Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Travelogue and Character Studies

I like to travel. I like airports. Mind you, I wouldn't want to do it everyday, but every now and then its pretty fun. I travelled to the Columbia Airport with my friend Ian, who was flying home to New York. We chatted a bit in the waiting area until it was time to board my flight. I didn't really speak to anyone again until my brother picked me up in Salt Lake. But I watched everybody, and I saw some fascinating people. I had a blank piece of paper with me, so I took some notes on a few interesting people.

Mr. Flight Attendant Kid
He is young, possibly younger than me. At least, he looks unimpressed with everything - a sure sign of youth, I hear. He drones out the safety procedures litany with barely disguised boredom and cynicism, obviously reciting the words from memory without making any attempt to communicate by giving the words meaning. You can tell by the way his breath pauses appear unnaturally in the middle of a phrase. Throughout the flight, he does as little as possible to fulfill his function, then retreats to his little cubby at the front of the plane where he is invisible from the passengers (except for me) and promptly begins to play what looks like a football game on a PSP he keeps hidden in his pocket. Despite his ineptitude, I find myself liking him. How did a guy like this end up in a job he is so marvelously ill-suited for? He seems to unhappy with it, too. I want to say to him, "Look, you like to snowboard," (I imagine he is an avid snowboarder) "so if thats what you love, find a job in some resort town in the mountains and do it!" He blinks at me in surprise and says, "Ok, man. Groovy."

Foreign Girl
She speaks with an elegantly clear articulation of second-language English speaker, her European accent is beautiful; as is she, in her way. Her face is shaped unlike any American's. Her eyebrows are impeccable. But its her voice that is most interesting. I listen hopefully for her to speak, as I settle down into my seat next to her, so that I can hear that marvelous dialect again. She speaks very little after we are settled, and though I'd love to listen to her all day, I keep silent too. I talk enough - on this trip I've chosen only to observe. She is reading a book in her native language that looks slightly like Italian, but isn't. I want to know what it is, but don't think she wants any attention drawn to her foreigness today. She probably gets that enough. At one point, she closes the book to gaze thoughtfully out the window, and I can see from the cognates on the cover that she has been reading "Animal Farm." Her choice of material intrigues me - it's possibly or even likely that her native country had at one time worn the garments of communism, as was the fashion for many eastern european countries. I bet she would have a lot to say about Orwell's political fable, but for now she looks out at the clouds and the blue, blue sky and seems to care not a bit for such earth-bound sociopolitical dilemmas.

Mexican Man
As I wander the Chicago airport to stretch my legs, I pas a gate with the words "Mexico City" boldly represented in LED lights above it. Sitting here are a small crowd of native Mexicans, including a man in perhaps his 30s in a cowboy hat and boots, looking thoroughly grumpy. I imagine that such a look of unhappiness betokens more than just a trip home for the holidays. I imagine that perhaps his new life in the States has not worked out as he had hoped, the American Dream which had drawn him from his native land and family had failed to materialize, as it often does not for so many people. But then I wonder if this is needlessly socialist of me, and if perhaps the man's dissatisfaction comes merely from the rigors of travel, or a romantic conflict, or a death in the family or any of huge host of possibilities. If I actually knew him, I wouldn't have so many interesting options to choose from.

Stewardess Lady
The head stewardess is a matronly middle aged woman ith an air of elegance summed up in the little blue scarf tied so delicately about her neck. I swear I've seen her before, but perhaps airline stewardess simply all have that same look about them. She seems old enough to have grandchildren yet here she is, a glorified waitress in the sky, pouring me a cup of 7up with all the grace and charm of an English lady at tea-time.

The People Behind Me
Some of the most interesting people I encountered on my journey sat behind me, where I could hear their voices but never see their faces. On my first flight, an elderly lady talked of her life as a nurse and how she was planning to retire in a few years. I imagine her at her retirement party, receiving the thanks and adoration she richly deserves. I think a nurse is a great thing to be. Florence Nightengale was a famous nurse. My grandmother was a nurse too, but she wasn't famous, except to her progeny. There's something bittersweet and wonderful about being a nurse. Hurray for nurses, I say.

On my second flight, the guy behind me worked in "business," selling technology to health care providers. I'm glad people like this guy exist, but I could never do it. I thought to myself idly that business man probably makes a lot more money than the nurse ever did. She comforted and healed human lives. He sells computer programs. What a world.

Mr. 13C
My neigbhor, Mr. 13C, is a distressingly old looking large man who spends most of the flight alternating between reading a pulp novel in large print and snoring uncomfortably with his glasses down to the end of his nose. His wife of 43 years (a number I made up and assigned to them) sits in 13D, across the aisle. It seems a shame that they should be so separated after having endured so much together. I'd trade seats with her if they asked, but they do not. After they get up several times, I realized they probably both wanted aisle access to use the bathroom. I feel depressingly immature as I glance at their distressingly old faces and think to myself that it is impossible that I should ever be so old. I don't know how I would endure it. But then the fates, seizing the opportunity to teach me a lesson, draw my eyes across the way to 13E and 13F, where sits another couple who could easily have been the parents of Mr. 13C. They are ancient, and shake softly but constantly with age. They look unimpressed with everything - a sure sign of age, I hear. Next to them, Mr. 13C and Mrs. 13D look spritely and vibrant. Everything's relative, the fates tell me.

Mr. 5E
The minute I notice him in the waiting area of Gate B1 (my gate too) I am won over totally. He is young, but not too young, his shortish brown hair spiked up trendily, wearing a preppy/punky sweater and jeans. This is not what wins me over about him. His face is constructed like a Greek hero's (of course! the face I always wanted, but never had), a mixture of stubbly man-jaw and innocent boy-brown eyes. This is not what wins me over about him either. No, what kills me about him is that he is reading a book, a thick, worn novel whose title I can't make out, and not only reading it (a very unfashionable activity for members of our generation) but devouring it with such intensity that he barely notices the chair he sits on, let alone my growing curiosity. I imagine that he is a graduate student, like me, at some university in Chicago, studying literature or something equally idealistic and foolish (like acting?), heading home to Salt Lake City, like me, for Christmas. I find myself wishing we happen to sit next to each other on the flight, where we would happen to stike up a conversation bout poetry, culture, politics, or whatever. He corrects me on some false fact I present, lectures me at some length on his opinion of the postmodern literary movement, and nods appreciatingly when I make a good point about the function of art in society. He laughs at my jokes.

Somehow I end up behind him in line to board the flight, and when he brings his ticket bearing hand up to his head to scratch his hair, I get a glimpse of his seating assignment: 5E, far away from my 13B. Oh well.

I look for him at the baggage claim, to see if he had any friends or loved ones there to greet him. I hope that he does, but he is alone. He takes his bag and goes into the door marked "Rental Cars." If we had sat next to each other and talked, I could have saved him some money by getting my brother to give him a lift. But we didn't. So long Mr. 5E, I feel certain we would have gotten along just fine.

I keep getting the feeling that, even were social awkardness not a factor, there would never possibly be enough time in the span of my life on this planet to meet all the people who I'd probably be glad to meet.

Friday, December 08, 2006

First Semester Retrospective

The following is an excerpt from a paper for one of my courses, detailing the essence of my progress this first semester. It is applied specifically to the art of acting, so you actors out there may find it especially interesting, but the heart of it is pretty good stuff thats useful in almost anything if you are interested, and frankly I can understand if you didn't want to read some boring paper I wrote for class...

We were told that the first semester of graduate school was going to be rough, but I don’t think I really understood what that meant. After all, the obvious problems of adjusting to a new and rigorous schedule, meeting high expectations, multi-tasking various assignments for several different classes, and still finding time to stop and breathe every now and then were daunting, yet hardly something I had not encountered before in my scholastic life. But what I did not understand was how challenging the first semester was going to be mentally, because basically what I found myself experiencing was a complete paradigm change, a total revaluation of myself and the very art of acting.

I came, as did we all, with a lot of preconceived notions about what “good acting” meant, and what we needed to learn to do it. I think perhaps the biggest step forward I’ve experienced in this first semester is simply beginning to be aware of what the aesthetic of acting taught here is, and how to describe it, and how it differs from my previous expectations. What is the difference between polished theatrical technique, and true artistic authenticity, and how do they work together? What does it mean for the whole organism to be involved in the art, rather than just the logic-minded part of the brain? When I came to learn to be a good actor, I did not expect that I would have to spend a great deal of time simply relearning what good acting means, but this has been truly and lastingly beneficial. I will continue to clarify my ideas of the art of acting throughout my study here and throughout my life. The first semester consisted mainly of gaining an awareness of where I’m actually going and taking my first few tentative steps in that direction.

This course in specific gave me a great awareness of my own instrument, my body. Another great lesson I’ve learned in the course of the semester is the absolute miracle and wonder that is the human body. As we worked on body mapping and refining my image of my self and how I am put together, I began to see myself in a whole new light. I began to feel that, with a correct mental map of the body, I was in more control of myself and had more power and potential. One amusing example of this was when I went dancing and, with a suddenly more exact idea of how my hips and pelvis are connected to the rest of my body, I was able to “shake my groove thing” (to use the colloquial phrase) with more agility and prowess than ever before. This may be an irrelevant example, but I think it illustrates that with a greater understanding of the inner workings of the body, there is more potential and control that the actor can bring to the art. Also, by connecting the mental image of the body to the physical reality, we are beginning to break apart the artificial divide between mind and body, spirit and substance, which has been another theme of the semester.

Impulse work has proven very useful in beginning to get to the heart of the new aesthetic of acting that I have accepted as my professional goal. If one is ever to tune out the constant and ever-present self-critical voice that prevents true living in the moment (an old teacher of mine called this voice the “yabba-yabba,” and I’ve adopted that name), then I think it is necessary to learn to be more sensitive to the actual impulses of the body, the authenticity of the organism at any given moment. Ideally, this awareness of the self can grow so strong and focused that it replaces the yabba-yabba entirely. I found that in working with genuine impulses, it always took me a while in the exercise to get past my conscious anxieties and truly give over to the impulses. It became easier and easier to do so as we continued to work, and so it seems to me that a true awareness of the desires and impulses of the self without self-judgment or critique (which sounds so Zen, and really it is) is similar to kineaesthetic awareness of the movement of the body without tension in that it must be cultivated and developed and habitualized, but with practice it can become second nature. That, at least, is my goal.

All of the courses we took this semester seemed to possess a unifying theme that has been life-altering and inspiring for me, and that is that I (the whole organism of mind, body, and soul that makes me up) am more capable than I give myself credit for. I begin to think that I am not good enough or lacking some way that I need to fix through effort, strain, and tension both physical and psychological. What we have discovered this semester is that, ironically, when we add that extra strain we prevent ourselves from being as effective and amazing as we could. And then when we strip away that excess effort, that push, we not only become more strong and stable, as we’ve seen in Suzuki class, we become (forgive me is this is too abstract) more authentic, more powerful, more alive, and more human. Audiences are intelligent enough to recognize extra strain and effort and they immediately recognize it as false. It is those actors who can simply be, without extra stress, who trust in their whole organism to be good enough, that pull us in and move us to tears. Uncovering the right path to achieve that artistic state of pure authenticity, supported but not overwhelmed by rigorously practiced and polished technique, is now the primary goal of my study in the program.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Attention everybody. I will be returning to Utah to celebrate the holidays on the 18th of December, and I will be staying until the 8th of January. Prepare yourselves, for I am coming.

That is all.