Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Sample Day

And the work goes on!

Here’s a few tidbits from my day today, which may give you a good sense of the experience I’m having in general. This morning I taught my acting class, which involved watching a couple students perform scenes in which they were to tell us a story, communicating clearly WHO they are, WHERE they are, WHAT they are doing, and WHEN it all takes places, simply by performing logical actions that give us that information. That was interesting. One student kept looking at me to get my reaction during his entire scene, which made me cringe because I KNOW I’ve done that in acting classes and it looks way tacky. After those scenes, I had them do some improvised scenes involving this idea of communicating given circumstances in ways other than speaking. It seemed to go pretty well. Even though my class is pretty quiet and reluctant to get into discussion, they will get up and do whatever I want them to without complaint. They also laugh at all my jokes, which is a big plus. They all gain one letter grade up just for that!

After that it was lunchtime, so I wandered over towards the student center to pick up some food. I checked in at the Longstreet Theater first, which is where our department and faculty offices are and everything, and bumped right into the guy posting the cast list for this semester’s shows. Since I was the first to see it, of course I had to call a bunch of the other MFAs to let them know the list was up. We didn’t expect to see it until next week. Most of us (me included) will be in “The Good Woman of Setzchuan (Chicken),” with the twist that none of us know yet what parts we will be playing. This will be decided after rehearsal begins. (That’s really got to suck for the costume designers!) This was expected – nothing surprising there. But its good to finally know. I guess they finally found our director in Romania, and hopefully she’ll be here in a few weeks to start rehearsal. It turns out she understands English, but won’t speak it. Instead she will be giving us direction in Romanian and her husband will translate. The whole situation just keeps getting better and better.

After lunch, it was time for our classes to begin. First was our voice class which, for some reason, involves a lot of jumping rope at the beginning of each class. My legs have been KILLING me lately, since I’m not used to so much walking and moving and whatnot, and the jump roping has made it really bad. Today when we finished my calves were hurting so bad I thought I was going to cry. Fortunately, one of the MFAs lent me some ICY HOT which really helped. Hopefully all this pain will pay off and by the time I’m done with this program I’ll be in great shape.

We then worked on some vocal stuff with Shakespearean monologues. Its tempting to think of our classes in separate compartments: This one is voice, this one is movement, this one is acting. But really they are all different facets of the same thing, and I learn just as much about acting in voice class as I do in Alexander Technique class. My monologue is from Henry V, and the first time I performed it I was very tense, I had a limited vocal range, and I was forcing myself to feel the emotion of the piece is a very awkward way. Erica, the teacher, got me to relax, support my breath from the right place, have the right posture, and suddenly….. BAM! There was all this emotion, right there. I didn’t have to force anything. I was overwhelmed. It just came out and flowed naturally and I gave Lord Scroop the tongue-lashing of his life. There was color in my face, my vocal range was much broader and more pleasant, and I was convincing. I was, in short, alive and real on stage instead of “acting.” It was just one of many breakthroughs I’m having on a daily basis.

After that we worked with Richard, the head of the acting program, on what he calls “life scenarios.” We take an event or conflict from our life and act them out as naturally as we can. We play ourselves, and cast fellow students as the other people in the incident. Today I was this guy Beth had an awkward romantic encounter with in a tent with her older brother sleeping right next to us. Every time we leaned in to kiss, her brother (played by Michael) would make a noise or move like he was going to get up. Beth said it was eerily like the actually event, which happened some years ago when she was nineteen. The class loved it – it was the first “life scenario” that involved absolutely no dialogue. All of the other ones have been amazing too. We’re learning how to translate the naturalness of improvising these real events into performing a pre-written script, to keep our acting from getting stiff or formal.

You may be thinking, “This is what Matt does at school? This is what he’s paying money to do?” I realize it may seem like a cake walk compared to medical school, but I’m pretty well exhausted with all the work and, most importantly, I’m happy. I’m vibrantly, overwhelmingly happy to be up to my eyeballs in things that I love to do.

Now I’m home, and Actor Jock is making me dinner (we take turns cooking). He’s dating a girl in our program, so I get to be the friendly and sympathetic ear whenever he wants to vent about that. I don’t mind. Tonight a bunch of the actors are getting together to watch a movie, but I’m so sore that I’m thinking a quiet evening in bed with a book may be just what the doctor ordered. I need to take advantage of my free time. In another few weeks, I’ll be adding four to five hours of rehearsal a day to my already demanding schedule. And that, my friends, is when the crap is really going to hit the proverbial fan. I hope all is well with my Utah friends and family!

Friday, September 08, 2006

My New Life

Ok, so you really can't blame me for not posting more often on my blog. For one thing, I'm not sitting in front of a computer for eight hours a day with only about two hours worth of work to do, so I don't have the abundant opportunity or the desparate need to fill up time that I once had. For another, its difficult to know what exactly to do with my blog during these turbulent times of change. I never wanted it to become an online journal: "Then I did this, then I did this, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow so I can do this..." I wanted to use it to write about whatever in a semi-artistic format, like personal essays or whatever. Problem is that now that I'm so far away from everybody who reads this, its the easiest and most effective way to keep everybody posted about what I've been up to in my fabulous new life. So, I'll be working on combining these two roles of the blog in future posts. For now, more general stuff about my new life. If you're interested.

We've started to settle into a temporary routine with classes and everthing. It's only temporary because most of our program we're going to be a lot busier than we are now. Once we get into a play, everything will be different. No word on when thats happening yet. The big play of the semester, Brecht's "The Good Woman of Szechuan" or "of Saskatchuan" as we call it, is being directed by a lady from Romania. The auditions were taped and sent to her, only now they aren't exactly sure where she is. Guess she kind of disappeared in Romania somewhere. So casting for that show is being put off, and I really don't know when we're going to know anything more about it. An MFA director held callbacks last night for her final project, a bizarro little play called "On the Verge," and those were frustrating. It seemed entirely unnecessary to keep all 10 graduate actors there for almost four hours when 1-only one or two of us will end in that show, tops, and 2-she's only going to have to have another callback anyway after she finds out who is being cast in Good Woman, which has first pick. We were all pretty frustrated with the flagrant lack of respect for our time, which sounds really snooty and all but honestly something like that would never happen the professional world.

Somebody asked how my roommate and I are getting along (I think that was you, Ben). Well things are going just fine with me and Actor Jock. It's pretty amazing how similar parts of our lives have been. We both went to Ricks for a year before going to the Philippines, we both spoke Cebuano there, and we both developed vericoceles there. Only mine was bad enough to get operated on and removed, and his wasn't. He still has it. At the same time, we are so wildly different in interests (except for theater), temperment, acting styles, worldviews, politics, philosophy, that the other people in our class can't really figure out how we work living together. It's easy really, we just sort of back off and let each other alone when we're at home. It works out well. Today is his birthday, actually, and he apparently decided to celebrate by strolling about the apartment naked after his shower, which was a bit of a shock when I came out to get some breakfast but hey... it IS his birthday, so whatever.

I feel like I have way too much free time to play video games. I mean, I'm taking acting classes so its not like I have a lot of homework or anything. I have a few books to read, some exercises and stretches to work on, and thats about it. One exciting new development at this school is the arrival of two new acting teachers from the University of Washington, one of which will soon become the new acting program director. They teach a fascinating method of movement and acting based on the work of this Japanese guy Suzuki that they mentored with for many years. I'll have to show you guys some of this stuff some time, its wild, but its really helping me in ways I can't quite describe. It's just a whole different approach that we Westerners would never think of. But I love it. But then I love the Japanese. Who doesn't?

I've made good friends with the only MFA actor from the class ahead of us who is still around. He's a bit older than me (the guy at Barnes and Nobles thought he was my dad) so he's very fatherly and protective of the new students, and he's really helped show me around and adjust here. We went and saw Little Miss Sunshine, which I HIGHLY recommend to all, and the Illusionist, which I do NOT recommend. I've read some good reviews for it, which totally baffles me because the whole thing seemed sloppy and mediocre to me. Good actors acting badly. Poor script. You get the picture.

Ok, well thats enough for now. Until next time, keep it real folks. Oh, be sure to check the pictures from the trip out here that I posted a few scrolls down. I have more, but these are some of the most interesting, and you can see my new roommate, Actor Jock.