Being in a show recently with some folks who are headed off into the world of undergrad theatre in the next few weeks, I got to thinking about what advice I would give to those starting out if asked.
They did not ask.
Here we are anyway.
Being in a show recently with some folks who are headed off into the world of undergrad theatre in the next few weeks, I got to thinking about what advice I would give to those starting out if asked.
They did not ask.
Here we are anyway.
Live performance is a system of interlocking skills honed individually and together over time like any other muscle-building, and then deployed all at once. It is almost always desired that the edges of that displayed set of skills are folded under and invisible to the uninitiated, and, on the highest level, even to fellow initiates. So as one progresses, craft becomes more and more opaque. The skilled stop understanding how and why they do it and the very best seem to require no effort at all. One of those skills is line memorization. It is the favorite party trick of audiences at talk backs the world over and the bane of new performers taking on walls of text for the first time. It is also a performance muscle that isn’t really worked in tandem with other real world skills, so time away from performance really can decondition that system. And
I came into How High We Go in the Dark with two very distinct biases against it.
The very American bias that anything free can’t be -that- good (I received a preview copy in exchange for my review), and the indignation that someone thought this thing was in any way comparable to Cloud Atlas. However it may have landed for you, Cloud Atlas is incredibly well-constructed and there’s just no way Sequoia Nagamatsu lands that sort of achievement in a debut.
The primary mode of interacting with anything on the internet is to read it as quickly as possible while performing a second task, and then explain why the content consumed is wrong or could have been better. It is the simplest way to interact with anything or anyone, and it reads as immature, because it is. It is the Level 1 way of dismissing anything. You can tell it’s level 1 because it’s easy. Because when you’re doing it yourself you can feel how little effort it is to sum up someone’s viewpoint that causes a reaction in you with an “I guess you should’ve paid more attention in 8th grade English class”. I cut my output on the internet by 97% by deciding that I wouldn’t put any no-effort responses out just to be talking. I am not an influencer or a brand, so I don’t need to be
I try not to get too mystical in my approach to acting. I find a lot of that sort of vocabulary to be really off-putting. In our need to ennoble the craft we try to elevate it beyond what it usually is to make ourselves feel like more ourselves. But there are “mystical” things about the craft that you can’t dodge in the same way that carpenters can’t really avoid the fact the wood has a personality. Using the words we do makes it seem a little cartoonish, but it’s true so… there we go.With acting I trying not to use spell casting metaphors but we don’t have great vocabulary for exerting power to create tangible emotional change in another on another with simply words. There are hoary tropes about all crafts and professions. Those ink-stained wretches who wrote our newspapers and novels. Our paint spattered visual artists. A potter
In 2009 World Theatre Day changed my life. I am a community minded sort. Often my reaction to any given event is: How could we have involved more people? How could more folks have been helped? When Rebecca Coleman mentioned on Twitter that Vancouver had celebrated a city-wide World Theatre Day in 2008 and what if we made that happen across cities? I was or course interested. I had no idea what I could do locally. I had no money, no space and no standing company to help me with either. But I could help activate Austin and push other leaders to do something. Latifah Taormina of what was then the Austin Circle of Theatres was one of the folks who I reached out to to try to facilitate an event. She suggested presenting this controversial piece that everyone was talking about, Seven Jewish Children by Caryl Churchill. She suggested
One of the most embarrassing moment in my life that I can recall was at post-show drinks one night. I was in the sweet spot of having a reputation in Austin such that younger folks would listen and/or ask me for advice and hadn’t yet triangulated that a reputation was just a rumor. So, at least two double tall gin and tonics in, a younger person asked about next steps in being a professional actor. One of my social flaws is that I believe you. If you tell me that you’re an accountant, I don’t ask to see your certificate. You have no reason to lie about such a thing so, okay, you’re an accountant. If you tell me that you want to be a professional actor I assume that all of those words in that order mean the same thing to both of us. If you want to be
“I wondered about the experience of being in relationship to a new body in a new country—like an American lesbian married to a man in Berlin.” Most of our writing about love tries to do it in primary colors, in bold strokes. We write about and perform the operatic beginnings of love and the elegiac ends. We write about the first dates, and first kids and that first time walking the neighborhood without your partner of 50 years. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about the grind, the hard work of learning how to be a person while taking every step alongside another person figuring out thing at the exact same time. We shorthand this sort of thing as “marriage is hard”. But it’s really the bulk of what marriage is. Jeanette Winterson talks about relationships this way some in her writing. It always ends of feeling more
When “social media” fired up really was Web 1.5. As technology became easier a lot more folks showed up and for a lot of us it was the first real reunion with high school folks since we’d left. This radically altered my perception of high school for me, and my place in it. I was an active Christian in high school and smart, but not top ten smart, active, but not student council active. I was a theatre kid but not THAT theatre kid. I had myself pegged pretty well as a loser but not lost. And then one of my first interaction with a non-friend boiled down largely to: I’m glad you’re not such a bully anymore.In a million years I wouldn’t have believed that I could be a bully in high school. I was targeted pretty rigorously early in high school. To the point of my bully being
Ushuwaia Blue has become a touchstone in my head for the sorts of projects I want to make acting students attempt in order to build a different kind of acting practice. Beginning acting is chock full of affection for blazing intensity. In love with wielding every emotion at a 35 out of 10 we see scenes full of rage and not a lot else. It’s the First Church of Going There. It’s adherents fall into the McDonagh hole, in the 90’s they were the Mamet and Labute folks. And it is fun as hell to wield those emotions full bore. To not worry about tactics and just let 8-bit emotion flow. It’s when you get stuck in that being your only tool that it becomes a hindrance. You have to find the finer edged tools in your toolbox to create more finely wrought work. This wasn’t particularly emphasized in my
We get trained to do what we do in very specific ways. It is VERY difficult to change the ways we do it when the future arrives, or even conceive of how it needs to be done. I grew up and was trained in proscenium theatre spaces. As I got older, my usual haunts were all black box thrusts and shared spaces. But they were still formal storytelling spaces if less opulent and less formal than the sorts of traditional theatre spaces I considered Real Theatre. I am more than capable of sliding up and down that continuum pretty fluidly. I like to think that the tools I’ve developed work well in lots of forms and forums. But all of them are in formally designated settings. Even if there aren’t velveteen folding seats and a grand drape, it is understood that we are in a sit silently and watch situation
My wife and I spend a notable amount of time talking about ethics in performance. What is ethical to ask of an audience? Of a performer? What effect is the moment you create for them putting out into the world? Often in our discussion we use Martin McDonagh as shorthand for work that puts audiences and performers through the ringer. It’s important that discussions of abstractions not hinge on work being bad, so we use McDonagh because the work is excellent. I performed the role of Katurian in The Pillowman while we were in Austin. She saw the effect on me that the emotional grind of spending 3-4 hours a night living as Katurian had. The effect on audiences is one of laughing through creeping dread.The play is dark and intense and there are lots of companies that choose to do it because it’s dark and intense. The extremely abbreviated
It’s difficult to have an honest conversation about religion unless you are in substantial agreement about it with your fellow discoursers. The emotional muscles needed to talk about it without becoming either defensive of your beliefs or evangelical are pretty substantial. We mostly do everything we can to avoid it. As in all things this means that the loudest are those left to represent the entire topic, to our great loss. I think that humans want to believe in something greater than themselves. The easiest to believe in is a grand creator. Something, someone, beyond the patched and broken people around us. When we become disillusioned and lose faith, early or late, there becomes an absence that wants to be filled. With art, or a mission, or a career, or other people. But it’s not ever an exact fit.Hearing anyone talk about it with the sense of loss, of grief,
Dr. Jen Phillips shared an anecdote on Twitter about her Mom. Dr. Phillips is struggling with the surprisingly common idea that a life like her Mom’s doesn’t have enough value to merit receiving the vaccine.
A downside of having a functional brain is understanding how little you know. This is compounded by being able to see clearly every time you learn something new how much less you know than you thought. Where that leaves you, if you’re being intellectually honest, is never having solid enough footing to be able to ever shout anything into the void. If the only way to be heard in 2021 is to shout into the din with all the arrogance you can muster, right or wrong, it’s difficult to see value in that. There is value in speaking a little more slowly, a little more softly and letting it exist off to the side of the firehose for people if they need it. It’s not the way to fame, but it’s pretty late for that for me anyway. I can only speak to the things I know, and I try
My biological father was a desperately flawed man. A lot of my early life was shaped by his responses to his mental illnesseses and insecurities. His physical and emotional abuse of my biological mother, his self-hated and his inability to escape addiction had him appearing and disappearing from my life in odd spurts until I was removed from his life. He remained a presence until his death, but mainly as an exercise: could I forgive this man for what he’d done?
We’re all trying to leave a mark. You never know when you’re going to die and you’d like to have nudged the world a little before that happens. The thing is: there in no instructional manual for making that happen. Religion tries. There’s an old Jesus People line about the Bible being “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth”. But mostly outside of those large frameworks we are left to find our own way.
Years ago David Dower taught me to look at the abundance in a situation. I had trained myself to rattle off the sheaf of reasons that I couldn’t be a great theatremaker and never to highlight the unimaginably large foundation that allowed me to be the good theatremaker I already was. It was a lovely gift. It prepared me to be less defensive in a cultural moment where my demographic hegemony might just have a few holes poked in it. Greater awareness of my abundance gave me a foundation to be able to bear witness rather than to feel the need to shout. It also sharpened my awareness of actual scarcity and need. There is real hurt in human society, almost all of it self-inflicted. We hurt each other and ourselves, feel trapped in that pain, lash out and spur the cycle on. We react to hurt out of our brokenness
A year ago… a man and his art: Well not his art… This is “Crusher” by Simon Birch as installed at 14th Factory. A lot of art folks hate this sort of work… art made for selfies and they hate folks who deign to take their selfies with it. I understand their argument in terms of taking your photo with say the Mona Lisa, but when experiencing the Crusher you are the thing intended to be crushed. You have a place within this art you are a co-subject and the image created is yours and yours alone. And my experience of this piece is twofold. both staring at 300 pitchforks aimed at me and of the disassociate image of that moment. That’s rad. 2. We lost Donald Hall this week. You can’t very well love words and hail from New Hampshire and not have been near the orbit of Donald
I am a conservative person by nature. My gut impulse is for status quo reinforcing rule following. I have problems with conflict. During undergrad my friend Matt would suggest ways to subvert entryways into the theatre world and I would nudge him toward the front door, because honestly they seemed wide open. Of course they aren’t wide open. The doors to theatre institutions aren’t wide open even if you are at the pinnacle of privilege, which I am, so I can’t imagine deciding to assay that climb from anywhere else on the privilege ladder. For a long time my gut said that the doors would open if those inside only knew the value of those trying to get in. In my naivete, born of of my privileged world-view, I still believed in a version of meritocracy. But there is little in the world capable of motivating those who have something
The first question most people ask about dying is, “was there a light? Anything?” What they mean is did you cheat and get any answers to bring back. The answer for me, as the answer has been for any folks who’ve made a two-way trip, is no. It’d have been great if the faulty wiring in my cardiac region led to me being deputized as a messenger angel, but no such luck this time out. I’m a narrative driven person. I am lover of stories even discounting my Christian upbringing, which sort of doubles down on living your life by a story. Every bit of my life dresses in characters and arcs and emotional roil of one kind or another. What dying did for me was flip on the work lights. Nothing de-romanticizes life quicker than dying due to electrical failure out of nowhere. I’m not suddenly divorced from a life
My extended cardiac pause at the end of last year was cause for reflection, which I think most folks would find pretty common. That period of reflection combined with a political environment running so hard against what I believe to be my and my broader community’s best interests left me reeling a bit. Is this political moment a call to more explicit political action? How can I improve the community in a more direct way? And how do I define that community in this new place?
The current conversational content at my house breaks down pretty simply. It’s approximately 11% making fun of me for dying; 6% what’s for dinner; 43% cats, cat behavior, cat functions, and doing impersonations of the cats; 3% about enhancing verticality in theatre communities to better simulate a neural network of intelligence and talent (which is just me monologing after Megan goes to bed); and 37% about immersive theatre. Megan has been fascinated by immersives and their brethren since Punchdrunk infected her with Sleep No More years ago. Taking her love of video games and crossing them with her love of performance art seems like a pretty sure way of making sure she’s paying attention. Despite her love of immersives, travel to go see them, and meticulous deconstruction of their inner workings… she had never managed to get me to one. She did her damnedest to get me in to Third
A month ago I died. Only for a while, but if you stick to binary score keeping it’s the sort of thing that makes you sit up and take notice. My recovery has been pretty speedy so I spend a lot of time making light of the situation, but I am a lottery winner, the odds of making it out aren’t good, never mind being home and mobile so quickly. To be feeling this good so soon after release feels like a miracle. Oh my friends I’ve Begun to worry right Where I should be grateful I should be satisfied Following on the heels of the Fall Rep for Classical Actors Ensemble, and with nothing on the horizon in my theatre world, this end of year and my cardiac adventure feels like an ending. I have worked hard to gain a foothold here in the Twin Cities as an actor,
And we’re back with Episode 7 of our slow out into the Twin Cities theatre community. Tonight I open Julius Caesar, the first part of this season’s “Spring Rep” with the Classical Actors Ensemble. Tomorrow we go even bigger with a two show day, opening Macbeth to make the pair. It’s perhaps a little odd to celebrate your third (and fourth) show(s) in a city, but – at the risk of sounding like a baseball fan parsing a hitter’s batting average on Sundays at home when it rains – tonight I open my first show in town that I’m not part of because I know my wife. My first two shows in town were great experiences, and I was a valuable part of both of them, but my involvement had an awful lot more to do with my knowing Megan, my infinite availability, and my price more than something I inherently brought to
I can’t rebuild or repair anything. I can’t fight evil.
But together with my friends I can create a circle in which you can be transported.
My Austin, like everyone’s, was the confluence of specific versions of people and places and projects and that river only moves in one direction.
Kim Davis’ great mistake is that she hasn’t read the owner’s manual on her faith yet. She read the poster. She saw the trailer.
Theatre producers seem to live in a permanent terror about the pending Ragnarok. It may be that most of the theatre makers I know don’t have even 60 days cash on hand never mind a liquid operating fund, but it seems that they are always looking to paint innovation onto whatever mission they already have. That they’re seeking to continue doing theatre that they enjoy making while shoehorning in whatever the kids like these days. Since the Gossip Girl-ification of Sleep No More immersive has become as hot as a theatrical fad can be, with even pretty tepidly dramaturged lobbies trying to claim ‘immersiveness’. I’ve heard calls since I began blogging in 2006 to increase audience ownership of the performance and performance space. Bromides about relaxing rules, expectations and essentially eliminating the silent sanctuary in theatre that emerged with the naturalism of the last century. This all gets phrased as though theatre makers
I’m sure that for all performers there are literal moments in performance that are trapped in amber.
You don’t get to script your endings… Willie Mays as a Met, Dwight Evans as a Baltimore Oriole, Joe Montana as a Kansas City Chief – I actually couldn’t tell you what colour Jerry Rice was wearing when he stopped playing football. It doesn’t change their story. Not really. Not in any material way. But it’s narratively disappointing . We’ve been well trained to want our fairy tales to end with a wedding not a marriage. I didn’t really get to script my ending with Austin theatre. The timing just didn’t work out. We’re decamping earlier than I thought, so making Trouble Puppet’s Frankenstein my final show as intended simply wasn’t feasible. Instead my final curtain call in Austin will be as Falstaff. It was an honor unlooked for and there an end. I don’t know that there is a more suitable end than playing a galactically outsized dirtbag Shakespearean clown outside
This weekend is the true start of the end. This weekend is the last time I get to work with Trouble Puppet.
Over the course of a couple of days this week I watched a livestream of someone cleaning up his Facebook profile. And it was riveting. As part of the Austin-based performance/art Fusebox Festival Brian Lobel recreated his Purge performance art piece with two local performers. The piece consists of the performer/subject sitting in front of a rotating panel of three people and defending their relationship with each of the people on their Facebook friends list for one minute. At the end of the minute the panel decides whether or not the person will remain on the friends list. It sounds like a really dull sort of game show. It sounds like the sort of pretentious grad school performance art that even folks on my performance art friendly social media feeds mock for being a sketch version of performance art. I watched like 6 hours of it. It was spellbinding. The premise
1. All of Megan Kimber‘s stuff (currently has an exhibition up at Greyduck Gallery) 2. The Berlioz section of Chagall’s Paris Opera House Ceiling 3. Christina the Ghost Art Doll Figurine from Shain Erin: 4. The weather is relaxing into habitable and I am tired in my bones… I would love to spend some time reading something engaging without being bitten by anything or sweating and drinking a Negroni made with Navy Strength Genius Gin. I admit it it’s these cherries that sold me… 5. This right here? THIS is a coffee machine.
1. This entire series of figures from Marina Rubinke is so macabre I almost feel guilty linking you too them. 2. Look. I’m Late to the party but Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand is effectively the theme to The Strange Case of Edward Hyde and Doctor Jekyll that I open next week with Trouble Puppet… I mean… yeah. 3. Conrad Roset’s Cicuta Part of his Muses set. [The People’s Print Shop!] 4. “WORN OUT” BY PALESTINIAN ARTIST IYAD SABBAH 5. Jason Brueck’s A Prayer to Genevieve
1. Emulsifier – This rotating glass sculpture by THOMAS MEDICUS. 2. Cocktail of the week: a blueberry gin sour from Supergoldenbakes 3. Three Doors by Charles Simic This one kept its dignity Despite being kicked And smudged with fingerprints. Someone wanted to get in Real bad. Now the whole neighborhood can see What went on late last night And the night before. Two clenched fists Raised high Pounding, pounding, And asking God To please bear witness. * * * This door’s hinges, I suspect, Give off a nasty screech From seeing Too many feet caught in it. Just a minute ago, Some fellow With that it-pays-to-be-cagey look Snuck out. Screams of a child, Yelps of a kicked dog And wild laughter Followed after him. * * * I heard the neighbor’s screen door Creak open at daybreak To let the cat in With what sounded like a stage whisper Into
1. Mud mural from Yusuke Asai. Yes mud really: 2. Deep Fried Tequila Shots TRUE THING: 3. This Shadow Box… or rather a box that cast shadows from ANILA QUAYYUM AGHA: 4. A dangerous sounding Horchata cocktail: 5. The winding of the year for a good New Hampshire boy will lead to Robert Frost and as Austin nights get below 85° it’s begun to feel a little like an autumn, so indulge me: For Once, Then, Something BY ROBERT FROST Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs Always wrong to the light, so never seeing Deeper down in the well than where the water Gives me back in a shining surface picture Me myself in the summer heaven godlike Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs. Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb, I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture, Through the picture, a
1. Eight of Cups by Sara Emily Kuntz from the Cabildo Quarterly I would get this funny déjà vu in the kitchen with you: your neck bent, shoulders down, as you sliced a tomato, or washed out a coffee mug. Your back like the poor wanderer on the Eight of Cups, familiar. As a child I’d watch my grandpa hunched over the grill on the tarmac driveway, or at the sink washing the dishes after dessert. He told me that cold water dissolves dairy better than hot, cleans the ice cream bowls faster. I never knew when he was joking. You texted me two photos of your face. Beard updates from three thousand miles as the dimple in your chin gradually disappears again. In the upper left above your head hangs an old dutch hex of two unicorns, watching like the dual-phased moon that hangs over the wanderer as he leaves
1. I enjoy clever street art… 2. Drink of the week: Gin Basil Lemonade This is what I will be making with Genius Gin for the Trouble Puppet Get Into Trouble party tomorrow… My recipe is a bit different 2/1 Lemonade to gin; shake with bruised basil serve on ice. 3. Lin Tianmiao‘s art is so haunting… 4. Bubbles!!! 5. 2Twenty‘s night shot from the Salton Sea (via Supersonic Electronic)
1. Martin Tomsky’s laser cut woodcuts: 2. Lenka Simeckova’s illustrations… slinky menace – reminiscant of Sandman covers… 3. This week’s drink is the Radical Cure from the Alchemy Bar on Carnival Cruiselines Bombay Original Gin, lavender essence, fresh lime juice and Maraschino Liqueur. Strong, floral, and sweet without being cloying. (Photo @Willhollis) 4. Seung-Hwan OH combines photos with emulsion eating bacteria… literally letting life happen to the art… 5. Warsan Shire – Ugly Your daughter is ugly. She knows loss intimately, carries whole cities in her belly. As a child, relatives wouldn’t hold her. She was splintered wood and sea water. They said she reminded them of the war. On her fifteenth birthday you taught her how to tie her hair like rope and smoke it over burning frankincense. You made her gargle rosewater and while she coughed, said macaanto girls like you shouldn’t smell of lonely or empty. You
1. Zara Pickens Illustration esp: 2. Cocktail of the week: straightforward as the come, the Gimlet 3. The inscrutable book cover feel of this: 4. This not-a-nebula exposure from Davis Ayer: 5. These Pace Prints of James Turrel’s Aten Reign:
As summer ends the palate starts to shift and I start wanting more ginger… but I miss the perfect cantaloupes that Johnson’s Backyard Garden sent me this summer:
No one needs a 4000th “Robin Williams is my jam” eulogy splotch in their feed. But we really do need to learn the lesson he modeled and we need to stop opting out of helping.
It’s been a long couple of weeks. Trouble is sort of relative. If you have the energy and focus to deal with whatever you’re facing down you can take on the entire Empire yourself. If you’re tired and sick and just plain ol’ wore out putting on outside-the-house pants can be a legitimate struggle. I’m still putting on acceptable pants but it’s been a long year and I’m plain ol’ wore out. My final show of the year opened a day late but is now firing on all cylinders and now can move from the stressor category… Because life is nothing but serendipity with a bourbon chaser – I’m running a noir detective mystery and finally made time to start reading Powers by Brian Michael Bendis. So it’s been pretty much this: and this: Powers is a super hero book told from outside the cowl and cape in
I hate losing. I hate losing Settlers of Catan or Uno or Soul Calibur.
Being in rehearsal until 10 every night and visiting with my wife or taking care of other assorted business after rehearsal has meant that in the time I’ve been in Austin I’ve mostly not been able to enjoy baseball. Which is a shame because in case you haven’t been reading (and you haven’t) life for me in this moment is an evolving tension between keeping my world full of interesting and challenging projects and having enough mental space to not get crushed by it. Baseball rhythmically is great for that. Available all summer for 3-4 hours a night you don’t need to alter your life to catch it. There’s a cast of characters that you get to know well and the voices of extended family talking about those characters. I gave up baseball for theatre mostly… but there are always exceptions… I’ve been a Red Sox fan since the end
I can’t say up as late as I can when I don’t have the metaphysical sniffles, but neither am I down for the count.
For this first time in my life my work as a performer has been nominated for an award.
I am bad at simply doing a thing. I tend toward pursuing a thing to the furthest edges and beyond.
It is tech week #2 for Trouble Puppet Theatre Co.’s The Head, wherein for a period of time I get to manipulate personal demons instead of them manipulating me. It’s a rollicking good time that I recommend you go see early before the good seats get all gummed up with folks and you have to miss it. But see, the thing is is the Missus is lighting this puppy. Which means that we’re both in tech and so food is… food is sort of catch as catch can as happens in tech weeks. That doesn’t mean however that our CSA box from Johnson’s Backyard Garden isn’t going to sit and stare at us wondering why oh why we’re ignoring it. There’s nothing sadder than a disappointed squash sitting in the fridge with those big puppy dog eyes staring out at you… so we killed him. On Saturday we had a