Wayward Artists

November 17th, 2017

I'm going to post theatre reviews online on a domain I registered; theatresucks . com. The first victim is Theatre Encounter's production of Aeschylus: Fragments. Perhaps not the best first choice for that domain name, since the production doesn't suck at all, quite good in fact, 8.5/10. And it's pay what you can, so excellent value. You can read the review, and if you think it's for you, act fast, because it closes on the 18th.

Review of Aeschylus: Fragments

September 22nd, 2017

Last Saturday I did a workshop for Theatre Canmore on the American movie dialect from the early mid 20th century. They're doing a production of It's a Wonderful Life, and want it to sound authentic. Having had the opportunity to work with the director and some of the cast, I can say I'm very much looking forward to seeing it. Will post more as the date is closer.

September 1st, 2017

Our artistic dramaturg Eric Pettifor has consolidated his various web writings to his personal web page at eric.pettifor.org . This is something he has wanted to do for years and years, so... finally. His web sites pandc.ca and wynja.com will be retired end of the month.

August 3rd, 2017

The Two Gentlemen of Verona finished July 30th. It really did come together by the final weekend, I could see the work we had done in the Heart and Vision phases.

I think we would have gotten there sooner had I put a hard deadline for off prompt of the first day of the Presentation phase. Actors really need to have their lines by that point if we are to be able to simply focus on putting it together and tying a bow on it.

And I wish I had videoed last Friday's performance in full. It was pretty much all there, truly a joy to watch these actors work with both precision and freedom. Instead I have something of a Frankenstein video done on 3 days; mostly the 22nd, some from the 26, and only one scene from the 28th when it was so spot on.

But as amateur a video job as it is, complete with my fingers making numerous cameos, it is still a pleasure to watch this cast work.

July 6th, 2017

Working on Primestock Theatre's Bard on Bower production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona has been very rewarding. Primestock's board and their Artistic Director Thomas Usher have allowed me the freedom to further develop the approach I began working with on Urban Story's The Inconvenience at the end of last year.

I've kept the division of the rehearsal process into three phases; heart, vision, and presentation. At the heart of heart is Guskin's taking it off the page exercise; first sitting, then with gesture component.

To the vision phase I've added focus on story telling; that as actors we are not first and foremost characters, but rather story tellers. If we have a good text and serve it well, character will arise from text. What a story teller emphasis gives us is a very clear appreciation for the importance of making a real and sustained connection with the audience. We want the experience to be one where we are all in the same space; not audience over there watching a play going on over here.

Just as with The Inconvenience, I have seen some amazing, truthful work in the heart phase. I've wondered if really that isn't what we should be presenting, it is so compelling. Ideally, we carry our discoveries from heart into vision (and from vision into presentation).

This is the most challenging part of the process for me. I see myself as more coach than director, and how can I coach the actors in such a way that they carry with them the discoveries from heart? For many actors when the concept of audience is introduced, they go into a standard performance mode they've developed, which after the work in heart seems very false.

I write this on the cusp of moving into the final phase, that of presentation. While it is not always easy or automatic, I think I've managed to help the actors bring forward their discoveries from heart into vision, and to engage in honest, connected story-telling.

But if I am honest, I must say I am worried about this next phase. If that false acting style is rearing its head in the vision phase, will not actual presentation just encourage it further?

And I wonder as well if I'm not simply being too critical. There have been times in rehearsal when I've forgotten that it's Shakespeare. It was just truthful, connected, totally comprehensible story telling. So much potential here. And perhaps that's a part of my anxiety; realizing all of that potential.

Maybe I should just relax and acknowledge that it will be better for the heart phase than it would have been without it. But…

But me no buts.* It's going to be good and you should come see it.

http://www.primestocktheatre.com/upcoming/2017-bard-on-bower/

*not Shakespeare; Susanna Centlivre, 1709

~ o ~

March 25th, 2017

After a post about whether or not it makes sense to do theatre anymore, I've been asked to direct The Two Gentlemen of Verona for Red Deer's Bard on Bower.

I've actually done something I've meant to do for a long time, and that is explore Shakespeare's First Folio more fully. I was quite frankly stunned by the degree which later editors have taken liberties with the text. They have aimed very much for a literary consistency, such that any modern text of Shakespeare is not for actors, but for solitary readers approaching it as literature. And even there, I can't help feeling that later editors have done readers something of a disservice.

Needless to say, we are going to be very much working with the text of the First Folio, using the method I began developing on The Inconvenience (see posts below). This ain't literature, it's a rollicking comic story of betrayal which ends with everyone getting married, of course! It's a comedy!

Auditions will be April 1st in Red Deer if you want to be part of the the fun. It's a profit share, so likely you'll leave with some coin, though how much depends on audiences. Two Gents will play alternating with Antony and Cleopatra (directed by Albertus Koett). Send headshot/resume to Alex ( alli_gator14@hotmail.com ) to book your audition slot.

And be sure to come out and see it, last two weeks of July. I'll post more details closer to the event.

~ o ~

December 29th, 2016

The New Moon of December was yesterday. Now sun and moon both are returning, and the sleepy lull of mid-winter is coming to an end.

What will the new year bring? I yawn and stretch, scratch and think. Possibly film. Theatre is in my blood from long, long ago. But back then it made sense economically relative to film if you wanted to self-create.

But now, with the cost of film (digital video) having come down so dramatically, you can do a short film for what it costs to rent the Pumphouse for two weeks.

Another difference which seems conspicuous is the nature of the content. So much of what is done in theatre is stuff that has already been done. If you want to draw an audience, do something known, something popular. Do you really dare take a chance on an original work?

Whereas with small, indy film, it seems to be just about all original material. It may very well be for a writer that it makes much better sense to stop hitting your head against the wall of theatre, and head over to where original work is the norm.

Does it make sense to do theatre anymore?

~ o ~

End of October, 2016

Due to artistic differences, I am no longer directing The Inconvenience. I did want to make some more notes on the process and what I learned.

The Guskin approach was successful way beyond anticipation. I was fortunate in the auditions to have a lot of good people come out, and wound up with a cast with a lot of potential. That said, I won't say that all the very best actors in Calgary came out for me to select the very best of them. And yet, the best acting I have seen in Calgary was from this cast in the heart phase of rehearsal. I was seeing real truth from actors on book.

That's another thing I discovered. The rehearsal period is best broken up into three broad phases; heart, vision, and presentation. We have a tendency to jump way too quickly to presentation, when this is the part of rehearsal which requires least time -- all the actors (unless this is a junior high school production) know how to walk about the stage delivering lines to each other in scene order; many of them even know how to find their light.

Time is most well spent on heart, where we focus on discovery of the lines and through them character and relationships. Then we we move on to vision where we acknowledge that there will be an audience sitting over there. We are off book but NOT off prompt -- we are exchanging the single textual source of the script for dual source; memory and prompter. At this point THERE ARE NO GOLD STARS FOR HAVING ALL YOUR LINES MEMORIZED, and most certainly no shame for having to call line. Just as we sourced deeply in the heart phase, we are sourcing just as deeply taking the lines from memory or the prompter. THIS IS NOT AN EXCERCISE IN RECITAL. While we acknowledge this is being performed for an audience, and we will also be playing with set pieces and nascent blocking, we are still exploring, discovering.

Finally, we come to the presentation phase. We are going to want a couple of runs before moving into the theatre to see the flow, get timings, give technical crew a chance to see it all together, and perhaps do a paper tech to anticipate potential problems before move in. By this point, performance should be audience worthy -- we have been spending the majority of our time on actually developing something of quality to present -- say, at a preview level.

By this point the heart and soul of the piece are strong. There are no 'stumble throughs' which are a total waste of precious time, the product of the 'critique' approach to directing which says, 'Run it as best you can which won't be very good because we haven't done enough actual, significant work; I'll take notes, then deliver you a critique which you are all to take to heart and transform your performances in the way I decree.' This is much of the reason why so much theatre is so mediocre, so far below the bar of sister arts like music where the artists actually work, and where excellence isn't a goal, it's a prerequisite to simply getting hired.

I really want to thank Kaleigh, Nick, John, Diana-Marie, Liz, Sarah and Sara, and Amy for having the faith in me to leap outside the box a bit and make some incredible discoveries. And thank you to Grant for providing us such a rich script from which to work. I learned so much working with you, and hope to have the pleasure again.

~ o ~

previous post

Summer hiatus is long over, time for an update.

Wayward is currently a one man shop, so projects come as time is available, and right now I'm in the middle of directing The Inconvenience, by Grant Dawson, for Urban Stories Theatre.

I'm tossing out as much as possible the critique method of directing for this one, you know the drill, actors do their thing, director watches and takes notes, and then gives notes, essentially delivering a critique. I've done this in past directing, and not been particularly effective, and I've been directed this way as an actor many, many times, and not found it particularly helpful.

In fact, I'm not entirely sure directors are even necessary. They're a relatively recent innovation, mid-twentieth century. There's always been a boss guy of some sort, but for the longest time it was the actor-manager. A company of actors quite simply does not need a director, and actors have done without for most of the history of theatre.

So what am I doing here?

Trying to help mainly with an approach that is part coach, part referee and games master. We start with the problem that most professional acting is 'meh' (we use the professional level because this is where acting should be at its best), and ask why? Hypothesis: We don't know our lines.

Simplistic? Maybe, but a simple hypothesis is easier to work with, we don't need to come up with or find any complicated method to test with. And by 'know our lines', I don't mean that we don't have them memorized. We're very good at memorization, actors memorize lots. But do we really 'know' the lines we're memorizing?

Not being a terribly original soul, I suppose, I'm using the method described in Harold Guskin's book How to Stop Acting, as it is an intuitive approach which is all about the lines, centred around a very simple approach he calls 'taking it off the page'.

  1. Look at the line(s) and take in as much as comfortably fits in your brain (you can go back for more later, it's not the short term memory Olympics). Remember to breathe while doing this.
  2. Look up.
  3. Breathe in and out, feeling whatever feelings the line has inspired in you. No self-directing or listening to inner critic or trying to make sense intellectually.
  4. Breathe in and say the line, giving free expression to whatever it is you are feeling.

If this is a scene, others in it are giving their full attention to the speaker, not burying their noses in their scripts trying to prepare for their next line.

That's it in a nutshell. There are ways of working physically with lines too which are indispensable, and if you want to read about that and all Guskin's experiences with celebrities (most often Kevin Kline), you can read the book.

It's very different from how we're used to working on book, where we're slaves to the script, trying to act while reading, reading ahead while the other actor is speaking, prepping for our next line rather than listening. After working for only a couple of rehearsals with Guskin's method, that all just seems insane, juggling way too much, with too much commitment to performance at an early stage in the rehearsal process.

The script is the source of content. It deserves our full, careful attention. Textual sourcing shouldn't feel rushed. It's so incredibly important, and very much worth taking time with at the very beginning of the rehearsal process.

We are the source of expression. This is not decided, but discovered, how the text works in us.

These are discrete things which work sequentially, each receiving the full energy and attention of the actor. And when each gets the attention it deserves, the results can seem remarkable.

As always, keep those cards and letters coming. What would you like to see or do?

     Eric Pettifor



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