Monday, May 27, 2013

Some of my favorite things

I should be blogging about Women of Will (which was AMAZING!) or Kinky Boots (also, AMAZING!) or any of the other shows I've seen lately...  However, it is so pretty outside, warm and sunny, and almost summer!  That instead, I have been walking around all day sing "these are a few of my favorite things" and it made me want to actually list some of mine.  Happy weather+Life going well=Very Happy Reesa.  So, I am marking this moment.  And celebrating the things I love!  (These are not the things that necessarily inspire me, but the things that always make me happy)

In no particular order:

* Puppies with one ear up and one floppy ear (or a sideways ear :p )

* How expressive my cat's face is

* Skirts and bare feet in the grass

* The feel of warm sun, spring breaking through the cold

* That magic moment that happens in rehearsal in which I *know* I have a show

* Creative people who freely share themselves

* Cuddle naps

* Leisurely mornings with coffee and eggs and toast

* Writing

* Laughing

* Dancing

* Singing

* Music

* Singing and dancing on the subway

* The first rehearsal

* The first performance

* Friends and family who know who I am and love me because of it

* Communities of people who embrace the humanity of a soul - the good and bad - we've all done it.

* Red wine

* Red wine with bad for me cupcakes

* French Fries

* Lemon Bars

* The feel of a new story rumbling in the corner of my soul

* Seeing a great play

* Neighbors saying "hello, how ya doing" while sitting on a stoop

* Making faces to kids on the subway

* Beginnings

* Little Bunny Foo Foo

* Creating

* The work

* Remembering the people who loved me and are gone, but not forgotten, always in my heart

* Freshly pained finger nails

* Old friends

* New friends

* The many crazy and surreal moment of my life

*A good book

* People with wrinkly brains who keep up with me in conversation

* Touching trees

* Touching

* Having my back scratched

* Telling my story

* People who listen

Ok, I could keep going all day.  But I think I'll stop now.  What are some of your favorite things?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Why we need more Simon Cowell and less Paula Abdul in the theatre world

I directed a piece in a short cabaret this last week.  After the show there was a talk-back.  One of the pieces I was really not a fan of – and I had pretty specific reasons for not liking it, none of which matter for the sake of this blog.  Here’s what does.  During the talk-back, the artist asked a question regarding the piece.  I sat and listened to at least 5 people, all people who knew the artist, comment on the piece in relation to what kind of prep work the artist had done for the piece.  Ie, everyone who commented came from a place of having some idea what the piece was supposed to be before it started.  And everyone had nothing but good things to say about the piece.  No one else spoke.

After a few more people said nice things about the piece, I lost it.  I finally raised my hand and proceed to do my best Simon Cowell impersonation.  I asked pointed questions about the piece – questions the artist had no answers for, and I told the artist why I was asking – ie, in polite terms, what I thought was wrong with the piece.  Then the talk-back went on.

After the talk-back, I was stopped by 3 different people in the 7 minutes it took me to get my stuff together to leave to tell me “Thank you for saying something in there.  I hated that piece” or “Thanks, I agree there were some real problems in that piece.” Or…  “Thanks for that, I think you voiced what a lot of us were feeling.” I expect this behavior from a class of scared freshman, I do not expect it from a room of theatre professionals.   And yet... It seems that every time I have been to a talk back in the last far too long...  I've had the same experience. 

And that’s what I want to talk about.  If I voiced what so many people were saying, then why did no one else say it?  When did theatre develop the idea that we had to be nice or agree to make art.  What has happened to the idea of constrictive critism? Most importantly, when did being supportive suddenly become “only talk about the good stuff”?  

When I was in undergrad, I had a similar experience to the talk back.  I was taking an acting class from a women who everyone thought was the scariest woman in the whole world (Carolyn, if you’re reading this – you were an amazing teacher for me!  And also, a little  scary to the freshman :p ) She directed Bus Stop while I was in her class.  We were all required to see it, and in the class, after it closed, we were all supposed to have a conversation about it.  Here’s the thing – I hated it.  Partially because I hate the show, but also, I felt I had some legitimate “I didn’t like this thing” reasons.  Class starts, and she sits in front of us with her enormous cup of coffee, and says – "Well, what did you think?"  Immediately, everyone in the class starts telling her how wonderful the show was and what a great job she did.  I sat there in horror thinking – did we see the same show?  Finally, I raised my hand and said “I’m sorry, I hated it”.  Silence.  People cringed and physically moved away from me.  She set her coffee mug on the ground, very loudly.  “Really?  Tell me” She says.  With a dry mouth and a racing heart, I did.  I told her all of it.  From the fact I didn’t like the script to the parts of the show I thought were weird, and the parts I thought were good.  I must have talked for like 15 minutes.  When I was done, I stopped.  She picked up her cup, and took a sip of coffee and said “Thank you. This, I love.  Thank you for telling me what you really thought, for having that courage.  Now that she’s broken the ice, anyone else wanna tell me what they thought?”  (Ok, she actually addressed some of the points I had made, and we had a dialogue on why I thought what I did etc. Then she said Now that she’s etc… but it was way more dramatic for a blog without all that other stuff).  Sure enough, the rest of the class also had things they hadn’t loved, and we had a real class dialogue on what the show had been and how we felt about it.  After that, the class never hesitated to tell what they really thought about things. Always respectfully. 

Anyway, my point is this, that experience taught me and my classmates some very good things.  First off, scary teachers aren’t really so scary.. most of the time :p .  Also, speak up, you never know who else has your opinion.  Respectful doesn’t mean that you have to like everything.  Respect can also mean that you like an artist enough to tell them their work needs work – and then help guide them to the parts that need it. 

If we want better art, we, all the artists, need to get better at telling each other how to do it.  Because, here’s the thing, we all know this, this is a tough business.  It sucks and it’s hard and people don’t understand what it is or why we do it or even what we do.  But you know what they do know – what they like, what they think is good.  And that means something.  It is not enough to have a closed circuit and only be doing a good job to the group that knows “what your trying to do”.  If I, the audience, doesn’t understand what your trying to do, then, I think, you have failed at part of your art.  And if you ask me my opinion, then, as an artist, I need to tell you where you have failed and how you might fix it, or questions that you might consider to make your work better or stronger.  Ego stroking doesn’t make good art.  Ego stroking doesn’t even make good art better.  It makes crap crappier and good art acceptable  but not better.  Lanford used to say: "Everything is either genius or crap.  If it’s crap, keep working till it’s genius."  And ego stroking doesn’t give you a place to work from or towards.  And to be honest, I am not much interested in working with artists who don’t get this.  If you can’t tell me what’s wrong, or take from me what I think is wrong – then I don’t want to work with you, because how on earth can we get better?

I also think we, as an artistic community, need to work on developing the eyes to see, the vocabulary to talk, and the thick skin/ears to hear.  People not liking your work isn’t a fault against you, it’s places you can do better.  No one is perfect, nor is any art.  I want my art to be the best it can be, so if I ask your opinion then TELL ME.  Tell me all of it, bluntly and honestly and with reasons – this way I know how to get better.  I mean, I can choose not to listen, I can choose to out vote you, as it were, I mean, it is my art and I can do what I want.  But if you aren’t even telling me, then how do I know to make the choice? 

Also, listen to who is talking.  There are many theatre groups I know who listen to their internal voices before listening to the external.  Why?  Why is one more important than the other?  I think that the external should be more important.  That note from a theatre professional who is not part of your company or school – maybe listen closely to that, because that note is how you are seen outside your tight circle.  Want to be marketable?  Listen to that note.   (I can’t even tell you how much bad theatre I’ve seen that the company thought was good because they only listen to the internal criticism.  Everyone outside the bubble all said – crap, here’s why.  But no one listened, because the criticism came from outside the bubble, if they even bothered to ask someone outside the bubble in the first place.)

Overall, the take away for me is this: Polite agreement doesn’t foster growth, if anything, it stifles it.  Please note, I am not telling you to be rude, but I am telling you to give true and thoughtful critiques of each other.  Be honest.  Talk about what you like, what you don’t like, what you hate, and where you think things can be better.  Do these things because the world needs us, and we need to be at the top of our game.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Some hard truths about casting that all actors should know

Subtitle: I’m wading through resumes and have said WTH more times than I like to admit

Hey guys.  I know, normally I do shows, but today, I want to talk about casting. Because I think it’s important.  And I think it’s important that some of you learn things before you submit to anything, ever again. 

I am not trying to be mean, but here’s the truth.  I have spent the better part of today, like 8 hours at last count, wading through headshots and resumes for 50 audition slots – by the time I’m done, I will have gone through 200 resumes.  For those playing the home game, that's about two and half minutes per resume.  Knowing this tome constraint, there are things that will get you put in the no file immediately, even if you are “perfect” for the role/spot.    (These are all compiled from me and other director friends/casting agents I know). You want to make it easy for us to find what we need and put you in the yes pile.  Trust me, by resume 150, I don’t give a crap anymore.  I’m not going to play hide and seek with the info. 

The number one rule in Casting Notices: READ THEM!  Read all of them.  Make sure you actually fit the role that you are submitting for.  For instance, if you are a man, do NOT submit to an all female Shakespeare play.  If you are 60, do not submit for a part that is looking for 20-30. Let me make this clear – there are companies and casting directors who will permanently black ball you for that shit.  As in, they will no longer take submissions from you at all. 

Number two rule: Once you have read, carefully, the posting, and you are actually right for the part, now you need to read the posting again.  And submit exactly the way they tell you too.  This includes:
·      Send it to the email address listed in the ad (do not get cutesy and send it to someone “higher” in the company, like the artistic director or producer – that’s not cute or brave, it’s stupid.  It also gets you put in the no file)
·      Look at what they ask for, if they tell you to “attach” headshot and resume, that means ATTACH.  That does not mean you send a link to your website where it is posted.
·      If they ask you to embed, embed.  Don’t know how?  Google it.  That’s what the internet is for.
·      Again, let me say this: If you do not do what we ask you to, you will go in the no pile, often without even seeing you.  We don’t want to work with someone who can’t follow instructions. 

While we’re talking about attachments, helpful life hint, casting or no.  Write your resumes in whatever you want.  Save it as a PDF.  Send the PDF to potential employers.  If I can’t open your resume on this end, I won’t bother to tell you, you just won’t get the slot.  PDF files are universal – they open on all operating systems.  Also, PDF’s make the format fixed so that they look EXACTLY the same on my screen as on yours, regardless of operating system. There is no excuse.  Word creates PDF’s for you now by going to “Save As” and selecting it as an option.  No, you cannot alter a PDF (unless you have Acrobat), so keep the word doc, create a new PDF every time you change something.  If you don’t have a computer with word, googledocs (a free online program) does it too.  Or, go to a library.  They have it.   Need help figuring it out?  Ask someone!  Ask google!  Ask your smart computer friend!  Post about it on facebook.  This isn’t computer science and it isn’t coding.  It’s BASIC software knowledge.  Lots of people have it.  You should too.

Do not, under any circumstance, ever, take a cell phone picture of your hard copy resume and send it as a JPG.  That is not a resume.  Also, it is so low on the professional scale. You will not get the audition.  We will, however, joke about it at cocktail parties.

Do not lie on your resume.  You may not get caught every time, but the times your do, you won’t get the part.  And if it’s for me, I won’t work with you period.  And you will be caught in the most unexpected ways.  For instance, I email the people on your resume if I know them to check in with them about you.  It’s a common practice. 

Do list who you’ve really worked with, however.  Three of my audition spots are going to people who worked with people I have worked with and respect.  Yes, all three of them were emailed to confirm first.

Industry standard is one page of resume, from most recent on top, to furthest away on bottom.  I will not sift through a three page resume to find the info I need.  Also, see above about how PDF keeps formatting consistent across all platforms.  If I open it and the columns are off, I will not take the time to figure out what goes where.  These are industry standards for a reason.  Keep your resume like everyone else so we can find the information we need, if we cannot find it quickly, we won’t keep looking.  We have too many others to look at.  Also, don’t be cute and center your resume.  Use column, just like everyone else – see above.  Also also, make sure your resume is an industry standard resume and not a CV or professional.  Again, if I have to hunt for the information, I won't, you just won't be seen.  Links below to what those should look like.

Do not mention a show in your cover letter that isn’t on your resume.  I want to know when you did it and with who.  Even if that means changing your resume for one submission.  If it’s important enough to mention in a cover letter, it’s important enough to be on your resume for that submission.

Do not lie about what you can do in your special skills.  If I cast you believing you have sword fight experience, and you do not…  Suffice to say that the friend that had this happen fired the actor and rehired.  Also, “Shakespeare” is not a special skill – I don’t know what that means – do you do Shakespeare impersonations in your spare time? Wear pumpkin pants all year round?  Do you mean “the ability to speak in verse”?  If so, write that.  In fact, be clear about what your special skills are, do not write nouns and expect us to know.  When in doubt, ask 10 people what the word means, if they all say the same thing, it’s fine. If it’s 10 different answers, try again.

Spoken Word is not a dialect.  It can be a special skill if you like, but no, it’s not a dialect.  (I have actually seen this more than once).

Let’s talk a little about headshots.  A headshot should be the best, believable, version of you.  It is important that they are clear, professional looking, and look like you.  A headshot IS NOT A GLAMOUR SHOT.  Seriously, it’s really not.  I need a clean and clear representation of the person likely to walk into my casting room.   Also, if I cannot see ALL of your face, it’s not a headshot.  Also, industry standard is a color picture.  Sepia is not ok.  Also also, do not use a picture you took of yourself on a computer - not only are most of them not very flattering, the lack of professionalism makes me unlikely to call you into an audition.

Let’s talk about how to do that.  Find a photographer – no, it doesn’t have to be expensive (though we all know it can be), but you need someone who can frame shots and use light levels etc. Do not let a makeup artist do your make in a way that doesn’t look like you or that you cannot replicate.  Look through your proofs.  Ask the photographer which 2 she/he think are the best picture.  Mark them.  Ask your friends and family which proofs look most like you.  Mark them.  Decide which one you like best.  Mark them.  Once you are down to like 10 or less, ask a director you’ve worked with, or your casting director friend, or a trusted teacher (or more than one, more than one is good) which of the small number is best.  Then ask why.  And LISTEN to the reasons they say they like what they do.  You do not have to agree.  It’s your life and your photo, but they will often tell you things you didn’t think of. 

Here’s why this is so important.  My number one pet peeve in casting is headshots that don’t look like the actor.  I will not cast you on principle.  Even if you are perfect for the role.  Hell, sometimes, I won’t even let you in my room to audition because the person I asked to audition is in the picture, and NOT in the room.  (Just so you’re clear, this is not just my number one.  I asked 10 of my casting type people friends for their top 5, this came up as #1 on all 10 lists)

If your look changes dramatically and you haven’t had the time or money to get new shots – send me your professional shot AND a good snap (which can be taken by a friend) of the new look with a note: “Hey, I just got my hair cut (dyed whatever goes here) and haven’t had new pictures taken yet.  So I’m sending you my headshot and a picture of the new look.  Thanks!”  Trust me when I say that will actually get you in the door to audition.  A shot of you with brown hair when you are now blonde gets you turned away at the door.  (This is the time snap shots are appropriate, not as the only headshot you send me) Also, get new headshots every 2 to 3 years even you don’t change your hair.  You really do look differently for casting purposes.  And finally, if you physically change or have changed something on your face – your headshot MUST represent this!  I once had a girl who had a perfect headshot walk into my room with a scar across her cheek.  Suffice to say, she did not get the role.

When writing the cover letter or email, if you request a part you would be perfect for, be aware, you not only may not get the role, but you may not be cast or even auditioned period.  Case in point, the show I am currently casting, the lead is already cast, which means there are at least 10 women not getting an audition because they only wanted that part.  Also, in this show, there are no single parts, everyone is more than one character.  Which means that I am less likely to use someone who wants a role rather tells me they want work.  Again, that is your choice based on where you are in your career – I understand why people do it, and I respect it – I am just telling you what happens on the other side. And yes, there is a difference in “I would love to play XXX, but would love to read for anything else too.” And  “I would love to play XXX.”   Also, again, read the casting notice.  If the casting notice asks for the info say it. 

If you do not get the audition, do no re-submit.  The same people are likely to be looking at your stuff, and you are still unlikely to get the audition.  Also, now we're annoyed because we had to tell you no twice.

For the record, there are always stories about how so and so did it different, broke out of the mold and got a part etc.  Here's a hint, those stories (some of which *are* true, most of which are probably exaggerated), at least the true ones, are about SUPREMELY talented people, or people with connections in the first place.  Those people aren't normal.  Chances are pretty good that those people aren't you.  Sorry to burst that bubble.

Look.  I know, that was long, and harsh, and no sugar coating.  But all this information is out already there.  If acting is what you want to pursue professionally, then find out how.  Don't make assumptions, ask: ask a friend who is in the industry, ask google, ask a professor - it is your (the actor's) responsibility to make sure you are doing things correctly, it is not my (the director or casting director - especially when I have come across your things because you have sent it to me for an audition) responsibility to tell you you have done it wrong and need to change it.  Because man, I so don't have time for that crap.  As a result, if you want the part, you shouldn't either. I know it sucks for you, I know it's hard. Please bear in mind that you, likely, do not send out as many submissions as we read.  Do what we ask, you are more likely to be seen and cast that way.  

And anyone has any others, please let me know in the comments below.  

Please note. I make no money from this blog whatsoever.  I have compiled this advice from myself, who casts 3-4 shows a year, and several friends who work at varying levels of casting.  I have put this information out there because of the sheer volume of head shots and resumes that I know I, and my friends, receive that do not follow basic protocol.  I want the pool of actors that we all receive to be better, so we can see more and better people, instead of being turned off from basic mistakes. Please take it for what it is.  And if you don't believe me, there are links right below me to professionals casting directors saying the same thing.  

Also, it's not just me.  This is a blog post from a CD in the DC area.  Same advice. 

And some more advice from about resumes.

Let's talk about resumes.  Another talk about resumes.  Resumes, resumes, resumes. 


Monday, March 11, 2013

Talley's Folly (NYC)

I’m finding it harder than I thought it would be to write about this show.  For those who don’t know, or haven’t been reading long enough to know, Lanford was a personal friend of mine.  Because of this, I was lucky enough to get to see Talley’s Folly on opening night – even better, I got to see it in a row of people who knew and loved him longer than I did.  (Also, the food at the opening party was really good! :p )

I seem to forget, when I am reading or talking about it, how lovely Lanford’s language really is.  And how much the sound of it matters, the way it feels on the actors tongue and in the audiences ears.  I mean, intellectually, I get that it is lyric realism, and I know what that means, but I forget until I see it – no, hear it – live and done well.  Suffice to say that in Roundabout’s production both Danny Burstein and Sarah Paulson make the language sing.  Burstein’s opening monologue reminded me on how beautiful the language of the play is.  The songs of images that roll off his tongue in waves, hitting the audience in waltz time, the sounds and meaning coming off clearly. 

(As a side note, opening night, and amazing thing happened –as it is live theatre.  If you are unaware of this show, the opening monologue is given by Matt, directly to the audience, and in fact starts with the line: “They tell me we have 97 minutes here tonight – without intermission.  So if that means anything to anybody; if you need to get a drink of water or anything…” On opening night, Burstein had a heckler in the front row.  He started the show, and a voice from the audience said – you should go to the bathroom.  A little later on in the monologue, Matt asks the tech booth for a dog bark in the monologue.  Again, our friend in the second row helps out… by barking.  As a theatre practioner, I have a love hate relationship with things and people like this.  I actually love that it clearly reminds us that theatre is live, in front of real people, who can see and interact with us anytime they want to, people who are as much a part of the show as the actors are, after all, theatre without an audience isn’t theatre – it’s a rehearsal – I love that because I think that is theatre’s true power and strength.  Also, it reminds us that the danger, if you will, of theatre is that anything can happen at any moment, expecting it or not.  But also, you work hard on a show and when you haven’t planned for audience interaction…  then you are left scrambling… Burstein did an excellent job of shutting his heckler down, while staying Matt, and not leaving the heckler upset of angry.  Indeed, he made the heckler as much a part of Matt’s experience of the night as the music from the bandstand across the water. )

What I love best about Talley’s Folly is its simplicity.  The arc of the show is clear and lovely.  (I mention this because if you know Lanford’s work, that is not always the case… Balm in Gilead and Hot L immediately come to mind.  Both AMAZING works of art and inspiring shows with very real characters, but simple is also not a word I would use to describe either of them) It is a light and magical night, with two people who love each other desperately, and against all odds – in fact, against even their own hearts really (or at least what they told their hearts they wanted or deserved).  The beauty of this show is watching the love story unfold between these two characters, watching them pull back onion layers of self to show the other, watching two people try to put down their self-defense weapons and love not hurt each other.  Matt talks about people being eggs and therefore fragile. 

One of Lanford’s talents as a playwright, in fact, as a person, was the ability to see, truly see people.  And then tell us what he saw.  Lanford saw the dignity and truth in everyone. It’s what makes his works, like Balm, so powerful.  There is no judgment in his characters, just truth.  And a truth that humans are amazing in all their flaws and choices – in just living.  In Talley’s Folly, he gives these two adult characters their chance to tell their stories.  To let the walls down, not just to each other, but to us.  It is a true adult love story.  The story of two people who are not young (young being the purview of most love stories), trying to get through the years of baggage they have built for themselves, trying to let it go enough to not lose what might be their last chance, trying to learn to listen to their hearts.  

Roundabout’s production of it highlights this simplicity.  (Well, if I am honest, except for the set, which was a fiasco, I thought.  Far to heavy and bulky and showy for Lanford’s magical script.) Matt and Sally obviously care about each other in this show. Paulson’s Sally is a woman made strong through choices made for her and choices she has made, not sure she knows how to put those things down and try something else.  Paulson does a wonderful job showing how much the choices in her life have cost her.  And again, how much it costs her to let that go and trust.  And Sally is not the easiest character to play.  She walks a line between pushing him away and wanting him to stay – too caught up in her own past to see her present and future.  Paulson’s Sally was lovely though.  Sweet, concerned, beautiful and not as fragile as I’ve seen Sally in the past.  And honestly, I liked that.  I always thought Sally was a tough nut.  Sure, fragile underneath, but the only people in the show that seem to realize that is Matt and her aunt.  And Paulson’s Sally hit that note for me.  She made it easier to see why she was attracted to Matt, because Matt knew her, and understood her, when she wasn’t always capable of saying it.

And Burstein’s Matt has all the faith that Matt must have.  Faith that, although his life has not been easy, he is right in this one thing in his life and he pushes through on that belief.  He needs an answer this night.  It’s why this night is so important.  He needs to know if his faith is well placed or no.   

I know this is post has been a little more review-y and less what I learned that most of my posts.  But like I said earlier, what this show reminds me of is what I lost in my own life.  And I am still trying to sort through that.  I, like Sally, have a hard time letting go of things in my past.   It’s a problem.  But, I, like Paulson’s Sally, am stronger than it might seem.  Maybe what I learned from this production is just how important the faith and the fight is, not just in love, but in life.  The faith that you are right, and the willingness to fight for what you want.  And maybe, that you are never too old to go after what you truly want.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Hamlet (Bedlam) (New York)

The first thing I want to say about Bedlam’s production of Hamlet was that it was not my favorite production ever… Mostly because that spot goes to Bedlam’s St Joan that I saw last year.  I will say, however, that of all the Hamlet’s I’ve seen (and I’ve see a number more than one hand but less than all my digits) this one was my favorite.  It succeeds in ways that many contemporary productions fail because of the very nature of who Bedlam is.

Let me explain, Bedlam theatre is 4 (yes, that’s right, I said 4) actors: Andrus Nichols, Tom O’Keefe, Ted Lewis, and Eric Tucker.   These four actors (and an occasional cameo from either an audience member or their SM) make up ALL the parts in Hamlet.  (St Joan is the same way).  Additionally, Bedlam loves to blur the lines of what theatre is and what audience is.  They are not satisfied with the idea of a proscenium theatre (or any “classic” theatre really).  What they are interested in is how to make the audience part of the show, how to keep the audience engaged with the work through 3 hours of play time. 

I want to pause here for a sec, those who read my blog often here me whine about long shows.  Bedlam is one of the few theatre’s I’ve been to that the length of the show hasn’t bothered me.  Mostly because, as an ensemble, they have a really great sense of internal timing and pacing, and actively work to keep that up – by keeping up the internal pacing, the 3 hour show doesn’t feel like 3 hours.  In fact, after both shows I was surprised at how long it had been.  (Also, there are 2 intermissions, which REALLY helps this small bladder girl –another reason I hate long shows)

But, back the Hamlet.  What I love the most about these 4 actors is their sense of play.  I mean, it is called a play for a reason, right?   Bedlam demonstrates this in many ways, the two most striking to me are the way they play with what it means to be an audience, and the dirt. 

Audience:  I love what Bedlam does with the audience.  Every time you walk into the theatre, you are told where you can sit, and every time you leave, you and all your things, are sent to the lobby to come back into a completely different playing space.  Sometimes you sit in the audience proper, sometimes on the stage…  Regardless of where you sit, the cast is continually interacting with you in very real ways.  None of the cast is afraid to catch your eye and talk to you, personally, as if you were part of the scene.  As if, in the case of Ophelia, you could somehow help bring her mind back.  Or somehow help Hamlet decide his life path, or if the ghost was telling the truth, or…  Bedlam works hard at using theatre’s true strength: the fact that the audience is in the same room as the players.  It isn’t shot and then seen, it is live, very alive.  And the audience is as much a part of that as the actors are.

Dirt:  the interesting thing to me about this version of Hamlet is that I didn’t actually like all of the choices that were made.  But, I didn’t have to.  Because the other thing Bedlam does so well is to maintain a true sense of belief in theatricality within their cast the whole playing time.  The actors of Bedlam are the kind and caliber I want to work with.  They work hard, but also know it’s their job and don’t hold the work precious.  What I mean by that is, for instance, when I walked into the lobby before the show, Andrus and Tom were sitting in the lobby, chilling, talking with everyone as they walked in.  The part of acting that, as a director, I feel is most often forgotten by actors is that it is a thing you do, you are “Hamlet” for three hours, yes, but you are also Sam (or Bob, or Sarah or whatever).  Some actors like to make the work so precious that they forget that they are actually this real other person.  Instead of this attitude, Bedlam embraces who they are, and then puts 120% of who they are on stage.  There is not a moment that they are on stage that they do not believe everything that is happening to them in that moment.  The theatricality of this means the audience is along for the true emotional journey, regardless of what that is.  Because the cast truly believes what they are doing is real, the audience does too.  As a practioner that sounds like such an easy thing, the true belief, but it’s not, not really. I would be willing to bet we have all been in, or seen, something in which someone doesn’t believe what is happening in the moment, and then the carefully woven spell is broken for the audience and everyone is just sitting in the house again.

(But Reesa, you are saying, you still haven’t actually talked about dirt.  You’re right, I haven’t.  But if you have seen the play, then you know exactly why that paragraph was titled dirt.  And if you have not, then you should go see it now.  )

What I learn when I watch Bedlam perform is how important belief, theatricality, and play are to good performances.  Remember when I said I didn’t like all the choices?  The three things listed above are done so well that it doesn’t matter.  I realized while watching this show that some of the choices I didn’t like have more to do with myself and the way I would direct the show than any bearing on the actual text.  And just like that, I was able to let those go for three hours and just enjoy what they had done.  Bedlam succeeds in learning the theatrical rules in order to break them successfully.  Much like Andy Warhol or Peter Brook, they stretch the boundaries of what they know and continue to grow as a company.  That’s the kind of work I want to do – high caliber work that continues to explore what theatre is and what it can be. 

**side note that doesn’t really fit in with the blog.  Tina Packer once said to me that Shakespeare’s tragedy are shows that lose the female’s voice while his comedy’s embrace it.  This version of Hamlet made that quite clear to me, that the female voice is not being heard at all, I mean.  And I love that it is running in rep with St Joan for that (among many other) reasons.