29 June, 2012

27 June, 2012

Ask Al: Contemporary Speeches


Every once in a while I get emails from people asking for help or for advice. With their permission, I always think it is helpful to share these Q&As with everyone just in case any of you have the same questions out there.

This on was from a young woman about to audition for drama school in the UK.

* * *


Hey Al,

...Loved your blog on Auditions but is there any chance that you could recommend a couple of contemporary speeches? I have an audition for Mountview coming up and am struggling to find something.

A



* * *

Dear A,

The best I can offer you is to think about a "type" you fit. Think about a film actor whose personality/type represents the truest sense of you--your essence, a kind of kernel of your inner self. It is important that you distinguish the difference between
     who/what you want to be
or
     WHO AND WHAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE
but dig deep and think about
     WHO AND WHAT YOU ARE 
and also importantly,  
     HOW YOU ARE PERCEIVED
This takes a fair bit of self-awareness and sometimes quite strict self assessment.
And Dude: it can be brutal.

So. Sometimes I play a game with students when I am teaching that attacks this issue with a bit of whimsy (that's right, I just said whimsy)-- I ask them what Muppet they think they are. [*She pauses a moment for you to take that in....*] This covers all the Jim Henson canon from your straight up Muppet movies to Labyrinth, Dark Crystal, Fraggle Rock and beyond. Go for gold, people! Then we sit in a circle and WE TALK IT OUT AS A GROUP. Yes. Like, as in, yep-I-am-aware-this-is-higher-education-acting-class-and-we're-supposed-to-be-discussing-Meyerhold-but-let's-talk-Muppets-instead kind of talk. Real, serious, gritty talk.
For over two hours.

Things progress thus:

Blonde Guy: I think I am Animal.
Al: Okay, great. Why?
Blonde Guy: Because I don't like to say a lot, but I like to act out. 
Al: Alright. Is that it? 
Blonde Guy: What do you mean? 

Then we talk about how he is so much more than just that one sentence, and how actually, he just wants to be Animal because, let's face it-- Animal is awesome.

Then things continue:

Al: So what do you guys think of Blonde Guy as Animal?
Dark-Lipstick Girl: I dunno.
Al: Why?
Dark-Lipstick Girl: I see him more as Bert from Seasame Street.
Blonde Guy: WHAT?!
Al: Why do you say that Dark-Lipstick Girl?
Dark-Lipstick Girl: Because even though I agree he is quiet and can act out at times, I think it comes from a sort of adorable "fussiness" that reminds me a lot of Felix from The Odd Couple-- you know, the way you like to have all your pencils in a special order, and the way you dress so impeccably even for movement class and the way you never like to get sticky?! THAT IS TOTALLY BERT!

[flabbergasted and thoughtful, Blonde Guy thinks this over...]

Blonde Guy: Is all of that true?
Al: No. The pencil thing is true. I don't really want to know if the sticky thing is true. But ultimately, the character behaviors are only ever a reflection of what is happening inside. The person's essence moves them to make certain choices. So. No, it is what they perceive to be true.
Blonde Guy: I am Bert?!
Al: Look. I need you to breathe. I'm not trying to crush your Animal dreams here. You could be a little bit of Bert as well as Animal. We could throw in a healthy side dish of Prairie Dawn if you're feeling frisky. That's possible. These people might not know you as well as you or they think they do.
Blonde Guy: ...I guess I am a little bit like Bert. I didn't know people saw me that way.
Al: Well...that is what this whole incredibly ridiculous exercise is about.

Yeeeeeep. That's why they pay me the big bucks people: to get real about Muppets (and to sing loud, cry on cue and throw tarot cards at Danny Pino's head...of course.).

Now. Just so we're clear, this is genuinely a helpful exercise for any kind of material because it is important for us to understand our strengths and natural abilities, as well as the things we need to work on. I make it about Muppets because it is non-threatening and creates a levity in the classrooms of the English speaking world's most serious acting environments...and also because I love the Muppets...duh

But the exercise can be as "Oprah Aha-moment" as you deem it necessary to be. Get a journal. Talk it out with your close pals. But be prepared for a few surprises. Proceed with caution.

This knowledge, incidentally, is not always as important for classical material because naturally there will be an acting adjustment made for the time period, heightened language, etc. Contemporary stuff is deceptively challenging because you have to be your in touch with your natural, present-day self in a different set of contemporary circumstances. (This naturally applies to all acting, but these discrepancies can be ever more evident in contemporary work.)

For instance, the second I came to grips with the fact that I am a "Meg Ryan" a whole world of contemporary stuff opened up for me....

Now what the hell does that mean, exactly? I'm a well-read, highly educated neurotic American young woman with a penchant for word-sparring, situational and physical comedy that turns on a dime to become deeply affecting and emotionally serious, usually about matters of the heart. Bazinga. Obviously there are other actors out there that fit this category, and I draw from them too-- but mostly, I'm a Meg Ryan. (I'm also a Valerie Harper).
Whatever. It's a place to start.

Once you have this figured out, then, start by adapting a speech from one of their films. It is just a place to start. You can branch out from there. I find contemporary speeches very difficult (let's just take one little look at my professional work thus far and you will see that I pretty much always cry and wear corsets-- that is a strength of mine). So, when the contemporary going gets tough, I steal from Meg Ryan films. My RSAMD showcase scene was from French Kiss. It was a hit.

Oh, and for contemporary, my advice (particularly in the UK where this issue can get hairy) is to stick to your own accent. It is just better in a million ways. As you begin to feel more at ease with the genre, you can branch out and try other stuff. But always begin "close to home."

End of the day, do something you know you are going to rock at no matter what it is... even if it is from, like, Evil Dead 2, Felicity, or something you patched together from The Corrections.

That's my advice. I hope it's helpful.

Al

* * *


Honestly, that is possibly the best advice I've been given! Thank you, will let you know what I end up doing! Just got to work out my type- feel plenty of discussion will ensue.

A

10 June, 2012

"Balibt Shvester"

Home
1904


They lay in bed together, as they always did—the windows of their room covered, as they always were. Warm breath erupted in billows as it struck the cold of the air in their bedroom, and it was (according to the depth of the darkness) two, or perhaps even three o’ clock.

Eva was restless. As a result Shura was not sleeping either. The bed they had shared all their lives was beginning to feel smaller all the time.

    “…Shura…” Eva whispered, careful to shake her sister just enough to rouse her without her starting or making too great a noise. Shura half-woke and nudged her sister with her leg, indicating to leave her be for she was so very near the edge of slumber.
    “Shura!” Eva whispered again, this time more insistent.
    “What is it, Eva?” she said not moving from her position, her tone unmistakably put-out.

Eva had a tendency to be full of talk at very late hours indeed, and Shura was always the bearer of her chatter, whether she liked it or not.

    “Well, Bird?” hissed Shura once more into the darkness, her head turned upward in irritation.

The Little Bird. That was what they called her. Eva would flit around the house, the barn, the fields, the town; leaving her “bird droppings” everywhere. Handkerchiefs, books, apple cores, bits of glass or string or pretty stones she had collected and lost within a day. But Eva was not careless or lazy, she was a luftmensh [1]—her mind was simply preoccupied with other things. Books, mostly. Dreams.

Plus, Eva was clever. Curious, too, insatiably so. She could not stave her appetite for reading, for literature, for knowledge of the world beyond her own, and for any kernel of information she could collect. Even her appearance was bird-like: delicately framed, with enviably long-lined hands and feet, Eva’s small bust, milky pale complexion and lovely open face (that housed two of the sincerest eyes ever to be gazed into) made Eva an innately child-like presence in their household.

Having spent so much of her earliest years as the youngest child, Eva quickly grasped a keen sense of her strong family and went about catching her flies with honey. She was mild and genuine. The Baby. She also claimed she was “too little” to clean the stables, milk the cows, or hang the laundry, and anytime their mother would ask her to do any of these things Eva responded with “but I am far too little.” This only truly worked until she was about eight before Sarah (the eldest) and Shura’s quiet complaints grew to outright shrieks. Besides, they had even littler sisters now.

But oh, her disposition was irresistible! Making it impossible to be cross with Eva, so good-natured was her temperament—
     “What in the world is it, Evalleh?”
—Tonight was clearly a poor example of that.

Eva hovered above her sister for a moment, hesitating, but then uttered a swift, “Oh, nothing.”
    “I hate you, I really do” grunted Shura, returning to her pillow with new purpose. “gay shlafen [2]!”
    “It is just—” Eva said, her voice fragile, her breath against her sister’s ear, “I dreamed—I dreamed we were both sent very far away…”
Shura sighed and turned her head.
    “Well, I suppose some day we shall, all of us, be sent away from home to join a husband.”
    “Shall we?”
    “Well, of course. You know that.”
    “Yes but must we? Can we not stay always like this in this tiny bed for always?”
    “Evalleh you know we cannot stay here for always, we should grow very cross with one another indeed if we were to grow old and grey and still be in this bed. Besides I would sooner marry Reb Avi’s horrible boy or that invalid son of the Innkeeper, than remain in a bed with my sister into eternity. Now go to sleep.”

But Eva could not.

Shura felt her lying there: still but rigid. She could feel the beating of her sister’s heart.
    “Shura?” Eva spoke again, this time her voice so full of anguish it woke her sister fully. Shura turned and reached for her Eva’s open face and sincere eyes within the darkness, cupping it between her hands.
    “Oh Evalleh…”
She said it again, her voice even fainter.
    “Shurushka—”
    “What on earth is the matter, Bird?” She could feel the moisture upon her cheeks.
    “Shura,” she said, as a child might, “do you—do you think I am a fool?”
The question unsettled her.
    “A fool?”
    “Oh, then you do!” she said woefully.
    “No!” It was difficult for Shura to be objective—they had been reared so closely, born practically on top of one another. At times it felt as though looking upon Eva was rather like looking into a glass.
    “I want—I so want to be worldly. Discerning.”

I want to be asleep, Shura thought but refrained from uttering it aloud. She sighed and held her breath. She could not answer. At last she found her words,
    “A clever girl like you, that has read all those books?”
    “Shura,” she said, “I wish you would tell me—” Shura felt Eva steadying herself to broach some dreadful thing as she took in and held her breath again. At last the words overflowed from her, as if a final drop of liquid had a last made the vessel run over.
    “I wish you would tell me,” she said “what you thought of Grisha...”

Shura flushed. Perhaps Eva was too, she did not know, so still she was and so dark the room. Heart pounding, Shura was rigid as Eva had been before, her stomach tight and lurching.
    “Grisha?”
Shura should have known it; for Eva had been nerving to say it for several weeks.
    “Yes…the young soldier who is always in the bookshop.”

Shura paused and released her breath.
    “I think—” she said, simply, “I think him very kind. And very… considerate of us. Of our ways. I like him.” She only hesitated slightly before adding, “I do.”
    “You do?” Eva's voice lifted.
    “I do.”

She felt her sister relax within her grip, the tears upon her cheek coming harder now, but in relief perhaps.

    “And do you think I shall be sent far away like in my dream for so looking forward to seeing him in the shops every day? Am I a fool indeed?”
    “Like I said,” Shura rose from the pillow and took Eva up in her arms fully, her closest sister, her soul’s companion, “we shall all go away someday…how far…” she pondered, “is up to us I suppose…”
    “Yes…” Eva agreed, wiping her eyes and nodding, enveloped there in the arms of her sister, “yes…”
    “Now for goodness sake, do go to sleep Bird, before I squeeze the talk right out of you.”
    “Yes Shura. A gute nakht [3].”


And just like that, they did.






[1] A dreamer, someone whose head is in the clouds
[2] Go to sleep
[3] Yiddish: good night

07 June, 2012

05 June, 2012

San Francisco

Back from a great weekend with family in one of the most beautiful places on earth. In the glow of my big brother's identical laugh, Maggie's kind and gentle beauty, nieces laughing, handstands in the pool and local wine at the tops of mountains, I realized: family is made up of far more than blood, it is made of an infinite collection of the tiniest of moments just like these.

It seemed like a matter of minutes when we began rolling in the foothills before Oakland and suddenly reached a height and saw stretched out ahead of us the fabulous white city of San Francisco on her eleven mystic hills with the blue Pacific and its advancing wall of potato-patch fog beyond, and smoke and goldenness in the late afternoon of time.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road


02 June, 2012

Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt - A Hello Again Thread

"If I've told you ONCE Bob Lenzi I've told you a THOUSAND TIMES! MacRAE!"
So there is this thing we do. 

The cast (and creatives) of Hello Again fell in love. 
That we knew. 
That happens when you take your clothes off and take naked photos for the poster five minutes after you meet one another.
We reunite all the time-- for the 12th of May (a significant date in the play for those of you who do not know), the holidays (see our Easter "Hello Again Jesus!" party), to see The Muppet Movie. You know-- like normals. 

But there is this thing we do...

We, and I really do mean ALL of us, continue to write emails to one another-- and I do not just mean the odd "Happy Birthday Whoever" emails but LONG (sometimes over 60 messages long) email chains
About any ol' thing. 
I love a healthy Hello Again email chain. 
Just your run-of-the-mill, Homeric-long-form-poem-esque, epic Hello Again email chain.

So: once upon a time, a very very healthy (read: strooooong) debate began among us regarding the Billy Bigelows of original John Raitt and film version Gordon MacRae (and obviously this Julie Jordan had quiiiiite a bit to say about it thankyouverymuch). It was legendary--as all good Hello Again  conversations seem to be.

Below, is the MacRae vs. Raitt Hello Again  email chain.

En. JOY.

____________________________________
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

The controversial court case continues--check this out:

Notice this is #3 while #4 is...I rest my case.

--
Jack Cummings III
Artistic Director
Transport Group Theatre Co.
____________________________________

From: Bob Lenzi
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt
 
 Well take a peak at #8 when you have the chance.  At the 7:25 mark, I believe the subtext is "Alright all you ignorant MacRae loving shits.  Listen to what I'm about to do live, no sissy film sets with vocal dubbing.  MacRae could never dream of the vocal brilliance I am about to display.  Enjoy my extra B-flat bitches..."

______________________________________

From: Bob Stillman
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

So, MacRae gets to sing all of "If I Loved You," plus the reprise,"in #3, and Raitt gets his verse cut out of #4, and you're making comparisons?

______________________________________

From: Chris F
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt
Don't be silly, Jack.  John Raitt.  End of story.

______________________________________

From: Alan Campbell
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt
Make it stop!

______________________________________

From: Jonathan Hammond
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

Jack.
You have broken our sacred Playbill rule.

Hi all!
Xxx

______________________________________


From: Chris H
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt
 
Well, if we're talking numbers...

Google Search:
Gordon MacRae - 686,000
John Raitt - 8,620,000 
______________________________________


From: Chris F
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt
 
Thank you, Chris.  I always could rely on you.

______________________________________

From: Alan Campbell
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

Wow. Haberl gets in the weeds with that one!


______________________________________

From: Donald Butchko, Stage Manager
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

...is it too late to vote for Michael Hayden?

______________________________________

From: Jack Cummings III
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

Sure--that was such a robustly sung performance--and by robust I mean...not.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
The cuts were decided upon based on quality.

No further questions your honor.

Bam!
End of story!? Oh hell to the no Fenwick!
Not in a million years so sit back down in that wheelchair Blanche!
Nice made up figures Haberl--why don't you run along and play with your Fischer Price airport while we settle this.
Look @ Lenzi trying to exert authority--how droll...how VERY droll. Don't you have some cheeks you need to rouge LENZI!!??
Je regrette rien.

______________________________________

From: Alexandra Silber
Subject: Re: MacRae vs. Raitt

Gah!!
I leave you children alone
For 2 MINUTES!!! 

Look. Raitt had a B-flat. It did rock. He was a beast and the original and could sing Verdi of you asked him to. 
MacRae was so fucking sexy-- like  Christian Bale french kissing you with a mouthful of Scotch sexy--and crooned like a psychopath. 
I want you to know that I have KNOWN some Billy Bigelows in my time... Believe. You. Me. 
These two were both amazeballs. 
My overall verdict?
  Rait for My Boy Bill and the money note 
  MacRae for My Little Girl
Done. 

And Donald...? If you mention Michael Hayden again we are finished

I say one blew it high, the other blew it low...for many and many a long long day. 

Over and out.

______________________________________

From: Jack Cummings III
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

Silber in da' house y'all! Heeeeeeaaaay!

______________________________________

From: Alexandra Silber
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt
 
Oh my god did I silence the crowd...?

______________________________________

Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

You did just basically drop the microphone and walk away...

______________________________________


From: Bob Stillman
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt


Put it this way, Al: if this thread were an air mattress, it'd be punctured. 

BAM!

______________________________________

From: Donald Butchko
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

I want to frame this.  or perhaps stitch it into a sampler?

______________________________________

From: Jack Cummings III
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

End Scene. 


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