31 December, 2013

Thank you, 2013

Dear 2013,
Thank you.
You were, in many many ways, the best one yet.
Here's to more adventures.


Circus time (though probably no more circus folk)
Las Vegas
VERY serious homemade educational videos
Polka dots
Business with the sea
Snowmen with friends
Opening nights at Carnegie Hall
New York City
Renewing old friendship
Creating new friendship
Letting go
Getting better
Random acts of kindness
Dreams coming true
Tying up loose ends from the past
Big big birthdays!
San Francisco
"Aunt Al"
Quality time with family
Finishing of novels
Spontaneous road trips
Skinning dipping in the middle of the night
"Slutty Slutty Lemonade"
Putting 'the past' in the past.
Slumber parties
Trips to the Cider Mill
Kick ass parties at my house
Drives to Cape Cod.
Solo adventure days in new cities
Brand new material
Difficult choices
Saying "Yes" and "Why the heck not?"
Giving Thanks
Learning all over again
Learning about constructive confrontation
Scene work
Taking real time to reflect.




Thank you 2013. X from Alexandra Silber on Vimeo.

30 December, 2013

Ask Al: 'Hydrogen'

So often, I get asked a similar version of basically what I consider to be the same artistic question.

Variants include:

  • How does one make boundaries between bringing one's own life experiences in to their work?
  • Who do you trust? 
  • What is enough homework?
  • When are you "done?" 
  • Where is the "line?"
  • What is "good" versus "bad" acting/singing/art?
Wanna know what? I don't know.

A couple of months ago a student pleaded for me to give her a concrete answer about emotional memory. She loves black and white answers--and she is not alone! A lot of people do.

     "Where do you draw the line?" she asked.

I sighed.
Because creation is never about the concrete answers, the knowns, or the black and white.

I looked at her and smiled before I said.
     "I don't know. Where do YOU?"

This is Art.
The Answer is NOT 'Hydrogen.'

Artists must (and generally speaking, human beings probably should) be willing to live in the "grey zone." To not only live there, but set up camp there! To revel in the unknowns. To bask in the reality that artistic creation, just like life, is not a science, it is an art.

Not everything can be weighted and measured, observed objectively and empirically, nor should it have to be. The truth is: there is no formula for creating the perfect work of art.
Would a "paint-by-number" be considered a work of creative art for a visual artist?
Probably not.
It doesn't work that way.
There is no ideal portrayal.
No quintessential composition or peerless poem.
And why? Because art, by its very nature, is subjective.
The lines are blurry. The areas grey.
Because the answer is not hydrogen

Thus, when endeavoring to be a better artist, once must accept that there is no perfection to attain. There is no "A" to get.
There is no race being run.
There is no chemical recipe you can whip up to "complete the assignment."
If you think there is, I would wager (and wager a lot) that you are the one creating those restrictions, and that reality around yourself.

If one accepts those truths, there will be freedom.
Where previously there was effort, there will be energy.
Where once there was stridency, there will be allowance.
Not only will your work be better, but YOU will be better.

It's not that Art isn't about hard work--because it is.
But Art is about the right kind of work. 

The answer in ART is NEVER 'Hydrogen.'
The answer in LIFE is hardly ever 'Hydrogen...'

... Except, ya know... when it is.

Such as here:
What is the only element with three naturally occurring isotopes?
And here:
What is the lightest gas?
And here:
What is the element which derives its name from the phrase "water forming"?

And on the Match Game.
...except the answer is actually "peroxide..."
The Answer is Not Hydrogen there either.
This clip is merely amusing.

24 December, 2013

'The Maid-Servant At The Inn' by Dorothy Parker

"It's queer," she said; "I see the light
As plain as I beheld it then,
All silver-like and calm and bright-
We've not had stars like that again!

"And she was such a gentle thing
To birth a baby in the cold.
The barn was dark and frightening-
This new one's better than the old.

"I mind my eyes were full of tears,
For I was young, and quick distressed,
But she was less than me in years
That held a son against her breast.

"I never saw a sweeter child-
The little one, the darling one!-
I mind I told her, when he smiled
You'd know he was his mother's son.

"It's queer that I should see them so-
The time they came to Bethlehem
Was more than thirty years ago;
I've prayed that all is well with them."

- Dorothy Parker

15 December, 2013

Friends I Admire (and Why) - Part 3

Frances Thorburn
  • Just the most creative, deeply feeling, and beautiful soul I've ever met.
  • Frances Thorburn has THE BEST LAUGH I've ever heard.
  • She is self-proclaimed to be "delightfully bizare."
  • She writes stunningly beautiful music and poetry. 
  • When she is proud of you--you feel it in your cells.  
  • Did you tune in for "Dum Dee Tweedle?" Well... she is the direct inspiration for Tweedle Dee. As in: ...I basically copied her voice. Her adorable self, with her Glaswegian brogue and signature enthusiasm for mischief. 
  • One time, we discovered that strawberries look like tongues!
  • She has endured, without question, the most senseless, profoundly difficult circumstances and still managed to soar. 
  • She loves her food. Particularly blueberries! And "quiche for one!"
  • Psssst.... Franny's a bit of a Scottish celebrity doncha know. Well... at least she is to me. What do I mean by that? When I was a still a student in Glasgow I attended the theatre all the time, and Frances Thorburn ALWAYS. MANAGED. to be in the cast. I am not exaggerating! That lassie was everywhere! "Frances Thorburn" became synonymous with "Scottish Theatre Actress." So when I saw her on the first day of rehearsals for Fiddler on the Roof, I freaked! I knew so much about her work. I tried to play it cool (but we all know how that goes for Al Silber...) Thus began the Tevye's Daughters' catchphrase: Frances Throburn: Scottish Celebrity.
  • When Franny and I first met, we were both in the throws of a great deal of personal "shrapnel--" by which I mean, in recent years we had both dealt with extremities of human experience. We were both raw and quite tender. And even though we had a lot in common, we also handled and viewed life with a lot of outward differences. We both worked quite hard to overcome our natural social tendencies, cultural differences, as well as a strength-and-sensitivity balance to forge one of the most successful, fruitful and important friendships in our both of our lives. Franny is one of my best friends on earth. I have never felt far from her-- no matter how much time passes, no matter how far away we are geographically. She is truly a sister--and I am certain it was because of the efforts we made all those years ago.

Nick Westrate
  • He is the Lenin to my Trotsky. (Meaning: we are partners in 'crime'-- prescribing to the same artistic philosophy, but we go about it in different ways. I wanna talk it all out and feel my feelings, and Nick likes to do all that plus blow up the building...)
  • My true “teaching partner.”
  • He is the friend who tells you the truth even when it may be hard to say and hear. 
  • He is one of those friends you learn from all the time. Nick Westrate is the friend that 'makes me better.' 
  • He supports the artistic endeavors of his friends at every level, in the most gracious manner possible. (He gives you that standing ovation [if you deserve it], and has applauded me both in the West End and waaaaaaaay downtown...)
  • He took a bus to come to my father's funeral....so... 'Nuff said.
  • He has a cat named Jane. Her full name is Queen Elizabeth Nancy Pelosi Pussy Jones. Jane for short... Of course.  
  • Believes there is nothing a good dirty martini can't cure.
  • He fights with all his soul for causes he believes in. Fights to the death.
  • He is from Southwest Lower Michigan... which means he knows the 'Glove Love...' WORD.
  • Without a doubt, the peer artist I probably revere and look up to more than any other.

Alley Scott
  • ALWAYS 'there' (at both, say “the hospital” as well as at, you know: Carnegie Hall)
  • World class snuggler
  • We are Team AMS! We are both "Alexandras" with middle names beginning with M, and surnames beginning with S... thus, we are "Team AMS!" Our motto? GO TEAM! 
  • She is THE BEST HIGH-FIVER I have ever seem in my life. She High Fives with more enthusiasm then a head-cheerleader on a caffeine trip. 
  • Throws one helluva party. 
  • Enjoys a Christmas Tree ornament collection (that is, for the record, mighty impressive.)
  • She is 1/3 of "The Alexandra Sisters."
  • One helluva cook. (Her philosophy is "Fat. Salt. Sugar. Done."
  • In fact, she is that friend you call 24 hours before a party you are throwing for waaaay too many guests and emit your emergency cry for help of "MUSKRAT!" Then, instead of just talking you off a ledge? She offers to COOK ALL THE FOOD FOR YOU...  
  • She is the most extraordinarily gifted visual artist.
  • ...as well as insanely photogenic.
  • She is that friend you can call upon to 
  1. drive you to the airport at 6am on a Thursday
  2. or last-minute read with you at an audition 
  3. or pick up your mail from the hateful Queens post office 
  4. or drink a bottle of tequila with... ya know--BECAUSE, 
  5. or cry andcryandcryandcry and then laugh with, because if she has driven you to the airport at 6am on a Thursday there is nothing left to hold back.
  • She is my emergency contact. That sh** is real.
  • She is both left-handed AND a red-head... and you know how I feel about aaaaall of that...

More friends I admire:

Part 1
Part 2

11 December, 2013

The Laugh

(3 seconds after the reception)

The Funeral Reception of Doom did—eventually—end.

dessert at Fran's: WORD.
After an hour or so, our numbers dwindled. The remainder of our group (which included my mother’s friends, as well as a handful of mine who had gotten the entire weekend off from college), piled provisions and headed over to The Steinman’s house for what could only be described as an epic dessert wake. It was time to cut loose at our very own “Second Funeral Reception,” which eliminated the crazy people and included everyone’s very favorite thing: dessert.

 Those Upstairs People needed to get lost before we all kicked off our Sunday shoes right onto their shiny Cadillacs. Before a rogue Sunday shoe knocked some ancestral luminary over and broke a hip. I quashed the impulse to shout, Look, I know all of these bozos came to this funeral thinking they were going to corner me and force me to apologize, but I’m not going to do that. 
Furthermore I actually need to go somewhere. 
Somewhere important
Like Fran’s house for cheesecake...

That evening at The Steinman’s was the reception I will always choose to remember—when everyone relaxed and smiled and celebrated not only Dad’s life, but life itself—friends gathered together from every corner of the country, eating delicious food, telling stories, recalling memories, and performing parlor tricks as only theatre people can. If one had looked into the window of The Steinman’s house that evening, to see our faces you never would have guessed it was a funeral—exactly the kind of party Dad would have hosted.

But that had to end too.

After we helped Fran clean up and pack away the treats, everyone had to head back to their hotels, schools, or lives, and only a remaining few of us ambled back to 1367; full, and numb, and literally everything in between.


With our numbers dwindled and our bellies full of flambé, the remainder of us at 1367 gathered in the very seats the Enemy Forces had occupied hours earlier.

After a while we decided we needed “real food.” So Mom made guacamole. (What? That is real food.) Utilizing thirty or so avocados, she whipped up her—pardon the expression—killer recipe and put it in a giant salad bowl (accompanied by two bags of donation tortilla chips someone had given us), and we inhaled this all on the hand-painted Haitian coffee table my parents acquired in Port Au Prince circa the late-70s.

Besides Grey, Lilly and Kent, only Jessica and Jeremey were to remain at 1367 for the night. Jeremey was occupying the place with a sense of real ownership—I suppose at the time he knew the place far better than anyone. He belonged there.

Jessica did too—she was the unofficial 'Mayor' of our inner circle and my other dearest friend. Jess and I had a proclivity for long journeys taken together deep into the night. The previous summer we’d roomed together while working at the Interlochen summer camp, and had driven to lakes for midnight swims, to the “E-Z mart” for emergency Popcicles. No to mention a magical drive to Honor, Michigan where we stared at the stars on the hood of her vintage pickup truck.

We decided to take a walk in the oddly warm October evening. It smelled of first fires and Michigan musk, the kind of evening that makes you think you are within the pages of a nostalgic novel. The sky was like a painting—deepest purple at the edges with a brick-colored moon, and leaves dried, glittering like precious metals of gold, amber and ruby. In hindsight I think Jess was trying to give me permission to let go with her, to give me safe passage away from the public stage of grief and family and even our friends.

But the truth was, even if I had wanted to let it go I didn’t know how.

Saying as much, she took my hand and we walked in silence before coming upon the local High School Homecoming dance, which we promptly went to (for about twenty minutes), laughing our heads off at the oddity of it all before turning back. To this day, we fondly recall the night of my Dad's funeral where we...ya know, went to Homecoming.

Last to arrive home were Grey, Kent and Lilly— they’d dropped everyone off at their buses, airports or various hotels.
     “We come bearing more food” Grey droned. They entered holding enormous bags of food from their various drop-off points, though no bags larger than the ones beneath their eyes, “luckily the German couple down the street also plied us with fancy 17% alcohol lager which I will now be setting a direct I.V. up to if anyone else is interested…”
     “Me...” muttered Kent, and the boys withdrew to the kitchen to do exactly that.

Lilly was silent as she entered the front doorway, soundlessly removing her clogs, sighing as she tucked her short hair behind each ear with her precise wood-winder’s fingers. She made her way up the three little steps from the entrance to the main living room. She looked exhaustedly over all of us, looking exhaustedly back at her. No one spoke. It was hard to discern what Lilly was about to do.
Then, in her own bewitching way, Lilly did something that in hindsight seems so achingly inevitable it is a wonder we ever hesitated to wonder otherwise:

She laughed.

It started modestly— a little chortle in her distinctive way, all charm and delight and Virginian sunshine fed by exhaustion, sorrow and utter disbelief at all that had transpired. The look on her face as the laughter escaped her open mouth was brighter than any sunlight, and it flooded through the living room, drenching us with its radiance. Lilly laughed and laughed, hysterically cackling into her hands until she ugly cried.
How could we not join her?

Something had tilted. This was it— the end of the line. You are here the imaginary sign proclaimed! We had reached it— this burnt out, fully smoked, nothing-left-but-the-filter, cigarette stub of this raw, preposterous week had come to an end.

Lilly’s laughter spread, and caught us all. The room erupted, everyone clutching at the arms and legs of another member of this ragtag crew, not ceasing, but growing, the sound of it mounting as tears flooded down our faces and we hit our chests in a desperate attempt to breathe.

     “What’s so funny?” the boys asked, entering from the kitchen.
Soon they were guffawing too. Overwhelmedness took us over, and, in safe company at long last we were free to share in a seismic earth tremor of sleep-deprived hysteria.

We all knew we were gathered for a sober purpose, but holy hell did it felt good.
Even at the end of this horrible day, we found a way to laugh.
All together.
To eat guacamole.
Because that is how any day should end— whether it be a funeral, a hanging, a luau, your quinceañera or just Tuesday.
And though I have never been part of a street gang, I would wager that this kind of camaraderie felt pretty close— the kind of feel good we-sure-weathered-that-storm-together type togetherness that put one in the mood to play chicken and steal a stop-sign.

I never would have believed it, but as I rolled on the floor, face aching, lungs positively burning from the sheer strength and necessity of the laughter, I knew:
     it was all going to be alright.

06 December, 2013


Give all you have today. 
That is all you can give.
But do give it all. 

01 December, 2013

Wolfgang & Wonderland

LIVE TODAY at 3 pm EST (GMT-5) on www.dso.org/live

I am so excited to return to the Motor City to create the role of The Narrator in this world premiere of 'Dum Dee Tweedle' on tomorrow's live webcast. It's a crazy and amazing role (featuring my first-ever use of Glaswegian accent for Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee!), and I cannot wait to share it with you all! 

Watch & listen free, Sunday at 3 pm EST (GMT-5) on www.dso.org/live.
[Live from Orchestra Hall is presented by Ford Motor Company Fund and made possible by generous support from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.]

Maestro Leonard Slatkin leads the live webcast of 'Wolfgang & Wonderland!' 

DSO Concertmaster Yoonshin Song plays Mozart's second violin concerto, and an all-star cast performs the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize winning David Del Tredici's Alice in Wonderland-inspired 'Dum Dee Tweedle.'

Music Director Leonard Slatkin's championing the use of technology here in Detroit and across the pond at Orchestre national de Lyon to share live presentations of music with the world is a marvel. 

Read his latest HuffPost Arts & Culture blog about live webcasting and the orchestra's "move to the Internet."

28 November, 2013

Giving Thanks is Serious Business...

The Goody Silbers wish you peace and goodly greetings on this day of Thanksgiving...

They warn ye not to engage in too much merriment. (Please eat, drink, smile, dress, burn witches and dance, responsibly)
But above all, goodly tidings to ye and yours!


(We clearly are...)

25 November, 2013

The Coulson 'Cats' Wedding

Soooooooooo this is hard to explain.

But one time, Christian Coulson and I concocted a plan in which we would marry one another for our respective citizenships.We weren't (entirely) serious. But it was very fun to plan our ridiculous fake nuptials, which we decided would be a Cats themed affair. And no-- not the animal. The musical. After saying "I do" we would exit on a giant tire. (Or, as Mr. and Mrs. British Coulson would spell it: tyre.)

Yes: people would be required to dress in unitards.
Yes: there would be garbage.
Yes: there would be karaoke "Memory."
It would be epic.

As time went on we both got our visas... ya know, legally, so our wedding was off.

... But whenever one of us came across an immigration article or related update, we would send it along to the other with no message... just an image from the musical sensation.

Because friends let friends entertain the possibility of marrying them for a visa, and not only that, but plan a fake Cats wedding, and continue the Cats dream long after the wedding was off.

The fake Cats wedding: NOW... AND FOREVER...

21 November, 2013

Hugh is 60

Hugh Hodgart: LEGEND...
A few weeks ago Anna Hodgart sent out a mass email to all the folks who have been touched by the life of her father Hugh-- in order to celebrate his first 60 years of life.

Hugh Hodgart is what you might call a bit of a Scottish theatrical legend. Head of the School of Drama at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (formerly the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama), who in my day, was head of Acting, Hugh directed me in not one but three of the most influential productions of my education, and subsequent career as an artist.

He was also a very important mentor to me, and what I am certain is countless others.

It was a joy to pitch in and write a little something for good ol' Hugh-- a man I both respect and adore.



The Bite of the Night. Creepy.
For all the "roles" Hugh Hodgart has given and directed over the course of his life, it is, I suppose, fitting to examine the role he has played in mine. Mine, and, of course, the lives of so many others. It is hard to put into words... but I am certain as Hugh knows at this point: that has never stopped me from trying.

I personally crossed paths with Hugh as one of the "first fleet of Americans" to come to the (then) Academy in the autumn of 2002. I was personally a disaster-- newly 19, grieving a far too recent loss of my father, and alone in a foreign city for the first time in my life. What was I thinking?

But I was welcomed with open, quietly reserved but (not-even-all-that-secretly tender-hearted) bear-hugging arms. In fact, it was not at all a leap to say he was a steady father figure for many of his students, but for me, he was present in that manner at the moment I probably needed it most. Not to mention the countless benefits of his ferocious intellect and artistic vision, his wicked wit, and masterful diplomacy as he navigated the waters of the School of Drama.

The man himself before The Cherry Orchard, 2003
I feel lucky to have learned all about the art of "making mustard" from him-- from Brutopian to Varya to the armless, legless, Helen of Troy. (I mean: you know you've really got some serious trust going on when Hugh asks you to have armless, pregnant, onstage intercourse with your childhood friend from summer camp and no one even blinks...) He is an artist and it was a joy to create important, transformative theatre together with him at the helm of the ship.

But I must say, the moments that truly glitter, of course are the human ones:
  • Phoning me in America over the summer holidays because his daughter NEEDED Converse trainers and she needed them now, and "they must be purple."
  • A sojourn to Chicago for the Unified auditions
  • Many a Guy Fawkes Night in his backyard lighting fireworks and indulging in Rhona's incredible Chile Con Carne.
  • Welcoming him in to the flat I shared with Justin Flagg up in Westbourne Gardens for a true American Thanksgiving (and specifically requesting a batch of previously mentioned Chile Con Carne...)
  • Seeing his face after a performance in the West End...
  •     ...and in New York City...
  •     ...followed sharing burgers in a local downtown haunt after the show and hearing the entire tale of his romance with Rhona (complete with the part about CHERNOBYL...)
  • And best of all, hosting his daughter Anna in my home her in New York, and 1. Witnessing him as a nervous but very proud Papa and 2. Meeting and really getting to know his remarkable daughter and see Hugh through her eyes. I asked her if she had ever felt envy-- toward the throngs of young people whose lives he influenced and touched in such an artistically, and perhaps on occasion, literally, paternal manner. She sat very quietly for a moment then spoke with great certainty: she was not. She was only proud. And grateful. Profoundly aware that thought many a student viewed and revered him as I did, she was the daughter of that good man.


Happy birthday. (I'd fly over to hug you personally on this milestone, but the flight costs and arm and a leg... and you had me cut those off long ago.) I am sure I speak for many when I say: I am glad you were born.

With love today and always




Anna's response after the "big reveal!"
Hi everybody,

First off - big apologies for the group email - if I wasn't trying to squeeze this into my lunch break at work I would most definitely be doing individual thank yous.

On Saturday, my sister secretly came back from London and we went round and surprised my dad with a day of birthday activities -made breakfast, took him for dinner, made two birthday cakes and filled the house with loads of balloons and banners. In the evening we presented him with the book of birthday messages.
Don't think I've ever seen him quite so overwhelmed and touched before so thank you so, SO much to everyone who wrote a message, sent pictures, wrote down memories, forwarded on the email and contributed in any little way. It all came together to make a pretty beautiful mosaic of memories and love.

You're all wonderful - thanks so much for making it possible.

Anna x

And Hugh's to me a few days later...

Silber - you beautiful person,

I gather Anna has been writing to thank everyone who contributed to the 'Book of Hugh at 60'. May I add my own love and thanks for your so kind words? You made me cry, of course - good crying - the tears of recognition of love and fellowship, necessary tears......

All my love


18 November, 2013

Friends I Admire (and Why) - Part 2

Comrade rides upon a Siberian steed!
Kit “Comrade” Baker -
  • He just that friend that… gets it.
  • Gets it so much you go to SIBERIA together. (In fact, responds with-- "Yeah I absolutely have friends all over Russia and parts of Poland..." ...cuz... he's that guy...the guy with friends in Siberia...)
  • And when he asks you to go to that weird cafe on 2nd Avenue, or meet you in deepest Brooklyn, or go to the weird art exhibit or whatever-- you just go.
  • He is the friend that reads your unpublished novel. Because he is that kind of friend that likes you enough to read your unpublished novel. 

Beautiful La
Lara Pulver
  • We've known one another for many years but have truly grown to be each others' "people" in recent years, but she is the "La" to my "Al" and our backwards nicknames please us very much thank you. 
  • La is one of those people is in a constant state of openness and growing from whomever it is she comes in contact with. When we speak, we both share and learn. And laugh. A lot.
  • Lara is pretty faaaaamous (and about to be even moreso), but probably the only artist friend I never speak with about "the business" (except how it affects us spiritually). When we FaceTime... for over an hour. I appreciate that as much as I marvel at it. There is nothing that lies there that truly matters, on the deeper levels, to either of us. 
  • We have strolled the streets of London town, had adventure days in New York City, and climbed to the top of the hills of Los Angeles together. Where to next La?  
  • A few years back when we were both navigating the depths, we were one anothers' "Ariadne," holding onto the string at the mouth of the labyrinth, making certain we didn't get eaten by our respective Minotaurs.
  • She is more than a survivor--she is a thriver
  • She, quite seriously, makes me feel more celebrated than any other person in my life other than my mother.

Nikka Lanzarone
  • One of the few friends I ever made “instantly”
  • Makes me feel totally "seen--" in every way.
  • She does a really a-ma-zing impression of "El Stans" (aka Elizabeth Stanley)
  • The first time we talked we "went there" and have never gone back
  • She pulls out (and off) witty one liners like no other:
  1. but I want to be in the show"
  2. "things i was not kidding about"
  3. "it is not fair to others..."
  4. and a strategic use of "too soon?" is included here... out of homage to her genius. and timing.
  • She is a style genius.
  • She introduced me to Pinterest. So there's that. 
  • She is the "Whore" to my "Wife." (Our anniversary is 'The 12th of May.' Duh.)
  • She makes things. Like a style business. And amazing music. And a killer podcast
  • Her solo show is based on the structure of a vintage Rock documentary. It doesn't reeeeeally get cooler than that...
  • She has world-class legs. 
  • So sometimes, you (translation: ME) don't really cry (unless you happen to be in a corset and being paid) but you still have a liiiiiittle bit of a weepy New York style shaking-your-head-and-mumbling-stuff-circling-a-subway-entrance-like-a-crazy-person meltdown after the audition/voice lesson/day/month/week from hell. Then you have the great idea to call Nikka, you go immediately over to her apartment, you 'feel all the feelings' and she says, "We could make a Pro and Con list... but...I dunno...maybe we should just eat chocolate instead." And then you do. And immediately after you do, you decide to do fun German accents. Then you spontaneously make an Avant Garde Expressionist video....  Ja.
  • She is a poster child for only children gone sooooo right.

  • She is one of those people that, given any task or life situation, she could excel at ANYTHING. If she were forced to be a surgeon she be all "Ughhhh I hate blood but LET'S DO THIS..." Or say, a taxidermist, or a cop, or an auto mechanic--she’d be the most successful all-of-those in the state. She's just...one of those people.
  • She is that friend where you doesn’t have to do anything other than sit on a bench and eat frozen yogurt and you still feel super close. 
  • Her photography is so beautiful not simply because it is visually stunning and technically perfect-- it is because she manages to not merely capture the way a person, a place or an event looked, she captures the uniquely magical way they feel. That's true artistry.
  • When someone's child gets their middle name after you (and coincidentally her husband's best friend is also an "Alexander/Sasha")-- that's old fashioned, epic style friendship. 
  • She is my first, and truest “Chosen Sister—” and the closest thing I know to honest to goodness, real-life, separated-at-birth, soul-matey type sisterhood.

05 November, 2013

The lessons we've gained from Konstantin's play.

I taught a class today about Anton Chekhov's 'The Seagull.' It was one of the most moving days I have ever spent involved in art.

I'm a teacher. Did you know that? I teach at Pace University. (If I might be so bold as to say so--I think I might be a good teacher. I hope so. I do. And I aspire to be better all the time.) I was fortunate enough to have a lot of very good teachers to pave the way for me--Joanne Devine, Thomas Kearny, Jean Gaede, David Montee, Robin Ellis, Mark Saunders, Hugh Hodgart and Judy Chu-- to name the giants. Thus, I am proud to say I am a teacher-- proud to carve the word into the air like Annie Sullivan spelling each letter in to the palms of Helen Keller. It is one of the most rewarding aspects of my life.

On days like today, it takes the top slot.


I realize I don't talk about Art-with-a-capital-A, a great deal.
Perhaps because I don't think people would really appreciate that kind of talk.
I don't really know. Perhaps they would.
But art is why I do this.
All of this.
Art is who I SERVE.
My question every morning when I wake up is "How may I serve today?"
And the answer is usually found in art-- whether it be directly, or in living an artistic "life." I believe an artistic life is a connected life-- looking strangers in the eye. Meaning what you say. Receiving compliments and criticisms alike with dignity and graciousness.
In all these acts, I serve art.
When I write. Interpret the words of others. Sing. And teach.

I have a lot of wonderful students. All of them actually. Each of them in their way is very special. They often rock my world. They often make me stop dead, breathe deeply, laugh, weep, and pinch myself.

But there is one kid who rocked my world today. Let's call him Johnnie.

After weeks of Stanislavski, Uta Hagen, reading, connecting, weeping; of huge revelations, of trust being built and risks being taken, after traversing the depths of our Selves, I assigned our first piece of TEXT. Anton Chekhov's masterpiece of 1896: The Seagull.

For those of you who do not know:
There is an aging noteworthy actress.
A famous writer.
A young beautiful girl who lives across the lake, who is the muse and love of
Konstantin-- the play-writing son of the noteworthy actress.
Servants. Symbols. People in mourning for their life. Etcetera. Curtain.

I asked them to take notes on the first act, then we read through the act in class today.

The central action of Act 1 is the performance of Konstantin's experimental play. In today's estimation it might be considered "avant garde" or perhaps a "performance piece" more than a work of drama, but no matter. Konstantin is as preoccupied and obsessed with creating "NEW FORMS" of art for the theatre as he is with his muse Nina (who will be the sole star of this evening's performance).

The play begins.
It is a tangle of symbols and heightened language.
His mother does not understand it-- perhaps she feels threatened by the entire exercise and creates such a commotion in the audience, Konstantin angrily stops the performance mid-way, running off in disgust and devastation.

...My students took copious notes on where the play was set, what time of day, where we are, who is related to whom, who seemingly loves whom, what everyone does for a living. Facts and details. They inferred. They valiantly tried. It was a good first attempt at analysis.

But without fail, not a SINGLE student had anything to say about Konstantin's play.
Not a word.
They skipped right over it.
As if they were the audience by the lake themselves-- so confused by something so different and "out there" they back away from it altogether.

I understood.

I took a deep breath and I tried to look each of them in the eyes.

"Look. My babies. I want to talk about Konstantin's play. But before we do I need to say something: When we encounter things that are difficult-- whether they be in a play or in everyday life-- we must not respond to said difficult by balking. We cannot give up, retreat, back off or back away because it is too dense or too overwhelming. We must LEAN IN to that difficulty. For only in doing so can we truly grow."

And we dug in. Line by line. We decoded. We drew parallels. We searched for truth and meaning underneath the rocks of language and in between the cracks of the symbols. Our imaginations soared and our hearts opened -- as did our minds.

Then, we read Konstantin's play again.

There was a very long silence.
A kind of reverent hush came over the room.

Then I uttered, almost in a whisper,

     "...Is his play, a good play...?"

And I looked over at Johnnie. Sweet, sensitive, "bro" of a guy from New Jersey. He is a doll-- but isn't always free with laughs or affection, especially for a "theatre kid." He plays his cards close to his chest; a little careful, always observing. Johnnie is also wise. And deep. And willing. I looked over at Johnnie... and I saw his face alter-- almost imperceptibly--but I could actually see his mind open.

His voice was quiet. But sure:

     ". . .Yes. . ."

Konstantin's play is not perfect. But he has talent. And that changes everything.
For Johnnie, it was almost a religious revelation.


... Reader: it was glorious.
I don't think I shall ever forget it.
It is why I am not only in the theatre, but why I love teaching so much.
I love sharing those huge moments, connecting about these great works of art with the young people coming up behind me.

Konstantin's play is so personal. so important. And so incredibly difficult to navigate-- if you are unwilling to dig.

Later, I wrote an email to my students, as I am often want to do. I love to touch base in some way after a meaningful class.
My babies.
This is hard.
But the hard is what makes it great.
The hard is what makes what we do a noble act of artistry.
As Konstantin writes:
". . . Yet I know that victory will at last be mine in the savage ceaseless struggle with the Demon, the source of all material impulses. . . and then matter and soul will join in beautiful harmony. . ."

Just like the people that surround Konstantin, we must not dismiss what we do not initially understand.

For truly: gold is there if you are willing to dig. If you are willing to lean in to the difficulties. To engage with that which we perceive to be so far "beyond us."

It is often closer than we ever could have dreamed. 

03 November, 2013

Ask Al: Method Acting

The Method Makers..

Dear Al, 

You seem to know stuff. 

Method Acting: 
...what exactly… IS it? 

Thank you,



Dear Curious,

Yeah. Good one. 
Let's start with a Dictionary-esque definition: 
"Method Acting is a group of techniques actors use to create in themselves the thoughts and feelings of their characters, so as to develop lifelike performances."

[**balloon drop!!*]

[. . . crickets . . .]

... I know. 
That's it. 
Not all that shocking right? 
No one slices off their leg, or speaks in tongues, or won't answer to the name on their birth certificate in that definition.  

C'mon! Admit it: you expected me to mention living amongst a family of wolves for a year to prepare for your star-making turn in "The Jungle Book." 


Look: just like Square dancing, beauty pageants, certain religions, the cities of Detroit, Liverpool, and Tripoli, carbohydrates, and that majority of "isms" everywhere; sometimes perfectly non-crazy, totally decent stuff gets some weird, and arguably bad, "press." 

So: I'm not passing judgement on any of the previously mentioned, by the way (who doesn't like a good talent competition and for Pete's sake I'm from Detroit), I merely present them as things you doubtless have some kind of opinion about without a lot of true research or experience. Just like Method Acting. Everything you "know" you most likely don't really know--you've just heard about it...

To begin, let's break down what Method Acting's origins, in order to understand it better. 

Stanislavski.... DA...

The "Method" refers to a method of teaching the craft of acting, based upon “The System” created by Konstantin Stanislavski (made internationally famous by his first publication entitled, "An Actor Prepares," published in 1911). In the mid-to-late 1920s Stanislavski's method of teaching acting began to be adapted by American actor, director and teacher Lee Strasberg specifically for American actors to meet the particular psychological needs of the American actors of their time, to keep apace with the ever-changing
evolution of drama and theatre itself.

Based on the 1911 Stanislavski conceived-concept of Emotional Memory (a well of memories within us that stir and create truthful emotional responses), Strasberg based the majority of his teachings. But by the 1920s, Stanislavski had moved on from this concept, discrediting Emotional Memory as a viable means of achieving truthful acting, and replaced his theory with the use of Imagination ONLY. But this shift occurred unbeknownst to American followers who, of course—pre-internet-communicado—could not communicate directly with him

Thus, (and this is crucial): ‘THE METHOD’ IS NOT THE SAME AS STANISLAVSKI’S 'SYSTEM' — it is an OUTGROWTH of the American theatre scene--particularly in New York, flourishing in the 1930s and 40s. (
NOTE: Though sometimes Stanislavski's teaching are referred to as "the Method," for the sake of clarity within this post, whenever I refer to Stanislavski's work I shall call it "The System" and whenever I refer to the American off-branch started by Lee Strasberg I shall call it "The Method." Making this distinction with such starkness is somewhat unique to me and my acting/teaching life, so wherever your further research may take you, these terms may be used interchangeably. Be very sure to establish which school of thought is being referred to because they are similar but different.)

To put it simply: Stanislavsky's ideas changed over his life (particularly in regards to his use of Emotional Memory) and Strasberg did not necessarily incorporate these changes

Though not all Method actors ultimately use the same approach, the origins of their techniques lie here. Stanislavski and Strasberg are the "Fertile Crescent" of Method Acting. 


Lee Strasberg (1901 – 1982)  - AFFECTIVE MEMORY

"The real secret to method acting—which is as old as the theater itself—is creating reality."
– Lee Strasberg

Lee "Feel Your Feelings" Strasberg

Considered the "father of Method Acting in America,” Strasberg co-founded the Group Theatre in 1931with directors Harold Clurman and Cheryl Crawford, hailed as "America's first true theatrical collective.” In 1951, he became director of the non-profit Actors Studio considered "the nation's most prestigious acting school".

Strasberg's method emphasized the practice of connecting to a character by heavily drawing upon on personal emotions and memories and experiences, aided by a set of exercises and practices including sense memory and what he termed “AFFECTIVE MEMORY”—a memory present in our lives that causes an AFFECT. This is different and distinct from Stanislavski’s Emotional Memory.

Affective memory is defined as:
 "...any memory you as a human being can call upon when approaching a character to manufacture controlled emotional reactions to specific events and circumstances."

For most actors, simply recalling a past event will not produce an honest emotional response.  Relaxation plus truly vivid Sense Memory is the "combination to the safe--" the safe in which personal treasures (of the actor's memories) are stored away for the lifetime. The actor delves within his memory for the parallel event, and finally commits to creating its re-living

The "Affective Memory" is one of the most widely known procedures in all of "method" acting.  It has obtained a reputation that ranges from "dangerous" to "genius."
(...understandably... on both counts...)   

Noted Strasberg students/practitioners are Ellen Burstyn, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Sally Field, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Fonda.

The most controversial technique of Strasberg’s Method teaches drawing emotions for a character from a specific past experiences and remembrances of the actor.

Strasberg renamed Stanislavski's earlier technique to 'Affective Memory' and continued to teach it as a proper acting method long after Stanislavki discredited it as a useful acting method.

To illustrate the difference between the two methods:
  • Stanislavski has the actor ask himself, "What would I do if I were in this circumstance?
  • Strasberg adopted a modification, "What would motivate me, the actor, to behave in the way the character does?"

Strasberg asks actors to replace the play's circumstances with their own, and if they did not HAVE those circumstances— to go out to, [please oh please oh Lordy-loo] WITHIN REASON, find them… 

Allow me to clarify for the hot-tempered: 
  1. He SPECIFICALLY notes that drawing from memories/experiences a MINIMUM of seven years old is crucial to avoiding risking psychological trauma.
  2. And "going out and finding" experiences includes, say, learning to ride a horse... NOT, say, STABBING YOURSELF... (like a certain Nicholas this-script-looks-absolutely-terrible-okay-I'll-do-it Cage was once rumored to do... whooops...


...And now! A little History lesson! 
 [*Go-back-in-time music*]


Once upon a time….
Three friends Lee (Strasberg), Sanford (Meisner) and Stella (Adler) were all acting and learning from one another mostly at a place called THE GROUP THEATRE (founded in 1931 by Strasberg, Harold Clurman and Cheryl Crawford). 

[*Do do do! Lee, Stella and Sandford all doing theatre stuff*]

Over time, Sanford and his fellow actor Stella began to fall out with Lee over his use of Emotional Recall, they both preferred/chose to use the Imagination to stimulate emotion and involvement in a play's imaginary circumstances. 

[*And now, for a little more context...Before The Group Theatre...*
...*further-back-in-time-music *]

Stella Adler (1901– 1992) - IMAGINATION

"In your choices, lies your talent!" 
– Stella Adler

In 1922–1923, Stanislavski made his only US tour with his Moscow Art Theatre. Many actors went out of their way to view these performances, and among them was Stella Adler. These had a powerful and lasting impact on her career (and subsequently upon 20th-century American theatre.) She joined the American Laboratory Theatre in 1925; it was there that she was introduced to Stanislavski's acting theories, taught to her directly from founders/Russian actor-teachers/former members of the Moscow Art Theater – Richard Boleslavsky and Maria Ouspenskaya.

When Adler joined the Group Theatre in 1931, members there were already leading interpreters of what was being called “The Method acting technique” based on the work and writings of Stanislavski.

As actor-types are want to do, they all began dating each other. Adler was hot-and-heavy with Group Theatre co-founder Harold Clurman (remember him from earlier? She eventually married him in 1943), and in 1934, they went to Paris together.  It was there, in France, that Stella Adler studied intensively with Stanislavski for five weeks (she was the only American actor to personally study with Stanislavsky). During this period, Adler learned that Stanislavski had revised his theories, emphasizing that the actor should create by Imagination rather than Emotional (Experience/Memory) Recall

Upon her return, she broke away from Strasberg, on the fundamental aspects of his now noted "Method" acting.  In fact, Adler specifically stated: 
"Drawing on the emotions I experienced—for example, when my mother died—to create a role, is sick and schizophrenic. If that is acting, I don't want to do it." 
Whoa... strong stuff. (I guess it had just never really... been her thing...)

She left Strasberg to feel his feelings, and started her internationally renowned Adler schools in both New York and Los Angeles. And also wrote a heap of marvelous books. Among her noteworthy students are Robert DiNiro, Marlon Brando (possibly her most vocal champion), Martin Sheen, Warren Beatty, and Elaine Stritch.


Sanford Meisner (1905 –1997) - INSTINCT

"An ounce of behavior is worth a pound of words"
– Sandford Meisner

While Adler broke away and started her Adler Schools, Sandford Meisner (who probably 'didn't wanna fight,') also left the Group Theatre to develop his own techniques over at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York.

Sanford Meisner...? ...Sanford Meisner....Sandford... MEISNER...

Meisner created the first comprehensive, full-blown American acting technique, which he developed to train an actor to create all the layers of a complete performance over a two year period. (It was, and still is, one of the most systematic and complete acting techniques in the Western world). 

His teachings make up his opus, "On Acting."
Meisner's work was based on the principle that acting found its most profound and truthful expressions in behavior that came from the actor's real human response to circumstances and other people. Because of this, his entire training method relied heavily on accessing the actor's IMPULSES, through which real, truthful responses, as well as real behavior were accessed in the moment. 

So, just for clarity, what exactly IS and "impulse?"
1 (a). An impelling force; an impetus.
1 (b). The motion produced by such a force.
2. A sudden wish or urge that prompts an unpremeditated act or feeling; an abrupt inclination.

This technique was not only applied to improvisation with others, but also to rehearsal, interpreting a script, and creating the specific physical characteristics of each character. 
Meisner has become perhaps the most noted for his "Repetition Exercise--" that is, the basic (but revolutionary) exercise that Meisner invented to train the actor's responses. 

In this exercise, two actors sit across from each other and respond to each other through a repeated phrase.  
  • Actors observe and respond to each others' behavior (and the subtext therein), and reflects what is going on between them in the moment, such as "You're smiling." The partner responds with "I'm smiling." "You're smiling!" "Yes, I'm smiling..." Etcetera. The way this phrase is said as it is repeated changes in meaning, tone and intensity to correspond with the behavior that each actor produces towards the other. 
  • Through this device, the actor stops thinking of what to say and do, and responds more freely and spontaneously, both physically and vocally.  
  • The exercise also eliminates line readings, since the way the actor speaks becomes coordinated with his behavioral response.  
Later, as the exercise evolves in complexity to include "given circumstances," "relationships," actions and obstacles, this skill remains critical. From start to finish—from repetition to rehearsing a lead role—the principles of "listen and respond" and "stay in the moment" are fundamental to the work.
His approach was designed “to eliminate all intellectuality from the actor’s instrument and to make him a spontaneous responder to where he is, what is happening to him, what is being done to him.”

Meisner's noteworthy students include Alex Baldwin, Peter Falk, Gregory Peck, James Gandolfini, Jeff Goldblum, Steve McQueen, and Naomi Watts.


So you want my point-blank advice? 
 I dunno. 
I'm a personal believer in using what is the most effective and appropriate for the given project, role, time in your life, and circumstances of all of the above. Sometimes impulse needs to be brought to the forefront. Sometimes it isn't healthy to use a real-life affective memory and my vibrant imagination will serve perfectly well. Other times, I am certain that my affective memory is what makes me a "special" casting for a particular role, and feel it is (in a way) my responsibility to share that truth.

In short:
               Do what works

But as a guide: 

Don't move to a farm.
Don't stab yourself.
Don't die. 

Over and out,



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