless you’re planning on working on a scene from Angels in America sometime soon.
     But, our instructor did suggest approaches that could work under a lot of circumstances. For example:

Play Status
This is based on the idea that in any relationship, status rules. One person is higher status, one lower. This relationship can shift. You fall from king to peasant or rise, depending on the dynamics of the scene. I’d come across a version of this idea in Keith Johnstone’s classic, Impro
     For weeks afterward, I watched myself carefully and observed groups of people at work or play, and sure enough, if you reduce relationships down to their bones, you can see this play out as your companions lunch or you enter a boss’s office. I’d thought the concept was crude. Then I looked around and confirmed that, yes, these status games do play out in real life.
     Once you establish who’s high or low status for a section of a scene, then certain behaviors can come into play. The powerful one, say, takes up more space, moves more slowly, displays stillness. The partner can shrink, scrunch up, slump. 

Use or lose the props
Our instructor pointed out that props must have a function, or not be on stage. They have to work to support an action or theme, and not be there just to cover up inactivity. If you inadvertently knock over a bowl, use it – that is, acknowledge that it happened as you would in real life, instead of being stuck on playing through the scene as you’d rehearsed it. 

Ditch the stage directions
Stage directions are usually written down after the first performance. So they reflect the movements and actions of the original cast or the choices director of the first production made. They may not make sense for your scene. Because they’re not carved in stone by the Author, you can try them out and use them. Or not. Unless Eugene O'Neill or Tennessee Williams wrote them. Then you go to theatre hell.
     This was especially helpful in our scene. Some of the actions described in the stage directions didn't feel right, or I couldn't make them work. Maybe it's my problem. But having the freedom to try out other gestures in place of the ones written down made a huge difference in increasing the force and naturalness of the scene.

Two common faults
The scenes we watched mostly failed for any number of reasons. But the other scenes, as well as our scene, suffered from two common faults.
     First, they were all on one level. The actors had decided on a certain level to pitch it, a certain tone, and the would stay at that for the length of the scene. It's a bit like that fourth-grade flute player who hasn't mastered crescendoes or diminuendi or rubato.
     Each of the scenes were classically written. That is, they had a brief set up, rising action and a climax, with some dips and rises along the way. Like sex, actually. So, a lot of the work of the instructor centered on bringing out certain moments, adding some physical actions and varying the objectives to achieve some variety.
      The second issue is more broad, but still created problems. Everyone was still too nice. Too polite. That is, undramatic. Even granted with the permission to be mean, we actors still had a hard time pushing it. This would partly be because everyone has been socialized successfully to be nice -- we're all nice middle class people who are taking an acting class, after all.
     (Stars, must be so ravingly needy and ambitious that they don't have problems with being too nice. They have all experienced so much rejection along the way, that I'd guess whatever niceness they had got knocked out of them, too.)
      It shows up a second, larger challenge -- how to get around your own habits of acting and presentation in the so called real world. Again, after you pretend to be something for a certain number of years -- nice, for example -- it gets hard to ditch that, to dig in and find or imagine or create the quality that the author has in mind for your character.

Christmas Tears, Freddy King

Run Rudolph, Run by Chuck Berry

09 December 2011

04 December 2011

The new radicalism is paper

The new radicalism is paper. Right? Publish it on a printed page and no one will ever know about it. It’s the perfect vehicle for terrorists, plagiarists, and for subversive thoughts in general. If you don’t want it to exist—and there are many reasons to want to keep things private—keep it off the web. But if you put it in digital form, expect it to be bootlegged, remixed, manipulated, and endlessly commented upon. Expect spiders to pick it up and use it as ad-bait on spoof web pages. The moment you put it out there, all bets are off; it’s way out of your control.

01 December 2011

Feel like making love - Susanna Hoffs

Hearing this song and seeing those stripperific moves reminds me of a certain moment during my gas station days. Pumping gas. Wiping windows. Checking oil. I worked with three other guys, all of us in our late teens or early twenties. All we had in common was our all-out, white-hot, dog-mad obsession with the girls, ladies, matrons, chicks, broads -- the women -- who'd pull up to our nozzles ready to be filled up. 

Two of the guys were especially lurid and detailed in what they'd do with that one, there, over by pump three. Yeah, the blonde/brunette/redhead, her. The station had two lanes, full service and self service, and it doesn't take much to see a metaphor there. Pat was a skinny high school junior who had probably never French kissed a girl, definitely self service. The other guy was older than me, 23, his hair already thinning. Self service, too. The real rogue of the bunch, who was married to a pretty blonde at 19, had the vilest stories involving lesbian sisters and hair brushes and so on, but he didn't work as often as the other two. Full service. 

(I wonder where that kid got those stories, because, I hope he made that shit up. But what's more disturbing -- that they could have gone done in daily life or that he could give vent to that debauched imagination. De Sade had nothing on him. I'm sure he's in prison now -- he had a real taste for petty thievery and drug dealing, and those are generally not a line into a respectable career.)

Now, working in a gas station is pretty easy. You sell car washes, keep the pumps clean, hustle over to the rare full service customer, make change. No matter how conscientious, you still spend what seem to be hours crossing deserts and deserts of pure boredom. The tedium only inflamed us more. Long hot afternoons when even the worst hag would provide some hook for a godawful Penthouse Letters style fantasy. Rendered in precise and exact detail.

So one night, it finally happened. A cinematically overwhelming opportunity, dropped by a cruel god right in our laps. July. Not long after sunset -- the magic hour of gold and lilac, even in a crap-hole garage station. The day's heat fading as we wiped the juice from the Burger King Whoppers off our lips  and ketchup from our fingers.

A midnight blue Camaro convertible roared into the station, a wild-maned brunette at the wheel.  She pulled up to full service, so there was no ignoring her, no avoiding her as the bell rang. She sat up on the back of the white leather seats, and looked around. And waited.

I have a theory, and I've confirmed it with a few friends. There's maybe five -- maybe seven -- times in your life when you see a woman so stunningly beautiful that you are truly marked for ever.  It's not love. It's more like stunned -- in the sense you stun a calf before slaughtering the big-eyed beast. You remember her for the rest of your life with the kind of awe reserved for the Sistine Chapel or the few perfect things life grants.

She was one.

And that song, Feel Like Making Love, was cranked up to eleven on her super-bitching thub-whumping car radio, channeling music down from the heavens. Provoking us. She even turned it up. Louder.

And she waited.

My work pals were paralyzed. Neither budged from the cash register. The job fell to me. I rolled out in my hand-me-down construction boots and my blue polyester uniform with my name in a white oval and my wannabe rebel hair cut modeled on something between David Bowie and a Joe Bob mullet, my red rag poking out of my pocket, sweaty, so godawful damp all over, and she said fill it.

My synapses flared out in an internal electric storm that, if mapped on an MRI would've looked like fireworks from a hundred thousand Fourths of July all at once. It wasn't glandular, or even retinal, her effect, it was some million megawatt zap of a current I couldn't bear up against, the song, aimed at us, of course, and now that strawberry perfume smell coming off of her and my scrounging around in my poor addled head for the open sesame, the magic word, the spell, the opener, the phrase that would somehow cross the chasm and her amusement and compel her to bring those bow-shaped lips close to mine. I thought of dark lawns, canopied beds, bank robberies, poetry in Greenwich Village, whole futures made mostly up of long nights.

Finally, I came up with something.

"That'll be $7.69, please."

Herzog via Vice