27 March, 2011

The Trick

My professional life has been a constant record of disillusion, and many things that seem wonderful to most men are the every-day commonplaces of my business.
 -- Harry Houdini

In hon(u)or of the great, revolutionary and inspirational Harry Houdini's 137th birthday, a special magical excerpt. And, like all good magicians, I couldn't possibly give away the very end...


     “Christoph?” she called to him one evening entering around the screen that marked his bedroom. “Madame S has restored the embroidery on your waistcoat and asked me to bring it to you. I told her I would…” She smiled, “…with pleasure… ” she added

     “Place it on the trunk thank you,” he grunted, eyes closed in trance, unmoving. She did. Meditation? She asked herself, or another mood of his? Remarkable how changeable he is, she thought, I do wonder if he is the victim of some sort of addiction.

She beheld Christoph hanging upside-down from the edge of his bed like a kind of bat immersed in the depths of a dark, capsized meditation. More remarkable to her was how little she cared. Her flirtations with Christoph were nothing more than an amusement, a way of filling the days, of passing the hours. When she searched her heart, she was almost astonished to find it utterly empty and her conscience utterly clean. Curious, she observed, before apathetically moving on.

But before she reached the doorway his voice cut through the air, “Shura!” His voice was a thin, sharp blade, “You would like me to teach you one, wouldn’t you?”

     “What?” she asked, turning. He was still mystically inverted.

Christoph crunched his body upward and sat upright, promptly staring at her. His hair was long these days, dark and wavy, his massive torso complimented by the stark ivory tone of an undershirt revealing the curve of his Adam’s apple, the irresistible depression of his throat. His expression was penetrative. Something told her he was meditating on her. At this she clasped her hands behind her back, her face suddenly coy and playful like a little girl. “Oh,” she coaxed with her eyes and stood gazing at him in this manner.
     “No thank you,” she replied. She meant it.

     “Something then,” He stated it plainly. His voice even and firm. “I shall tell you something…”

     “Alright,” she agreed, “something…” and with that, he indicated she sit beside him on the cot. It was time. But how secretive he was. How protective. He reached below his cot and presented her with a small, red, wooden box, hand-painted red upon the lid was a haunting image of a tiger.

     “Open it. Take a good long look.”

She examined what appeared to be a very ordinary box, but deeper and with greater space within it than appeared to be possible from the outside. She blinked and placed her hand inside to feel it’s depth and was shocked to discover that the bottom of the box was not real at all but fixed with two tiny mirrors to create the illusion of depth.

     "You didn't see the illusion because you weren't expecting one," Christoph said. "You believed I was not misleading you and that this box was actually a normal box. Those beliefs serve you perfectly until you walk into a wall. Now close the lid, think of the illusion, and open it again."

She did as she was instructed and as she opened the painted lid was shocked by a double trick— the mirrors were gone, the box no longer appeared to have such depth and not only that, the box contained her hair ribbon, neatly folded as if it had nestled there of it’s own accord.

Christoph watched her as she tried in vain to figure out how it was done. He relished her confusion. "Do not worry, Ochi Chernye [1], I once showed this box to Leon Herrmann and he could not figure it out either." Unless Christoph witnessed your mouth agape, eyes widened, pupils dilated—he apparently did not consider the trick a success.

     "Illusions work only because magicians know, at an intuitive level, how we look at the world. Even when we know we're going to be tricked, we still can't see it. Perhaps we do not wish to see it. Magic is a deception, Shura. Our minds don't see everything—-the world is too vast, too full of stimuli. Therefore the mind creates little shortcuts, constructing a reality for they way we want and need things to be, for what things are supposed to look like. Magician’s capitalize on that petty little humanity,” he smiled.  Something in his expression altered. “Magic as an art reveals the everyday fraud of perception. People soon become aware of the tension.”

Christoph clapped his hands together, and began drawing them apart.

     “This tension exists between what is…” he said, revealing a seemingly suspended playing card, rotating between his fingers, “and what appears to be…” and he clasped his hands together again, revealing his empty palms with a final flourish. "...and, after all, is that not the story of the world...?"


[1] Russian: literally, "black eyes," often translated as dark eyes, also a hauntingly beautiful traditional Russian Gypsy song, and a phrase used as an affectionate pet name

26 March, 2011

In My Life: The Alexandra Sisters

alley scott, al silber, alex boulé-buckley
washington, dc

al silber, alex boulé-buckley, alley scott,
Interlochen, Michigan

23 March, 2011

Ask Al: Take Charge of Your Life

an Al combo: Photography & Writing
Dear Al,

What do you get from photography, writing, and blogging that you don't get from acting?



1. Acting is a creative skill and art, without question. But I often feel limited by two aspects of it. The first is that it is inherently a social art form. For better or for worse, very rarely can you act without others, and while there are times when it can be exhilarating, there are also times when it can frustrate, and at its very worst, really dishearten you. Secondly, it is at its essence an interpretive art-you are more often than not interpreting other people's words, music, stories, and as creative as it is there are limitations there.

2. Photography is also interpretive but a solo show--you are commenting upon the things you, your eye, your mind and heart sees in a single instant. I absolutely love visual language with all of its subtle possibilities, and love going on little photo walks just discovering what I can "see" in new ways. I always learn something.

3. Writing is the greatest creative joy for me. It is different because one can create from the ground up, and is in responsible for every aspect of its essence. You are the boss, you hold the standards, no one lets you down but your own self. I love that. You have to rise to the challenges as well as creating them. It is interpretive as well as a solo show as well as purely creative. Heaven. Heaven for me.

The satisfaction is also largely due to the fact that when I began writing in earnest it was purely for my own personal satisfaction. There was no other motive other than enjoyment and feeling excited about creation again.

I started London Still when I was in the middle of working on a very long run of Fiddler on the Roof in London and realized that I was less a performer (which I identify as a person who gains their major source of energy and satisfaction from performing in front of others) than a creative being (to whom the creative process, performance based or not, is the most rewarding) a huge light switch went off inside of me.

There I was--24 and had everything I had ever worked my entire life to achieved and I was there. Living it and dissatisfied. I realized then that I could either mope and feel disappointed, or I could take my creative life into my own hands. I am a crazy reader and have always enjoyed writing and decided to go to blogspot (mostly seduced by the thought of free online storage!) and start writing about why raspberry jam is superior to all other forms of jam and comparing and contrasting Murder She Wrote to Diagnosis Murder. Before long, it was the main source of satisfaction in my creative life and lead to a wonderful literary agent finding, nurturing, and encouraging me to write my first novel which is swiftly on its way...

I think the moral of the story is this: take charge of your life, reader. Do not wait around for satisfaction to be provided for you, for opportunities to come your way, for others to validate and lift you up. Do it yourself.

Ask yourself "what is missing?" and then go about filling those gaps on your own. Be specific. It isn't simply to do with activities. It has to do with serious and deeply important "Swiss cheese" holes in your spirit. From my example you can see that I lacked creative energy, so instead of moping about a lack of creativity in my current job, I went after a creative pursuit of my own accord. It is the same with any other form of self satisfaction. Instead of waiting for other people to validate your worth, your personal appearance, your job performance, your value as a friend, do things that help facilitate you providing that knowledge and satisfaction for yourself.

No one is perfect and life is about pursuit-- but we can always improve, and everyone feels better when they feel more independent and that is what taking charge of our life is all about.

14 March, 2011

Adaumbelle's Quest Interview

I had the pleasure of doing a really fun interview with Adam Rothenberg of Adaumbelle's Quest answering important questions about Hello Again, the creative process, and perhaps most importantly, Hungover Owls and Superman versus Wonderwoman.

08 March, 2011

Ask Al: Creating a Character (from the Hello Again Blog)

The Hello Again blog has asked me to contribute by documenting the creative/character building process for The Young Wife. Below, is the first installment that address the beginnings of "how does one go about creating a believable character onstage?" Enjoy!


“Whenever an actor first reads a play on which he is going to work, he is an audience. He visualizes the play and hears it like an audience. Whatever identification he may have with the play is similar to the identification he may have with the play is similar to the identification an audience might have and should not be confused with the organic identification he must find with the character he is going to play. He laughs at or with the play, he cries at or with the play, and, more than anything else, he cries and laughs at or with the character he is going to play.
“This is the moment where the images he conceives, and the tone and sounds he hears in his imagination on his first contact with the play must soon be discarded and not confused with the real work on the play and the part. The actor still has to go backstage and then evolve on stage.”
—Uta Hagen

In preparing for The Young Wife in Hello Again I first did two things. I read the play. Then I read it again. And then again. (One could say that I said Hello again and again and again…)

An actor’s ultimate job is to create a character that serves the play. The story (and not their own ego). So obviously in order for an actor to make a meaningful contribution to the piece overall, one has to gather information, make provisions for, and establish as much detail as possible concerning the play itself before beginning to “interpret” or make an outline for their own role within the play/ story/ piece.
To quote Uta Hagen once again, “all tedious research is worth one inspired moment.”

I always try (sometimes without a great deal of success) to throw away as many of my first impressions as possible, because whenever my first impressions have been utilized in the past I have always experienced regret. (It is tremendously difficult getting past them.) My first impressions got in my way like Prince Phillip feebly making his way through the thorny branches in Sleeping Beauty. Only less sexy. And without a sword. Leaping toward a “photograph” of my first impression is almost always a trap— an objective perspective that, in my opinion, doesn’t do me any good. At all.

However, working subjectively through the play from its foundations one avoids ready-made-microwave-dinner-type-character-cliches. (Example: choosing to cry at the moment when you feel sorry for the character you are playing, the actor could be providing the tears that should arguably be in the eyes of the audience. A character truly struggling does not necessarily mean that the character is moved.) Through asking myself/you as the character who “I” am, what “I” want, what “I” do, one ends up with profound, deep-rooted human meaning.


A great place to start is by asking yourself “What is the playwright trying to communicate?” Then to attempt to define it in an active sentence. (We have done that as a group, as well as on individual levels, but we can’t give it all away now can we?)

Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde served as Michael John LaChiusa’s source material— and Hello Again was the result of this dramatic suggestion. Now do not be confused— Hello Again is in no way a “musical version” of La Ronde (in the way that Hello, Dolly! is the musical version of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, or She Loves Me is a musicalized version of The Shop Around the Corner)—instead, it is inspired by, but not a word-for-word musicalization of this 1900 play by Arthur Schnitzler which scrutinizes the sexual morals and classism of the period through a series of encounters (rather than focusing an exploration of relationships—particularly sexual— outright, which is more the focus in Hello Again).

The play was not publicly performed until 1920 when it elicited violent critical and popular reactions against its subject matter, and interestingly, in 1922, Sigmung Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, wrote to Schnitzler saying, "you have learned through intuition—though actually as a result of sensitive introspection—everything that I have had to unearth by laborious work on other persons." (Cool huh? They became very good friends as a result of this correspondence, and Schnitzler must have been relieved, for up until this point his edifice has been wrecked. Edifice Wrecked… Freud. Oedipus? Get it…? Awful? Okay, it is. It’s awful…moving on…)

All this being said, in La Ronde, each of the characters in the play is literally the same person from scene to scene— the circle is literal, The Young Wife who interacts with The Young Gentleman is the same exact person that interacts with The Husband in the following scene. It is entirely possible that the characters in La Ronde are all members of a singular small community.

But in Hello Again the characters are not in any way the exact same person (because of course, first of all, they are set in completely different times/decades and places),  the connection from scene to scene is less literal, more symbolic, and entirely nebulous which allows for a lot of dramatic and interpretive wiggle room— more homework and more discipline required to create believable and meaningful characters.


One of the things we discussed at the very first read/sing through was how each of these characters may indeed both be Nurses, Soldiers and Wives, and they share qualities, but they are different people. Perhaps echos of the previous selves (The Soldier), or influenced by experiences from a sort of  “past life” shadow (The Nurse), or perhaps they are simply experiencing the same longings within the confines of different circumstances (The Young Wife).

Where to begin? Most crucially, it was essential for me to identify that I was not developing one character, but indeed, two— The Young Wife in Scene 4 set in the 1930s, and The Young Wife in Scene 5 set in the 1950s.
The Young Wives, if you will…
     …and I know you will.

So. I began by giving each woman a proper name.

One of the most beautiful things about this piece are the reoccurring themes—from musical repeats (“hello again” / “his eyes are green,” the “we kiss,” theme, and “i’ve got a little time” / “we have a little time”) a brooch that travels through time, shadows of characters we meet again and again, and, of course, everyone’s names— Marie, Sammy, Emily, Sally, Marianne, Leocadia…

The 1950s Young Wife already has a name outright— Emily.

And because I find it difficult to create any kind of real person without a name so I named The 1930s Young Wife Marianne. It was a logical step: Emily refers to her friend “Marianne” who is having an affair with a “college boy.”

Thus Marianne and Emily.
Hello (…Again.)

In order to really be Marianne and Emily, I had better know who I am when each scene begins and how I got to be that way. Time, place, relationships— hair styles, undergarments, current events, weather, social expectations, income, education, personal likes and dislikes. All valid and important and useful if not outright necessary information. What do these women want? Need? Desire? What are they afraid of? Amused by? Repulsed by? Each scene in Hello Again is ostensibly a mini-play within itself, as well as contributing to the “macro” of the whole circle so there is very little to draw from in the text itself, one has to utilize the full force of their imaginative powers.

Sheesh! I’d better get to work.

But in the meantime, I will leave you with this quote, by director Jack Cummings III, from rehearsal:

“I think you actually have to… open his trousers…like with the belt and fly and everything…and just.. you know...really get in there…”

Over and out.

02 March, 2011

Playing House with The Young Wife

I'd preface it... but... well... just watch it.


1. Marc Kudisch is one of the only people I allow to call me Alex because he made a very good case and got special permission. Details about "Al" preference here.

2. I need to mention that "first kiss" James Banks *did* travel to Nepal like a bazillion times and set up incredible health programs there, but is still properly in medical school in Cincinnati.

3. Kenn Mann story totally true and the Christmas card I mention can be found here.

4. The Gezentites are real and basically we are gonna be famous.

01 March, 2011

Sometimes there is just nothing to say...

So...I'm not gonna lie: I burst into tears when I got this in the post today. 

I cannot believe I am fortunate enough to be involved in such a beautiful event, honoring so special a person, and with such distinguished people. 

Yep, I cried. 
But a grateful dork. 


Related Posts with Thumbnails