Jim's Richard III Blog

What had started as a blog of Richard III rehearsal process at Cal Shakes has now evolved or devolved into a small novella. The author is petrified to change the name for fear it'll disappear, and wouldn't know what to call it anyway. Many stories are included and questions are even answered sometimes!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Let's Dance!

I went to the Westwave Dance Festival last Saturday; my wife had designed the costumes for one of the pieces called Carefully Assembled Normality and really wanted me to see it, so we proceeded to Theatre Artaud in San Francisco, an old cannery now converted.

I'm pretty new to seeing dance, in fact saw little at all of it till she started designing and building costumes for various companies around the Bay; it's rare that I get to support her work--I'm always onstage. And Dance--well, once you've been traumatized by ballerinas you'll understand. So pretty, and so cruel...............

I watched the show and liked it well enough, but I'm not well versed enough in the language and world of Dance to be a discerning judge. Some I liked some I didn't. My wife had mentioned one of the new dancers to me, spoke very highly of him and I knew immediately who he was--an electric performer, powerful and precise--and the piece that simply knocked me on my ass was him dancing solo to a recorded poem by Marc Bamuthi Joseph. It was glorious, beautiful. The spoken word and dance. We came out of our chairs at the end.

Dancers are an amazing group--many start their training at a very early age, 10 years old and earlier and endure years of brutal training. Dancers have the ugliest feet you've ever seen--and they would, they dance while they're hurt, they dance till their feet bleed, and then they dance more. Michelle Morain, one of the company members at BRT in the '80's started as a dancer. She broke both her knees in a skiing accident, and after they healed tried to go back to it. The other dancers asked "Why is she here? She can't dance anymore!" Shelly said it was one of the most painful things anyone had ever said to her, but it was true--she couldn't. She changed careers and instead became a fine actress.

And it's so different from acting! Not only in the discipline but in the lifespan, as well--as long as I have something propping me up I can continue acting till I'm 100. But dancers? They're over the hill at age 30 plus--they can't keep up, or they get injured or their bodies just can't do it anymore; some stay in the field, some change careers entirely. There is a program called LEAP which helps transition dancers out of the career when they can no longer perform. One young man in the company is training to be an Emergency Medical Technician, another an Architect. Others go on to Choreography, teaching, and related careers; I once struck up a conversation with a charming French lady at The Pacific Northwest Ballet in Portland and eventually asked her what she did there. She replied, "Well my husband and I were the principal dancers here for some time, but now I make the warm-up suits for the dancers."

I looked at her, in her eyes--and no--no pain, no regrets. She would've done it all again in a heartbeat. Astonishing.

Dancers are tough, no doubt about it. I did a production of Lysistrata in College and the director decided to use some of the players on the football team to be the muscle men. They didn't have lines (thankfully) but were to stroll in oiled up, wearing next to nothing and flexing for all they were worth. Now, we were required to warm up before every rehearsal and were led by a dancer, a tiny woman, who was very thorough, very demanding. The first time these guys came in (they were very nice. actually) they laughed at the idea of doing warm ups led by a dancer -- I think they pissed her off. Big mistake. Never, never piss off a dancer. By the time we finished the warm up I could hardly stand, and the next day the football players came in groaning, so sore they could hardly walk. She just smiled. And after that?

They always called her Ma'am.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry for not replying sooner; work seems to have engulfed my life lately.

Once again I want to thank you for your stories and especially your advice to Josh - as Jacqueline said, it's a real treat to get a glimpse into the craft and magic of theater. Thanks also for answering my questions. I appreciate your giving us a glimpse of backstage life and for sharing the joy in acting. Acting seems to put one in such a vulnerable position that I figured that one has to love it and be called to do it.

Your blog has given me a clearer idea of why I like theater so much - the combination of language, the risk and ephemeral nature of each performance, the connection with the performers and ideas that I don't often find in movies and television. Though I almost always come away from a performance with something to think about I definitely agree with you about the effects of a really great show - those stick in my mind for a long time and really get me enthused about life and theater.

I'm glad to see that there's a program to help dancers transition to another career after their performing days are over. I have to imagine that, like athletes, the transition can be quite challenging. Thanks for mentioning Michelle Morain. I remember her many fine performances - An Ideal Husband really sticks in my mind - and I hope she'll be back at BRT someday.

You mentioned that acting school is a must - why is that? It seems from your writing that one learns acting by doing it rather than going to school.

Bruce (aka Martha)

July 31, 2007 at 1:42 AM  
Anonymous Josh said...

Dear Mr. Carpenter,

I will second Bruce/Martha, and belatedly thank you so much for your exquisite advice!

I did not expect my questions to spark such eloquent, thorough, and touching replies--not to mention some hilarious stories and a great poem to boot.

I wish you best of luck on the last Cal Shakes play of the season. I'm going to have to miss King Lear actually, which is very sad, BUT I'm missing it because later this month I begin rehearsals for a Shakespeare play myself...my very first professional production: Richard II at Yale Rep--as a herald/servant/spear-carrier extraordinaire, or "Ensemble" as they call it. (After your Philadelphia Story story, I'm praying no whistling is involved.)

Fear not though, as a dedicated theater nerd, I shall no doubt be following your blog even from the streets of New Haven--and I will definitely be taking all of your sage advice this summer to heart.

Thanks again!

August 1, 2007 at 1:39 PM  

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