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!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

To Martha (aka Bruce)

Hey Bruce-

Sorry it's taken me so long to get around to answering your questions. I've been answering some pretty complicated ones (not that yours weren't) of late.

Answer the first: Yes, it is beautiful in them thar hills, but we really aren't encouraged to go beyond the fence that EBMUD has set up in the far corner of the Theatre grounds, so don't give up, there's still a chance you could be humiliated in front of the entire audience. But hey, that's happened to me many times--it'll give you a tiny taste of the actors life! But just to be safe, if you do go up there, go with someone else, OK? And I won't tell. Promise.

#2. As to whether acting has given me memories of pleasure as well as pain? Acting is a joy, Bruce. It's the air I breathe, the life I love, and only in my darkest hours do I ever consider any other unrelated occupation. I didn't get into this for the money (I would have been a fool) I got into it because I was driven to it, I had no choice, it consumed me. Still does; I'm guilty of caring too much at times--a negative virtue. I'll post a favorite poem later, OK? But I had no dreams of fame--I just wanted to be a working actor, and I suspect if you'd told me at age 17 that I'd become a well known actor in the San Francisco Bay Area, I'd have laughed delightedly in your face and said something shallow. It's still a wonder to me.

But it's a tough craft; it gets personal, we all bear scars. My father was an Army Colonel who, when he saw I had my sights set on acting, tried to dissuade me from the profession by telling me one day that I was a lousy actor (I probably was), but a few years later he saw me play Petruchio in The Taming of The Shrew and after the show he rushed up to me and took my hand glowing with pride--after that he was with me all the way. My favorite review of all time.

We're used to adversity, we're used to proving ourselves on an almost daily basis, used to being criticized--often by people who have little to no background in Theatre. And those words can hurt--there's a standing rule in most Theatres that no reviews of shows are permitted backstage and custom for one actor not to mention a bad review to another; if an individual actor chooses to read reviews privately and inflict possible physic damage on themselves and their performances that's their choice. You have to learn to distance yourself at times.

#3. Backstage Life? It's different every show, a different dynamic with every group of actors. Most of us do some kind of warm up--stretching, breathing, focusing exercises. Me? I sing--in a kind of mellow bellow. It helps me focus and place my voice and puts me in my range. What do I sing? "Scotch and Soda", "Oh, Shenandoah", "Birmingham Jail", and every so often toss in a Tom Waits tune, my only impression. Richard III was a great group of actors--smart, disciplined, and respectful of others needs. Remind me to tell you my Peking Opera stories sometime...................Still there Hilda?

Other actors backstage habits can be maddening at times; I played Timon in Timon of Athens years ago and after an exhausting first act had to haul down to the dressing shed (yes, shed), slather myself from head to toe with muddy makeup, put on rags, and have maybe 5 minutes to myself. One day I heard heartbreaking sobs coming from outside the door and alarmed, asked what was going on. I was told, "Oh, it's blah-blah; she's getting into character."..............I responded (and I'll give you the fictional reply as what I said really isn't printable), "Can't she do that somewhere ELSE?" and was told "No, this is her spot."

We all have own process, own way of getting where we need to be at the top of the show and you have to at least try to respect that, though you don't always succeed. Many years ago I did a show with a really nice young guy who started coming up to me pre-show and saying things like "Uncle Luther, where did we bury that puppy? What was his name? Scruffy? Fluffy? Smoochie? Poochie?--that died when I was a kid?" or "Remember when I was seven and we had pizza on the porch? I laughed so hard!".......the first time he did this I thought he'd slipped a gear till I realized he was getting into character. The only problem was that he was totally ignoring my process (such as it is) of getting into character. I put up with it until I got so annoyed I told him to go act with himself. And damned if he didn't.

What a weird business. Yep, I've gotta tell ya Martha,

I love this job!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I'm still here. I tried to post a comment earlier but it didn't seem to take, and now you've gone and quoted Sandburg and Lincoln and I'm feeling a bit . . . shallow? silly? for asking this, but I am wondering, because of the earthquake this morning, so I'll just ask: Have you ever been on stage for a quake that everyone felt, that maybe wasn't quite '89 but still made everyone notice. What would an actor do in such a situation? Try to work it into the action? Pause to make nothing is going to collapse, then keep on as if nothing had happened?

Thanks so much for telling all of us your stories. It is such a treat to learn a little bit about what and who lies behind the magic of the theater.
Jacqueline (aka Hilda)

July 20, 2007 at 5:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And how could I forget: The Peking Opera--do tell!

July 20, 2007 at 6:47 PM  

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