Media Socially

As you have probably noticed by now, I like social media. I feel that it has a great power to connect and reveal, as well as make the too-distant world a smaller and more interesting place.

Since I have the vast fortune of being in a position that allows me to craft and mold young, impressionable minds, I utilize this belief within my classroom. One of my favorite assignments in my acting class (and, based on previous experience, one of my students’ favorite assignment as well) is a character analysis assignment I give them focused upon social media. And because I think social media makes the world a better place, I’m going to take the time to share this with you so that you can be jealous that your acting teacher never assigned it, or (perhaps) use it for your acting classes (…if you do, please credit me).

I execute this assignment after I have already had the students choose monologues and read their plays. After a few more traditional character development exercises, I give them a chance to sit for ten minutes in class and create a social media feed from the perspective of their character depicting the events of their play. They are free to use any social media they prefer (twitter, instagram, facebook, etc.), and they are encouraged to develop this in as much detail as possible using the strengths of that platform (personal details via facebook, creating twitter handles, hashtags, etc.). Importantly: they are not required to actually develop the feed, just create some notes about it. This assignment can be done on a piece of paper, or on a computer. I have students sit with their notebooks and draw pictures, I have others who actually generate a twitter handle on the fly and form a feed that way.

Then, I give them a take-home portion. For five points of extra credit on their midterm, they are given the option to participate in this assignment:

Midterm Extra Credit Assignment: Social Media 

We can learn a great deal from what a person choses to share about himself via a public forum; especially when that person is experiencing a life-changing event.

Create a twitter account for your character. The handle should be either akin to the character’s name, or something the character himself would use. Set up an appropriate profile picture, header picture, and header text. Now use that account to tweet in the persona of your character.

You must update the feed several times a week over the course of the next few weeks; at least five tweets a week, but more is encouraged; until your final midterm monologue presentation. Updates should be in character and reference events in the play, other characters in the play, etc. You may comment upon actual goings-on in the real-world news if you feel that it is/would be valid and important to your character.

The richer your feed, the more points you will be awarded. To enrich your feed, include: links, retweets, pictures, hash tags, begin to follow people, etc.

For a few example feeds see: @HomerJSimpson (Homer Simpson, The Simpsons), @Broslife (Barney Stinson, How I Met your Mother), @KurtHummelGLEE (Kurt Hummel, Glee).

If you choose to participate in this assignment you must: Follow me on twitter from your new account (@drosvally). Once I follow you back, you will be able to send me a DM from the twitter handle with your (real) name and a note that you will be participating in this assignment. To send a DM, go to your page (twitter.com/[yourhandle]) and click on the envelope icon underneath your header picture. Click “new message”.

Since the midterm is coming up quick, the window for this assignment is small. If you intend to participate, you must declare that to me AND begin tweeting by WHATEVER DATE.

I, once again, can’t wait to see what my students come up with. I’m sure it will be both amusing and amazing.

A Pensive Moment

You ever have one of those moments where you find yourself doing something and, unheeded, your brain slams you to some point in your distant past when you were doing something absolutely, completely different and all you can think is “well dang, I never thought I’d be doing this”?

It’s been happening a lot to me recently.  I think this is mostly due to teaching my acting class.

This semester is the first time that I’ve had a classroom all to myself; not team-taught, not taught with supervision, not teaching off of someone else’s syllabus.  I make the rules, I enforce them, I create the lessons, and I have complete control over what goes on in my classroom during class.

Since it’s a rudimentary acting class, it requires me to go back to the fundamentals of my

Never thought I'd be on a plan to an academic conference about Shakespeare while reading his plays through the lens of a girl desperately hoping to pass her orals and become a Doctoral Candidate

Never thought I’d be on a plan to an academic conference about Shakespeare while reading his plays through the lens of a girl desperately hoping to pass her orals and become a Doctoral Candidate

own training which, essentially, requires time travel.  I think back to the person I was when I was doing these exercises, when I was turning in these kinds of assignments, when I was the wide-eyed optimistic student.  And thinking back upon that, I simply can’t escape the fact that I never could have planned things this way.

I never thought I’d be an acting teacher and certainly not within a university setting.  I never seriously thought I’d be getting a PhD (though the notion had crossed my mind, it wasn’t as something tangible or relevant until very recently).  And I certainly never thought that the academic world which is now my embroiled lifestyle could be a valid and sustaining life choice (though I guess, with the job market being what it is, we could debate the usage of the term “sustaining”).

It’s funny because it all seems so obvious.  My specific background lends itself really well to this kind of vocation.  That being said, there were a series of choices which seem to have logically set my feet on the path I now travel (and, if you really want to think of it this way, couldn’t have landed me anywhere else).  The question I keep coming back to is “well, if you didn’t think you’d be doing this, what did you think you’d be doing?”

The real answer is that I had no idea.  I knew I wanted theatre to be a deep part of my lifestyle.  I knew that certain works touched and moved me in a way that others did not.  I knew that I had enough and diverse background knowledge that I wouldn’t be happy being limited to a single middle-powered role in a top-down industry (theatre is totally a top-down industry).  I knew that I wanted to be an educator of some kind, but what kind was completely beyond my ability to understand.

I keep wondering what my students must think of the exercises that we’re doing.  I remember doing most of them myself, but (of course) I pointedly ignored the urgings of my teachers to keep the kinds of journals that I’m forcing my students to (by way of a graded assignment; see how tricksy I am?).  These days, I really wish that I had the kinds of resources that I am asking my students to develop for themselves.  There are other

Summer 2007 at Shakespeare and Company; never thought that'd land me here.

Summer 2007 at Shakespeare and Company; never thought that’d land me here.

reasons to keep track of things this way, but I will admit to the romantic hope that someday one of them finds herself in the situation I’m in: completely unwittingly winding up in my shoes and fervently hoping that something from her past can reach across the years to give her some guidance.

I think back to my teachers and find that I don’t think I appreciated them the way I should have.  Then again, I’m not sure I could have appreciated them this way.  I don’t think I could have understood the sheer amount of effort that went into doing what they do until this moment, when I was called upon to do it in turn.  And at the risk of sounding overly romantic, it’s kind of comforting to take my place in this cycle.  Even if, for just a short time, I can contribute to the turning of the wheel, it’s nice to know that my teachers’ teachings didn’t die with me.  Passing on the information is a real joy and, even on my bad days, I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to do so.

…Yes, even when I’m facing down a mountain of grading.  Which, by the way, is another thing I never considered until I became a university educator.  Assignments are as much (if not more) work for the instructor as they are for the student.  In case you were wondering why the instructor can’t party until the fat transcript prints.

Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me?

Among my myriad of other tasks, I am currently doing some assembly work on my syllabus for my intro to acting class.

This is a bizarre experience in a lot of ways because it makes me harken back to many disparate but not unrelated periods of my life: when I was a wide-eyed but arrogant college freshman taking my first semester of classes, when I was a wide-eyed but talented youth taking my first acting classes, when I was a wide-eyed but optimistic young actor pounding pavement and auditioning to land parts that would surely, one day, make me famous.

…Oh how far have I come.

I do have high hopes for the potential of this course (as well as a few realistic ones which are probably nearer the mark for the actual effect that I can have on students of varying degrees of seriousness over the course of one semester).  Mostly what this has made me do is spend time going back to basics, remembering what it’s like to be new at something (which, as a dear mentor once told me, is the key to success at any level; she called it “beginner’s mind”), and thinking very seriously about if I could only instill one thing upon an absolute beginner student of acting, what would that be?

I am reasonably sure that this is the oldest shot I have of me performing without digging through embarrassing summer-camp things... this is The Laramie Project, 2003

I am reasonably sure that this is the oldest shot I have of me performing without digging through embarrassing summer-camp albums… this is The Laramie Project, 2003

I’ve come up with some answers (which I will leave unsaid in this forum, at least until I test their efficacy in the classroom).  I’ve also come up with some things that I wish someone had told me when I was first starting out (which I am much more inclined to share since they may or may not make it into my classroom given the fact that most of my early experience was in conservatory-setting rather than the non-major-friendly theatre department which, as you may imagine, is a completely different beast).  As it turns out, those things are pretty applicable to things outside of acting and so are also pretty relevant to the general blogosphere…

Always have confidence.  Your confidence, more than most other things about you, will attract the auditioner’s eye.  Be very careful not to confuse confidence with arrogance, however; it’s a very fine line.  One is attractive; the other is repulsive.

Make eye contact, shake hands firmly, know where your business cards are, smile, and be polite no matter who you think you may be talking to or how rude that person may be to you.  These things will make them want to work with you and, if they want to work with you, a myriad of other sins can be overlooked.

Life is too short to work with people who make you miserable and the power of networking is strong.  If you yourself are someone who is well liked (and, if you follow the above rules, why wouldn’t you be?), you will always find somewhere to land.  It may not be where you thought you’d land, but I promise it will be better for your sanity.

Protect your physical well-being.  If a director asks you to perform something that you feel is unsafe, say something and stick to your guns.  Your health is not worth a job no matter how many lines you have (especially if they’re not paying you).

Burning bridges is always a bad idea.  You never know where you’ll end up and who will be there with you.  Save yourself the awkward situation down the road and learn to execute grace and class as expediently as possible.

Theatre is an extremely high-stress profession that involves late nights, emotional intensity, tough and frugal living, and the necessity to disconnect yourself from your own ego.  The sooner you understand how these things may effect you and how you deal with them the better off you will be in the long-run.  If you can’t do any one of these things, you may want to reconsider your life choices.

Just because you aren’t a full-time theatre professional doesn’t mean theatre can’t be a part of your life.

It’s okay to wind up somewhere you hadn’t planned on being.  It’s okay to decide that this isn’t the path for you.  It’s okay to start over for any number of reasons.  You aren’t letting anyone down (including yourself) and you haven’t lost anything by it.

The sooner you can be comfortable in your own skin with your own emotions, the better you will be onstage.  Acting isn’t a profession for the insecure.  You will be asked to be ugly, you will be told you are fat, you will be given unflattering things to wear.  If you aren’t completely comfortable doing this in front of large audiences of strangers multiple times a week, you won’t be able to do your job.

Good acting requires unending tenacity, insurmountable bravery, and unquellable curiosity.  Never give up, bounce back like rubber, always be willing to try things.

Not everything will work for you but that doesn’t mean that nothing will.

another early shot (you can tell because of how bloody high my parry is)... I want to say this is 2003/2004.

another early shot (you can tell because of how bloody high my parry is)… I want to say this is 2003/2004.

Strive for perfection, but realize that it is unattainable.  That doesn’t mean you should stop trying, just that you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself when you realize that you didn’t quite manage it.  A true artist is never satisfied.

There will always be someone better than you.  There will always be someone prettier than you.  The trick is to figure out what you bring to the table that no one else can (…and if that fails to remember that talent and beauty are subjective but ice cream is not).

And on that note, I think I’ll go back to figuring out how much reading to assign.

Hey, Ho, the Wind and the Rain

The storm rages outside and I have yet to give my dramatic rendition of Lear’s Storm speech so… watch this and forgive me… (I couldn’t do it the justice that Sir Ian does it anyway).

I did, however, get to bring my own storm to light yesterday. In an effort to send the cast of Measure for Measure off to the ball in style, myself and the assistant director ran a three-hour text workshop designed to give the actors some tools in their arsenal with which to tackle Shakespeare’s text.

The cast is rather large since the director really wants to capture the feel of a bustling metropolis. This is both extremely exciting and slightly daunting; with that many bodies the text workshop was going to be whatever the cast made of it. That much energy buzzing around could bolster itself or tear itself down depending upon the level of focus in the room. Luckily, the actors were receptive, came willing to learn, and (most importantly) willing to play.

We began with some standard warm-ups (stretching, vocalization, etc.) and proceeded

Sometimes actor training looks like this; Royal Shakespeare Company; Summer 2006

into an exercise designed to help them simultaneously embody the text and give/take energy. They each picked a line at random out of an envelop of pre-prepared lines, and we divided them into two circles of eleven. From there, we had them pass a ball around their circle while saying their line. We got to play with tempo, volume, targeting, and work on the beginnings of ensemble-building. I find that this exercise presents a graphic stimulus for energy exchange and demonstrates to a group of actors what it means to match energy and help your scene partner onstage. If you throw the ball too hard, your partner has trouble catching it. Too soft, and it will fall short. You need to be ready to grab and go, and listening to what’s going on so that you know when you need to go.

This point made, we moved on to a head/guts/groin exercise where the students practiced delivering their lines with different intentions to different targets on a partner. The three primary targets are the head (an appeal to the intellect), the guts (an appeal to the emotions), and groin (an appeal to the primal animal portion of ourselves). We had them do this at varying distances; from close enough to touch to across a broad expanse of the room. This exercise teaches focus and helps a young actor get used to the notion that no line should ever be delivered to dead air or left wandering into the vast nothingness of the theatre. Every single bit of text needs a very specific target and intention; whether that target is onstage or off.

Next, we talked about some mechanical things. Scansion, meter, rhyme, verse structure, poetry v. prose, etc. This was perhaps the most difficult portion to teach as it requires the most lecturing and, in a room where the energy is already buzzing from being up and about for so long, it’s hard to focus down on something so academic (even for a brief time). The actors were champs though and really bit into this section, asked some good questions, and worked with me to ensure that they understood what I was preaching.

Lastly, we turned to some speeches we had asked them to pre-prepare (not memorize, just be familiar with and have on hand). Here, they were able to take what we had discussed and discovered and apply it in a setting where they could take risks, ask questions, and try things without being set in any one choice since the speeches were sample text and not necessarily text which belonged to their characters. Everyone got a chance to play and seeing what they turned up (and what they understood from each other) helped to drive home the work we had done over the course of the evening.

The most important thing to do during workshops like this is to keep the energy moving. The workshop leader always needs to have a finger on the pulse of the room; understand when your students are tired and know how to give them a break without letting the bottom drop out of your thought progression. Know where you need to go slowly so that the students have time to think and process. If you can possibly integrate some kind of exercise to drive a point home, do that.

There are three basic types of learning: audio, visual, and kinesthetic. Most people learn via a combination of the three. If you can find a way to appeal to all these learning types simultaneously, your point has a higher likelihood of sticking. In addition, while a picture may be worth a thousand words, an experience is worth ten thousand. Let the students feel what it’s like to succeed using your methods. With this experience banked, they are much more likely to a) want to do what you’ve asked them to do, b) learn more methods from you since the first one worked so well, and c) listen to what you have to say in general. There’s nothing like proving you’re right to make a group of people believe in your wisdom.

One of the things I’ve always admired about good acting teachers (and directors, for that matter) is that they almost seem omniscient. There’s a way about a good acting teacher that pierces deep down to your very soul and uncovers insecurities that you could never before put into words. They have, somehow, the ability to weed out the things that make you weak as an actor (and human being) so that your true strength shines through.

Sometimes actor training looks like this; Shakespeare & Company; Summer 2007.

It’s also what I’ve always found so intimidating about teaching acting. While I know a lot and have a lot of experience (and, by the way, an abundance of modesty), I’m hardly omniscient. I’ve had many great acting teachers and coaches find a way into the deepest recesses of my soul and it’s changed me not just as an actor, but a human being. How can I possibly hope to assert myself amongst the ranks of people who have near-godlike powers of observation at their disposal?

As I found out yesterday, the years have given me the wisdom to teach, and the confidence to command a room. I felt really good walking out of workshop, and I think it was extremely useful to the cast to have that experience. I am looking forward to working on Measure and definitely looking forward to what this cast churns out. They’ve got some acting chops, let’s see if they can bring this work to bear on some pretty difficult and problematic text.

The Rosalind Diaries: Entry Nine; Leaving Arden

Well, that was fun.

The curtain has fallen for the last time in Arden and, I have to say, I well and truly miss it.

Begging Celia to tell me who hung the verses on the trees. “ORLANDO!?”

There are things that I had forgotten about being an actor. Things that I worked to remove from my memory (didn’t have to try very hard as I tend to forget negativity nearly instantaneously). One of those things is that awful feeling of emptiness you get as you leave the theatre for the last time after a show.

I’ve been living with this show since July. I got the happy phone call at the beginning of the summer and, ever since, Rosalind has been a presence at the back of my mind. She’s been part of my identity. The elation at having the opportunity to play her after a lifetime of wanting to and never thinking I’d get the chance, the thrill of falling in love every night, the knowledge that I’m speaking and working with words I’ve so long desired to resound in a roomful of audience members, it’s all been part of me.

And of course you become reliant upon the cast members and you forge relationships with these people with whom you’ve worked closely over the past several months. And the routine of going to rehearsal patterns your life. And the things you have to do to keep yourself going through the process are an ever-present factor in your day.

And, just like that, it’s all over. You strike the magnificent set down to bare stage, walk out of the theatre, and suddenly this world is gone and lives only in memory and archive. It’s an emptiness, a loneliness, and a feeling of utter hopelessness. Like, for a few brief moments, you just don’t know who you are anymore because this show has become part of you and, without it, some vital piece of your identity is missing.

As I told my cast-mate via text on Sunday: “Theatre is ephemeral. Each show is its own creature that lives and dies every night. I’d be pretty hard-hearted not to mourn a little creature that I loved”.

The only hope is in the next project; another bundle that will, inevitably, worm its way into your heart and stay there for a few months before the universe forcibly ejects it into the ether.

And then there’s the nature of acting in general. It’s one thing to conceptualize of the protean nature of the actor from a purely ideological standpoint, it’s another to live that nature. The constant shifting and changing, re-arranging and re-thinking of the self that an actor must do in order to fully commit to a role is utterly astounding. I marvel at the tenacity of spirit that it requires to constantly be doing this. In order to fully act a role, you really need to build yourself around that role and, when the show ends, rip yourself apart again. Imagine the emotional integrity required to do this (well) without going absolutely insane.

requisite “I’m a Shakespearean Actor speaking” shot.

Oh yes, I was an actor in my younger years, but I really don’t think I understood acting until this production. Good actors require three things: some innate sense of natural talent, a vast amount of life experience, and training. Before this year, I had one and three, but was distinctly lacking in two. It’s truly unfortunate that acting is, for the most part, a young person’s field and yet, to become a great actor, you really require a lifetime of banked experience.

It’s why you see so many thirty-year-old Hamlets. The emotional maturity required for the role simply out-stripes the role itself.

I’ll admit it. I’m hooked again. The course of this production has made me recall the things I did love about theatre; and the things I didn’t love about theatre can (for the most part) be avoided by doing it as a hobby rather than a profession. It churns my stomach to think about auditioning as a lifestyle (again). I would rather not ever hear the words “type”, “marketability”, or “Equity Principle Auditions”. For that, there are shows I would like to perform and roles I would love to play. There are things I want to bring to the stage that I feel I am qualified to do.

And more than that, the joy that the rehearsal process brought me really added a layer to my life that went missing in my fondly-dubbed “retirement”. It’s not enough just to study theatre. To truly understand it, we have to live it. Theatre’s a lifestyle, not a field of purely academic discipline.

So, with that in mind, I’ve got some projects up my sleeve. I’ve got some willing cohorts. I may even have a willing venue.

Let’s see what we can make. You’d best keep your eye on that first folio, because the bitch is back.

The Rosalind Diaries; Entry Five: Suit the Action to the Word

Ah yes, now we’re into the thick of it.

At this point in the rehearsal process, we are, mostly, off book.  Which means that it’s time to start doing some real acting.  Which also means that it’s time to draw forth from those deep emotional wells, make choices, enact them, and shape our performance into something that looks a lot more like a finished product.

Basically, this is the hard part.

As a young actor, this is what I had the most trouble with (and still, by the by, plagues me

Me in “The Laramie Project” circa 2003

to this day).  I think a lot.  In fact, it’s my job to think.  As a result, when I’m acting, I tend to be “in my head” (which is a fancy way of saying that I’m trying too hard and not doing enough).  Having been through the extensive training that I have been through, I’ve picked up tricks along to way.  I’ve uncovered ways to express through the text things which don’t require actual emotion but can trick a casual viewer into thinking I’m feeling something.  It’s a good way to color the text, and a good adjunct strategy, but can’t bear the full weight of a performance.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t amount to anything genuine.  And I’m a firm believer that, if theatre is to be effective, it has to have a kernel of truth.

The problem with feeling emotion is that it’s messy.  Acting is a hideous, horrible profession that will destroy you emotionally and physically if you let it.  An actor is paid to get up onstage eight times a week and reveal the deepest, darkest, scariest parts of himself to an audience of strangers who will then pass judgment on the depths of that actor’s soul.

In my opinion, nobody gets paid enough to do that.

So why do we do it?

Because it feels good.  Because being connected to one’s own humanity in that way, and by extension the humanity of one’s audience, makes one feel whole.  Like a cog in the universal machine.  It makes one feel potent; like one can actually effect (and, by the by, affect) something.  Like a catalyst.  Like one has a true meaning and purpose in the giant planet earth that we live in and, larger than that, the human experience.

“Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone: 2.3″ engraving by Henry William Bunbury; 1792

But it’s hard, and it takes it’s toll.  As You Like it is a comedy and still there are days when I find myself feeling raw after rehearsal.  Particularly tough for me is 1.3.  At the top of the scene, Rosalind is giddy in love having just met and exchanged words with Orlando for the first time.  It’s a high; a rush; and if I hit it right I wind up giggley and soaring.  Halfway through the scene, Duke Frederick enters to banish Rosalind from the court.  He tears away everything she has ever known and says that she must leave, on pain of death.  If we hit that right, the bottom drops out of my stomach and the gravity of the situation weighs heavily on my shoulders.  My heart grays and it’s almost as though a cloud has come to darken my little section of the world.  Even if Rosalind fights back (which, by the by, she does as much as she can), I’m still left feeling bitter and angry.  Then, after Frederick’s exit, Celia devises the plan to go to the woods and dress as beggars.  Rosalind and Celia expound upon this plan and Rosalind bounces back up from the devastation of her banishment into the possibility of their retreat to Arden.  Arden; where her father is, where she can dress as a man and have the freedom not allotted her in the court, where a whole new life awaits her and her best friend.  It’s not the same unerring giddiness that the top of the scene brings, but it’s definitely a step up from the scene’s middle.

It’s an emotional roller coaster, and one that I have to ride in the span of a few minutes.  In performance it’s devastating enough, but consider that in rehearsal we hash and re-hash these scenes over and over again.  In a single night I could do this three or four times; bouncing wildly from top to bottom and all across the spectrum of emotions.

It’s no wonder rehearsals make me tired and hungry.

Last night, we did some work on 4.3 and 3.4; both scenes that begin with Rosalind waiting for Orlando who is late to meet Rosalind (dressed as Ganymede).  3.4 especially requires an emotional investment in the roller coaster that inevitably comes with “he likes me, he likes me not” since it opens with Rosalind bouncing around the stage wondering what it means that Orlando didn’t come when he said he would and Celia making sly commentary on her state.  If I don’t put in the emotional investment, then Celia is stuck being snarky for no reason.  Up, down, up, down, it’s enough to make a girl dizzy.  4.3 also requires some of that kind of work, but the majority of the scene is taken up by Oliver’s description of his encounter with Orlando in the woods and the battle with the lion, so much of my acting is nonverbal (easier, by the by, since I don’t have to then worry about the impulse to speak and what’s coming out of my mouth).  Still, there has to be enough of an investment from me that my faint at the scene’s end is justified, comical, and makes sense.

So I’ve been coming home tired a lot, and I’ve had to do a great deal of emotional housekeeping.  This has mostly involved the copious watching of Disney films and My Little Ponies because, really, who can be distraught while belting “I use antlers in all of my decorating!”?

Next week we’re into runs (first act runs, then full-show runs).  This should prove slightly less taxing since I get to take a much larger chunk of the journey far fewer times in a night; but we’ll see.  I’ll still have the emergency princess stash queued and ready to go.

The Rosalind Diaries: Entry 1

So I had my first rehearsal yesterday.

Boy oh boy am I rusty on being an actor.

First things first: It’s been approximately four years since I have taken the stage, and much longer than that since I’ve played a role of any particular note (my last role was Antonio/the Captain in Twelfth Night).  I’ve only played a leading role once or twice and at least one of those times was when I was young enough that my age registered in the single digits.

My current directors had requested that we make an attempt to be off book by the first rehearsal.  An attempt was made, but I only accomplished two fifths of the goal.

The process of line learning is an arduous business made even more arduous when you are learning Shakespeare for a few reasons.  Reason one: you need to be word perfect.  Reason two: the strange sentence structure will mess with your head and cause you to add/subtract random words that you think should go in there but in actuality have no business with the bard.  Reason three: because of aforementioned bizarro sentence structure, there exists no parallel structure in what you are saying and, since the human brain likes patterns, you can easily find yourself falling into the trap of creating parallel structure (see reason one).  Reason four applicable to Rosalind: so much of what she says is in Prose.  Prose is approximately ten times more difficult to learn than Verse.

Today’s brief lesson in Shakespeare: knowing the difference between Prose and Verse.

Verse is the more familiar poetic form that we often affiliate with

my script all marked up. It will be more marked up before this is all over.

Shakespeare.  It’s written in meter, sometimes written in rhyme.  Identifying Verse is extremely easy as each line will begin with a capital letter, and the lines themselves will be shorter since they have to conform to the structure of poetic meter. Here’s what verse looks like:

ROSALIND:

 My father loved Sir Rowland as his soul,
And all the world was of my father’s mind:
Had I before known this young man his son,
I should have given him tears unto entreaties,
Ere he should thus have ventured.

(As You Like It, 1.2)

In the case of Shakespeare, the poetic meter used more often than note is Iambic Pentameter.  Iambic Pentameter refers to a line which contains five (Pent) Iambs.  An iamb is a series of two syllables – the first unstressed, the second stressed.  Like this:

ROSALIND:

I pray / you, do / not fall / in love / with me,
For I / am fal / ser than / vows made / in wine

(As You Like It, 3.5)

What this means is that the line has a heartbeat.  Da-DUM.  When you are speaking a line written in Verse, you can feel when you’re adding or subtracting words because the line has a natural cadence and rhythm to it.

Prose, on the other hand, is a completely different story.  Prose is written like modern sentences; flowing together one after the other.  Like this:

ROSALIND:

 No, faith, die by attorney. The poor world is
almost six thousand years old, and in all this time
there was not any man died in his own person,
videlicit, in a love-cause.

(As You Like It, 4.1)

“Rosalind” by Robert Walker Macbeth, 1888

Prose has no set rhythm (though, it is Shakespeare, he often plays word tricks with his lines).  Since Prose isn’t spoken under the pressure of iambic pentameter, it doesn’t conform to anything by way of regularity.

Guess which form most of Rosalind’s lines are in?

Now, Verse is a form of speech most often used by courtly characters, learned characters, characters who are in love, characters who speak directly from the soul, or characters who need to express something complicated.  Because Rosalind spends the majority of the play in disguise, she also dumbs down her speech to Prose – the form used by clowns (not fools, fools generally speak in Verse), commoners, and normal people.  Rosalind is capable of speaking in Verse, and does so when she is in the court and when she is dealing with Phebe (a mark of her inextricable snobbery), but 85% of her lines are Prose.

This has made her a ridiculously difficult part to learn.  Compound this trouble with the fact that I learn best on my feet and tend to prefer learning my lines while doing scenes rather than in a vacuum at home, and this endeavor has been immensely challenging for me.

But I’m getting there.

Rehearsals go into full swing next week and I can’t be more excited.  It’s a talented lot we have, and I’m extremely happy to be able to have the chance to work with them.

Stay tuned!

Happy Tuesday!

It’s been a while, so as is my wont now and again… it’s random list time!

1)    For those who have not heard, I have been cajoled out of retirement to play the part of Rosalind for the Winthrop Playmakers’ production of As you Like It!  This is a dream part for me and one, due to the small-mindedness of most professional casting folks, that I wouldn’t normally be given the chance to play.  I’m extremely excited (especially because my script came yesterday) and can’t wait to get down and dirty with the Bard.  The show performs October 5-14 Friday, Saturday, Sunday, so mark your calendars.  Should be lots of fun, and if nothing else you can come laugh at how rusty my acting skills are.

2)    My partner in crime and I took a trip down to New York this weekend past so that I could take him to see Sleep no More.  This show has been making a big splash in the

Gallow Green, the awesome rooftop bar they just added to SNM

theatre communities due to its fairly revolutionary approach to Shakespeare and its rampantly successful run in New York.  Half theatre, half art installation (I described it pretty well in my post post-first-visit); Sleep no More combines Macbeth andHitchcock’s Rebecca to weave a non-linear story of murder, terror, and uncanny humanity.  Due to the free-form interaction audiences have with the experience, I saw a lot this time that I missed the first time.  I also had the privilege of two one-on-ones (for those not in the know: during this show, actors will grab random unsuspecting audience members, lock them in rooms, and perform private vignettes for only those audience members to see), and a “fetch quest” (was given something to give to someone else which then made things happen).  If you’re at all curious, GO SEE IT.  I’m being purposefully vague because I truly think that everyone should experience this show at least once (and you’re going to want to go more than that, trust me, my partner in crime and I are already looking to schedule another trip).

3)    Life without the internet is hard!  Last week, a giant thunderstorm brought in its wake the demise of our interwebs for the period of four laborious days.  I will admit, I got a great deal done during that time which otherwise would have remained a wish and a dream (like cleaning out my closet and re-organizing my shoes), and the local coffee house did lend itself well to practicing my German since I actually couldn’t leave until I had finished my goal for the day, but I am more than glad to be able to google random bits from my own chair again.

4)    Thirty hours in New York is nowhere near long enough.  While I did get to spend most of my waking time wandering Central Park and/or eating wonderful food, this time was just long enough to make me remember how much I sorely miss home.  Boston’s great but it ain’t New York.  Sigh.

5)    Changing up one’s exercise routine is a great way to keep oneself motivated to go to the gym, a great way to kick one’s own buttocks, and a great way to sleep better at night.  In an effort to push my cardio to the next level, I started C25K as part of my cardio regime.  There are all kinds of resources available for folks who are interested in the program (including a free app for your iPhone that remembers where you are in the program, checks off workouts you’ve already done, keeps track of time for you, lets you pipe in your music during your jog, and congratulates you when you finish a workout).  This summer, I’ve been really hitting the gym hard in an effort to boost my endorphin dependence before the semester starts and, as a byproduct, boost my required gym time by about two hours a week.  Working out has a plethora of health benefits, which I’m certain you’re aware of, but I’m mostly concerned with how it helps me manage stress.  Also with how morally superior it makes me feel.  Yea, I work out, I’m automatically better than a couch-sitter.

6)    Paper writing is a long-term aspiration, not a short-term project.  They’re called “projects” for a reason, so I should think of them more as something that I live with than something that I can do in a reasonable amount of time.  Also, I shouldn’t over-commit to the number I can handle on my desk at any given moment.  Also, I should remember that a good paper is like a fine wine: letting it sit on a shelf and age for a bit will improve its overall quality, but let it sit too long and it turns to vinegar.

7)    I will be seeing some exciting theatre this week (including Coriolanus on Boston Common, and the Boston Opera Collective’s production of Orpheus in the Underworld … god do I love Offenbach).  Stay tuned!

A little house-keeping: if you’re reading this, why not make it official that you like me?  Head on over and tell me so on facebook.

Ready for my Close-up

Here’s a set of questions that I get asked on a fairly regular basis (…come to think of it, almost as frequently as people ask me if Shakespeare actually wrote the canon…); “Are you ever going to act again?  What made you leave acting?”

First things first, I don’t think you ever really leave acting.  Theatre people are theatre people, and whether in a theatre or without it it’s still in your blood.  Just because I haven’t performed on a stage since before my Master’s doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped being an actor (though, granted, I do fondly refer to this period of my life as “my retirement”).  Acting is a skill that affects everything else you do; public speaking, relating to other people, understanding yourself (both physically and emotionally), understanding others, and generally relating to the universe.  Because I’m an actor, I know how to deliver a talk and keep an audience engaged.  Because I’m an actor, I know how to stretch just about every muscle in my body and also know a few exercises to do if anything is particularly tense.  Because I’m an actor, I know how to speak clearly and precisely.

Acting is rough.  An actor is the lowest rung on the theatrical totem pole; at the whim of all

Complete Works of Shakespeare [abrdgd]; Me (left) playing Titus Andronicus a la Martha Stewart and Best Gay Friend (right) playing my lovely assistnat Lavinia

other creative minds which hold any sway to a project.  In a healthy creative environment, an actor is an integral piece to a beautiful theatrical tapestry.  More often than not, however, the actor winds up being no more than a pawn in the great chess set of the theatre.  The actor can often turn into a walking, talking statue of the director’s vision with no input on the project, no agency, and no outlet.

To expound upon the actor’s woes, actually finding work again puts the actor at the mercy of the great machine.  Theatre is creative, right?  A process put together on dreams, inspiration, and ideas?  According to the bulk of the commercial industry, this is far from the case.  Auditioning is an endless loop of shoving oneself into industry-created boxes for the sake of easy maneuverability.  The actor asks himself “What’s my type?” more often than “Can I play this part?” and far too often the individual who best fits an aesthetic will be cast over the individual who has more training or talent.  Think I’m wrong?  Take a long hard look at the film industry (different in many many ways from theatre, but a good archetype for the sake of this discussion).

Top this off with the fact that an actor’s job is to explore the deepest, darkest, scariest aspects of himself eight times a week in front of a large audience of strangers and I’m certain you will find that acting is no longer as glamorous as perhaps you had first suspected.

So why did I leave acting?

In the later part of my acting career, I became extremely focused.  I wanted to do Shakespeare, and I wanted to do Shakespeare specifically… but I wanted to do it right.  Having had little previous experience acting the Bard (a thing, I had been told, extremely difficult to do), I wanted to ensure that I wasn’t just going to get up and “thee” and “thou” an audience to death.  So I found myself some training.

 

And that training left me knowing more, but not knowing enough yet.

So I found some more training.

You can see where this is heading.

By the time I felt like I had any expertise with the verse, I was over-trained for the industry.  I knew a lot of things, and I had even dabbled in the academic side of Shakespeare a bit in my undergrad.  On the whole, I found I tended to know more about the shows and specific acting techniques than the directors and theatre professionals whom I was working with.

Most directors are not good directors.  If I had known and worked with more good directors, maybe I wouldn’t have turned out the way I did.  As it was, I wound up working with a lot of self-involved artistes who didn’t foster creativity, but rather were working towards some grand vision of their own.  These directors didn’t want to be told that they were wrong.  Nor did they want to be told that someone knew more than they did.  Even if an individual has the tact to tackle these issues in a sensitive way (which, by the way, I didn’t), they’re still not things that a director wants to face down in the rehearsal room.

Most directors don’t like smart actors.  Smart actors ask more questions than are useful.  Educated actors are even worse because there’s the off chance that they could ask questions to which one has no answers.  I was both.

You can imagine the frustration that circulates around a situation like this.  I got tired of the tension that it caused and, when I sat down to truly consider my options, I had to find the real bottom of the problem.  I knew that these directors, while perhaps not indicative of the species as a whole, were at least enough of a sample-set to tell me that this was the kind of individual I would generally find myself working with.  I also knew that, while I had some talent, I lacked the experience to be the best of the best.  In order to get that experience, I was in for many many more years of biting my tongue at rehearsal, working three jobs without health insurance, and living paycheck to paycheck.

 

This was a mortal kombat style fight show; we all had characters and specific weapons. I was playing a smallsword-wielding vampire; in this shot fighting the Irish two-daggers guy.

Being an actor is rough, and it was too rough for me.  I packed my bags and bid a fond farewell to the stage (even though I loved it) because I simply couldn’t do it anymore.

It’s been many years since and theatre (as you can tell) is still a huge part of my life.  Last week, while going about my daily Shakespeare rounds, an opportunity crossed my desk that I had trouble ignoring.

A local community theatre is doing a production of As you Like it and they were holding auditions.  Rosalind is a dream role for me, and one that the professional theatre would tell me is beyond my physical type (the androgynous roles usually get cast androgynously… tall; slender; could pass for a boy; you know, everything I’m not).  I decided that perhaps it would be worth breaking my retirement to live the dream and, since it was community theatre, I had a fair shot at it.  So I grabbed my best gay friend (who, by the by, is a Shakespearean actor/scholar in his own right) and we went and knocked ‘em dead.

….or at least we think we did.  Casting calls happen today and tomorrow, so this fact has yet to be determined.  For my part, I’m just happy to have had a chance to shake off a bit of the dust, really think about the production process again, and reminisce about all the things I hated about being an actor.