Thursday, July 8, 2010

But What I Really (Didn't!) Want to Do ....

... is direct.

When actors whine that "what they really want to do is direct," they are talking about film -- where, in these days of the auteur, the film director is seen to exercise complete control in realizing his or her vision.

Indeed, an auteur -- as a director of signature-style films -- (Jim Jarmush, Woody Allen, Tim Burton, the Coen Brothers, etc.) can be more of a star than any given actor in his (yes his, more often than her) films.

Not so in the world of theatre directors.

"im in theatre class," [sic] pleaded a student on Yahoo's message board, "and i need a famous theatre director and i cant find please help me........."

Needless to say, the Wikipedia list of theatre directors provided by a thoughtful respondent yields very few recognizable names -- at least to those who aren't in theatre. And the few notables belong to directors who famously crossed over to film: Orson Welles, Mike Nichols, Laurence Olivier, Bob Fosse, and the like.

When I first joined a Manhattan theater company, in my early 20s, with little training and questionable talent, I had less of a clue about exactly what a director did than our young Yahoo poster. Like much of the average audience, I was quick to assign the finished product on the stage entirely to the actor and writer.

As far as I knew, the director made sure everyone knew their lines and didn't trip over the furniture.

And even in my first few one-acts, it didn't seem like the director did much -- other than the lines-and-furniture thing.

This, it turns out, was because those few directors just weren't very good.

This particular company did not actively seek directors; their bread-and-butter was young out-of-towners hungry for any -- and I do mean ANY -- NYC stage experience. So we all auditioned, paid $100 and were guaranteed a role.

If we wanted more roles, we had to do stuff for the company: stage manage, run lights and sound, build sets, clean the theater, run the box office, create flyers and programs -- and direct.

So many of the directors were just actors who were grudgingly putting in hours so they could get their butts back onstage.

And then I was cast in a sensitive, two-person drama about a jilted wife reuniting with her fanatical ex who had run off with a cult.

I was completely lost.

Thankfully, I had a director who had actually studied directing, and who wanted to pursue a career in directing. And she was brilliant!! She helped me understand the meaning and intention of each beat, to clarify and solidify my performance, and create a moving drama.

Slowly, it became clear to me how crucial good directing was -- and how very difficult it was, first to grasp the meaning of the play, and then to guide the actors towards the fullest, richest telling of the story.

About a year later, I was given my first one-act to direct. And, happily, I came across ACT director William Ball's outstanding book A Sense of Direction, which not only gave me essential tools for directing; it changed my understanding of acting as well.

It also seared into my brain the maxim that The Director is Always Responsible -- no matter what, with no excuses; the finished product is the director's responsibility. You can never, ever blame the actor. (Admittedly, a few times I've wanted to blame the writer, but even there, a badly written play can be directed into something worth watching... more on this in another entry).

This uncompromising acceptance of responsibility at first seemed daunting, but ultimately I embraced it as both a challenge and even an act of unconditional love.

I had once heard that to truly love a thing, you can fully -- without delusion or denial -- see it in its current and perhaps flawed state, and you can also see its most beautiful, most fully realized potential. In short, you can see what it wants to be. And through love (and more than a little sweat and tenacity), you can guide it to that fruition.

And I think that many of the actors understood this about me... that no matter how hopeless things sometimes seemed in rehearsal, they knew I had faith in them, in the play, and in the creative process itself, and so they had faith in me.

I soon began to love directing (though, diva that I was -- and still am -- still sought the spotlight when I could), and within a few months I was given my first full-length play.

To this day, the playwright -- who has been produced throughout the US -- considers that production among the best of his work.

He recently wrote, "Some things about that little production I’ll never forget -- some things you don’t even know about -- like my sister’s reaction. She’s passed away now. She came up from Florida to see it. She had no idea what I was up to. I can still see her leaning against the wall afterward, across the room from me, mouthing the words, wow, wow, wow -- blown away."

And many other playwrights have felt the same. Even after I left the company, I had been sought out to direct more work for satisfied playwrights.

And even though I know -- and they know -- exactly how much the director's hand is responsible for what the audience sees... sometimes I forget.

And so do they....

Sometimes, even as the audience cheers, and friends are slapping their castmember pals on the back... I can't help thinking, "Could this have been done without me....?"

To be continued...

Friday, July 2, 2010

Sailing, Synchronicity and Face Blindness

So I went to my sailing club's little tent this evening hoping to take out a sailboat.

Unfortunately, I arrived close to 8pm and the Dockmaster told me the wind had died down shortly before, so the boats were starting to head in -- at about a half-knot, so it could take an hour to reach the dock.

So, no sailing for me.

But the weather was nice, otherwise, and the sunset was luminous and pink. So I hung out chatting with another member.

We small-talked for a bit, and then I decided to ask about a member whom I'll call Nick Nevins, who had been on my mind a lot.

I'd met Nick a month or two before and we'd emailed over subsequent weeks.

And then Nick suffered a terrible personal tragedy.

There were email announcements and heartfelt words of sympathy on the club's message board. We took up a collection and sent love and good thoughts.

While I'd joined in the collection, I was nervous about emailing Nick as, after all, I didn't know him that well. But I had experienced a tragedy similar to what he'd gone through and hoped I could offer insight or encouragement that could be useful to him.

But mostly I was concerned about him. He hadn't posted to the board or sent any word to the club other than his gratitude for the support.

So, after a beat in the conversation, I asked my new friend, "Have you heard anything about Nick Nevins? Is he ok?"

And he said, "Uh... I AM Nick Nevins..."

The next thing I knew, he was giving ME sympathy for making such a fool of myself!

I told him how I'd been thinking about him but was unsure about reaching out. And he said it was strange that I'd come to the lake that very day since he had been away since the day of the Event.

And I had not been to the lake myself in all that time either...


Fast-forward to the train ride home and I start listening to a new podcast of one of my favorite shows, RadioLab.

The topic? FACE BLINDNESS! Yes, really!!

The blurb describes how the famous neuroscientist Oliver Sachs, and PORTRAIT ARTIST Chuck Close, were both born with a condition called face blindness.

"You can sit down with either man, talk to him for an hour, and if he sees you again just fifteen minutes later, he will have no idea who you are. (Unless you have a very squeaky voice or happen to be wearing the same odd purple hat.)"

Now, while my experiences are not quite as extreme as Sachs' -- who recalls stroking his beard in a diner mirror, only to realize his reflection was not! It was, in fact, a bewildered bearded gentleman wondering why Sachs was making faces at him -- for most of my life I have been unable to remember new faces.

Like Sachs and Close, I've come up with techniques to help myself recall details of a face which I try to connect to a name -- though I suck at remembering names, too -- (e.g. Mary has the mole, Joe has the big schnoz), but my circuits overload quickly, the system crashes and I end up remembering useless fragments of faces and names.

I have a few kind friends who help me negotiate parties; throughout the evening, I'll run up to them asking, "Who did I just talk to? Was that the person who poured my drink when we arrived?" And they patiently answer and calm me down without making me feel like an idiot or a lunatic.
It usually takes several focused meetings for me to be able to recall, reassemble and/or recognize a face. But once a face is in, it's there for good.

Thinking about it now, I can't quite say what it is that I recognize when a face finally sinks in. Sometimes I think it has more to do with mannerisms than physiognomy -- though I'm good at recognizing actors in very different roles.

But I NEVER recognize celebrities on the street.

For some reason, they read differently when they are not performing.

I'm also good at remembering voices and I have excellent episodic memory. So if I've met you once and you told me your life story, I can guarantee I won't recognize you the next time I see you (even if it's the next day). BUT, once you start talking, I will remember every detail of your story, as well as where and how you stood or sat during the tale.

Go figure.

It's a frustrating way to live -- especially since people often remember ME, and I feel like a schmuck for not being able to return the favor -- but it's nice to know that there are many others who go through this as well.

Perhaps that is why Nick was so understanding...

Strange -- thinking about him even now, I can't quite recall what his face looks like, but I have a few details.

Mostly, though, I recall how he carried himself, where there was tension in his body, and the way that he walked. So that should be enough to recognize him next time. As long as he is not sitting down.....
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Thursday, July 1, 2010

May-June Events Archive

Sunday, May 2nd @ 2pm
Dancing with the Rising Sirens
with Bellyqueen at
Spring Caravan
Ukrainian Cultural Center
135 Davidson Ave
Somerset, New Jersey 08873

Wednesday, May 8th @ 8pm
Dancing with the Rising Sirens at
Djam at Je'Bon
15 St. Mark's Place, NYC
$10 cover/$5 minimum

Saturday, May 15th @ 8pm
Dancing in PURE's Groundbreaking
Dance-Theater Work
PURE Reflections: Beauty Reimagined
The Dragon's Egg
401 Shewville Rd, Ledyard CT (Near Mystic)
Note: We are also teaching a BodyLove workshop at 1pm.
$20 at the door
$15 advance

Saturday, June 5th @ 8pm
Dancing and Emceeing in Bellyqueen's
Tamalyn Dallal Showcase at
Je'Bon Noodle House
15 St. Mark's Place, NYC
$15 Cover/$5 Minimum

Tuesday, June 8th @ 9pm
Performing Stand-Up Comedy at
Karma's Gay & Lesbian Night
51 First Avenue ( bet. 3rd and 4th sts,) NYC
$10 Cover
No Minumum

Thursday thru Saturday, June 24th, 25th & 26th @ 8pm
and Saturday, June 26th @ 2pm

Dancing in Jehan's
Dance-Theatre Spectacular
Cirque Arabesque
at Manhattan Movemement & Arts Center
248 West 60th Street & West End Ave, NYC