… thoughts on theatre, life, and stuff

Archive for July, 2010

God’s Word For Actors

Devo time? Now?

 

True confession time:  I’m the MOST undisciplined person when it comes to a daily devo… just never have been able to do it.   

But recently, I found a website that helps me read one tiny little chapter of the New Testament every weekday (I even get weekends off)  that way I can read and think about the NT in one year.   Any-hoo… I came across this today and it TOTALLY spoke to me as sort of a Christian Actor’s Creed… It is from Paul’s first letters to the Corinthians where he is explaining how he adapts to various cultures and life-styles to reach people for Christ.   

 1 Corinthians 9: 19-23  

19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.  

Of course Paul is talking about not letting our cultural comfort zones interfere with reaching out to people who are different from us.  I, however, read this and immediately related to Paul as an actor!  I was thinking, HEY!  THAT’S ME TOO!  I play different parts and characters to tell stories that uplift, challenge, entertain, and enlighten people!  And I do it to serve God.  As he describes in the verse, Paul is sincerely assuming these traits for the benefit of others, not because these actions represent who he is as a man.  Sounds like a method actor to me!  

Does telling people you are a Christian actor make you feel like this?

 

Now you might be wondering why I would want to find some Biblical support for we poor actors.  (errr…. or is it “us poor actors”?  where is my Mom the English teacher when I need her!?)  Maybe it’s just me, but have you ever noticed that when you are around some Christian performers, you can sense they have some hesitance (shame? embarrassment?) about being in the performing arts?  I’ve noticed it on occasion and here are some thoughts on that…  

Theory #1.   For some people, it’s almost like the dark ages when actors/dancers were considered to be low-life criminals, con-artists, pick-pockets, and prostitutes.  Celebrity scandals reported every day in the tabloids do not uplift the image of the modern actor!   Could it be that the link between immoral professions and the profession of acting is still hanging around in some people’s minds?  

Theory #2.  Ever come across this one? “Actors all have that “I gotta be me!” thing, and do not care at all about societal norms for behavior.”  (Christ never defined godly behavior using “societal norms” as a yardstick, so I’m not EVEN going there!) BUT! I do find it to be true that to be a good actor, you MUST be able to feel what your character feels.  Therefore, if we hope to be good actors, unLIMITed actors, unrestricted actors, we must have an open mind.   

That makes us very empathetic doesn’t it?   Highly accepting, understanding, willing to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes… and perhaps more in tune with the idea of  “there but for the grace of God, go I.”   If you walk around this life with tons of bias against types of people, you will not be able to accurately portray those people without incorporating that bias into your performance … the audience will see right thru you.  Also, if you search your soul as an actor (or a Christian!) and find within yourself the ability to identify with EVERY every aspect of humanity, it becomes very difficult to judge or hold contempt for other people.  If we understand the way a character thinks well enough to play them on stage, those lessons learned, that understanding and empathy are often infused  into an actor’s every-day life.    

Why is everyone JUDGING ME!!??

 

 Does that open-mindedness and understanding of any and all behavioral possibilities mean the theatrical profession draws people who might not find loving, open, general acceptance of their “true selves” in other professions?   I think it might. That in no way bothers me because I serve a Christ who taught us to love one another.   

That does not mean you don’t set limits as an actor.   

It is a good thing for every actor to insist on respect for their own limits when it comes to language, content, dress, etc.   

I won't do that.

 

  We have to consider our audience and the vulnerabilities of other actors when making those decisions.  Can a married actor kiss another actor?  Can a Christian actor play the part of Christ one week and a serial killer the next?  Those are limits that are best decided between you and God, taking into consideration the people you have relationships with, and the personal image you wish to project to the world.   

At Rush Hour, we have some self-imposed limits that we think are healthy.  Men help men in the dressing rooms, women help women.  Same thing with adjusting mic pacs and running cords through clothing.  We’re not prudes (believe me!) we just respect each other enough not to go there.  When someone is on a diet, we don’t throw cake in their faces either.   Our audience demographic is primarily elementary-school children and their parents so we use cool dance moves, not provocative ones.  Our dress is contemporary, not sexy.  We push conservative boundaries with body humor (aka “burp” jokes and stinky feet) but we avoid violent talk and sexual innuendoes in our scripts and movement (and in our back-stage talk as well).   

I’ve known Christian leaders so convinced that the perception of the theatre was ungodly, they strongly discouraged the use of theatrical terminology.  In one church environment, I was corrected for using the words “stage”  “acts” (as in Act I, Act II), “show” or “play.”  We didn’t do “productions” , we did “extravaganzas!”  It wasn’t a “show” it was a “praise-en-ta-tion!”  I kid you not.   

RMCC Creative Arts Director, Phil Christain

 

 Today, I am SO BLESSED!  Our Creative Arts Director (love you Phil!)  does not distract us with these artificial limitations.   Just as we have brilliant men of science and engineering who attend our church and are not ashamed to use the terminology of their professions, we too, as actors, use the terms of our own trade.   

We embrace the craft of acting, the way Christ and his father embraced the craft of carpentry.  Can you imagine a carpenter who doesn’t use the term “joint”?  Seems silly to us, so we use the vernacular of the theatre when appropriate.  End of rant.  Just kidding, I have more to say.  

Did you know theatre was condemned as ungodly and almost forbidden during the dark ages?  Sure, you know that… but did you know that theatre first re-emerged during the later dark ages in …  

Passion plays grew popular and eventually became quite elaborate.

 

 CHURCHES??  It was common to act out Biblical stories for a population that could not read –  and even if they could read, they would need to read LATIN to make sense of it! (Translations in English for the common man came later.)  Some scholars I have read actually say that church passion plays were the catalysts that propelled society from the dark ages into the Renaissance!   

But I digress!  Back now to why I like the idea of a Bible verse that encourages actors…  

If you are an actor, a performer, or a singer, I hope this verse spoke to the creative artist in you.  I hope we can celebrate our gifts with HUMBLE-ATION!  God totally gets the art of creation!  He sings with the voice of birds, and paints with light in the sky, He dances in the water, the waves, and the wind, and He speaks in the thunder and the laughter of children.  All our world is His stage where He is the ink on the page and the light in the dark theatre! He is the author and originator of these gifts, and He gave them to us to use for His glory.   

I believe He wants us to polish these gifts like gems, and use them in praise of the Giver.  Every word an act of worship.  Every note an act of worship, every stitch, every step, every breath an act of worship.  

hugs, V  

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Yarrrr! Boulder’s Dinner Theatre presents Peter Pan

Lovin' the night out at Boulder's Dinner Theatre.

A few days ago, I went to see Peter Pan at Boulder’s Dinner Theatre.  Couldn’t resist posting this shot of Brian Norber posing with my friend Donna, daughter Aleah, and me.  Me Mum was takin’ the picture there matey!   Yarrrr! 

Captain Hook is in the HOUSE! Yarrrrr!

This is a wonderful theatre we have enjoyed for the better part of a decade ever since we moved to Boulder.  We still try to catch every show we can.

The wire work was sweet!  Peter (Joanie Brosseau-Beyette) and the kids did really fly, and the pirate scenes had the audience rolling with laughter.  It’s light-hearted and thoroughly entertaining.  We’ll go back and see it again in August when our kids who live in England come over for a visit.  Can’t WAIT! 

Check out this great vid about how they made Peter and the kids fly!  http://www.dailycamera.com/theater-dance/ci_15033236

Directed by Scott Beyette,  set design by Amy Campion.  Here’s the theatre’s website: http://www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com/

Check  ’em out!   hugs, v-

Memorizing tips

It’s late at night, and once again I find myself sitting up in bed reviewing my lines for a performance tomorrow.  During the Rush Hour season, the memorizin’ requirements can be substantial, so here are some tips…

Memorization gets easier with time.  The more you do it, the easier it becomes. 

Start in a quiet place.  Minimize distractions until you really have your lines down.  At THAT point, distraction can actually become helpful!

READ IT FIRST!  Read the entire piece through at least 3 times before you try to memorize the first line.  This technique will help you understand what you are learning, how the words flow and what other characters are doing… all of which will add meaning to what you are learning, making it easier to remember.  This is a MUST DO for memorizing music!  Always be really, really familiar with the way an entire song sounds so that you can memorize your part in context. 

Say the lines out loud.

I write my lines down.  Just like spelling practice as a kid. As I get faster, I just write the first letter of each word until I can say the lines faster than I can write or scribble them down.

MOVE AROUND!  Once you think you know the lines, walk around.  Imagine the audience as you speak, envision the theatrical environment.  This will help prevent the deer in the headlights moments when you have to add blocking later (see glossary).

I use gestures to help me memorize.  Adding a specific movement to a line can trigger the words.  Just keep things natural looking, and don’t add a movement for every word! 

Add distraction.  Once you have the lines down pretty well, let the dogs in the house and keep practicing.  Go in the same room as the kids, turn the radio or the TV on, and keep working!  If you have kids old enough to read, hand them a script and have them read the other character’s lines.  Be sure to tell them not to rescue you unless you ask for help.  Be fair to your rehearsal partner by stating your expectations clearly before you start. Do you want them to correct you?  If so, should they correct every minor mistake, or just make sure you get the general idea of the line. 

Don’t memorize the “ACTING” as you learn the lines.  Unless you are directing yourself, memorizing HOW you will deliver the lines as you learn the words themselves can set your performance in stone, and cause problems when you begin acting with others.   A director may want a different interpretation and you may be so sure of your character’s own motivations that you don’t leave room for the other actors to explore THEIR parts because yours is so locked down.  Try memorizing the lines in a monotone at first, THEN memorize them using a different interpretation every time you read the line.   Play with different emotions, say the line happy, silly, angry, sarcastic, evil, with a lisp, with an accent.  Take a line and add an emphasis to a different word each time you say it. 

     example:  HOW now brown cow.  how NOW brown cow?  how now BROWN cow.  how now brown COW! 

I use that same technique when I am not sure how to interpret a line.  By changing the emphasis of each word, you can explore the writer’s intent in a variety of ways.

  Try this example out loud:  I will not go to the corner store right now.  I WILL not go to the corner store right now.  I will NOT go to the corner store right now.  I will not GO to the corner store right now.  I will not go to the CORNER store …. OK, you get the picture.

All the repetition helps. 

I have a friend who has a recorder app on his phone.  He records the entire script in various character voices including his own lines and listens to it over and over saying his lines “with himself.”  He records a second version where he omits his own lines and reads all the other characters’ lines.  He uses the first recording until he has it down, and uses the second version to test himself.

Often I get STUCK on the same line, forgetting in the same spot each time I come to it in a script.  If  I can’t remember what comes in the next sentence, I drill and drill about 5-6 words, over and over, taking the last few words I know and the first few words of the next line where I get stuck and repeating them. No breaks, no “punctuation”… just the words flowing from the solid phrase right into the trouble phrase.

Example:   “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.”   Let’s say I get the first half, but can’t remember the method part… here’s the way I would say it over and over…. “madness yet, madness yet, madness yet”  Then add more….” madness yet there is method, madness yet there is method, madness yet there is method.”  Then I would do the whole phrase until I had it down.  THEN, and only then, would I allow myself to add the phrasing and interpretation for meaning.

I might set myself a goal such as saying a line perfectly 10 times before I allow myself to go onto the next line.

This will vary according to your own group and director’s preference, but generally… during a rehearsal, don’t keep your script open and in your hands… know your lines well enough to roll them up in your back pocket, tuck it under your arm, toss it on the floor nearby.  A rehearsal is not a first read-through… be better prepared than that if you possibly can.  (This assumes, of course, that it is not a blocking rehearsal that requires you to make notes on your script).

During a rehearsal, there should be someone on book (watching lines) for you.   If there is, just say “LINE”  clearly and HOLD CHARACTER until you hear the line.  If there is no prompter… pick up your script, find the line and carry on with as little fuss as possible. 

Saving my number one tip for last…. I work on my lines right before I go to sleep.  I find that they solidify in my mind overnight. When I wake up, I review them in my head before I get up.  If there are weak spots, I work those that morning and voila!  I find giving myself two nights to sleep on it, cements things in very well.  For beginners, have your lines learned at least a week before you are expected to have them down, if at all possible. Then shorten the prep time as you get better at it.

NEVER wait until the day of the performance to memorize your lines.  Show up for the final run-through with a script in your hand???  Dont.  Just dont. That is the BEST way to send an entire cast into panic mode. When a director doesn’t trust you to be prepared, they will start making rules… rules that affect the whole cast and can cause hard feelings… and since creative people like us tend to dislike rules anyway, ‘tiz a far, far better thing thou doest when thou cometh to the play prepared.     

hugs,   v-

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