Schadenfreude

Posted by A Quiet Man with a Loud Voice | Labels: , , , | Posted On Saturday, August 22, 2009 at 11:56 PM

Did you know only 10% of Deaf people have Deaf parents?

When I heard that statistic at rehearsal on Thursday, I seriously though that was an error on the instructor's part. I mean, doesn't that seem a little low? After rehearsal, when I arrived back home, the first thing I did was double check that statistic using the modern day encyclopedia - Google.

And fuck me if it ain't true.

90% of Deaf people have hearing parents. NINETY PERCENT.

This is a good example of how personal experience can cloud your judgment. My father suffers from a hearing loss, so I just assumed it was a natural thing for people with hearing problems to be born mostly to parents with similar genetics.

Shows how much I know.

This statistic, and many others, made up the bulk of the beginning of rehearsal as Nancy Resh and Carol Robinson gave a quick lecture on Deaf culture to those of us unfamiliar with . We were also given a quick lecture on the author of For Every Man, Woman, and Child, Willy Conley, a longtime friend of Carol's.

After our lesson on the strange and mysterious ways of the Deaf, we moved into blocking. Scene two utilizes almost everyone in the cast, which is going to make for some challenging staging. It's a lot of bodies onstage at once...

The most intriguing aspect? Doubling all of the roles so every role has both a hearing and Deaf actor performing it at the same time. I have no idea if this will actually work, but right now it's utterly fascinating to watch.

There's not much else to report from rehearsal this week, though at the end Dan requested that I come in on Monday with gestures planned out for all of Death's actions during scene one and two. After some thought, I completed these today and will be playing around with them on Monday to see how they work. I was also informed that I can make these gestures as big as I want - and that I should be aiming for comedy.

I love comedy. There's just something liberating about the chance to throw oneself around stage like a maniac just to get a few laughs.

Back in 2003, in the production of Much Ado About Nothing, I modeled Dogberry's walk after Yosemite Sam. By the end of the production my knees were completely shot - I spent three days just lying in a bathtub filled with warm water and epsom salts. At various points during the production I almost threw out my back thrashing around like an idiot.

But people loved it!

"Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die."
-George Carlin

People will always laugh at the expense of others. Always, always, always, always.

Back when I was assisting directing Puss in Boots, I remember telling one of the kids to loosen up and she told me that she was worried about looking dumb onstage during a comedic part of the show. My response? No matter what, you're going to look dumb onstage. But once you accept it - you're going to be funny as hell.

It's schadenfreude, baby.

Day One: Meet and Greet, Blocking Scene One

Posted by A Quiet Man with a Loud Voice | Labels: , , , , , , | Posted On Thursday, August 20, 2009 at 1:59 PM

Two things first!

1. As the week goes along, I'll probably be revising past entries. I will try not to do anything dramatic, like add whole new paragraphs, but instead just focus on fixing grammar errors and typos (comma splices are the bane of my existence). If I do happen to expand on a previous entry, I will announce it in the most recent blog post so that you can scroll back and check it out.

2. A welcome to all my cast mates! Please feel free to share your own thoughts on the process or use the blog as a forum to spitball character ideas amongst each other. From what I understand, Carol will be letting her class know of the blog as well. Any other viewpoints shared will just make this a more comprehensive resource for her class to use.

Having said that, I have to restate one of Dan's major rehearsal rules: "If you can't communicate something nice, don't communicate at all." This does not mean you are not allowed to disagree with me. Please do. Debate is a healthy form of communication. But if you do disagree with me, keep in mind you're probably wrong. :P

Onto the actual entry!

First rehearsal last night! It feels rather natural to be back at Kent Trumbull. I've been doing theatre there since 1991. I don't know if an actor can feel truly at home onstage - but if he can, its probably how I feel at KSU-TC. Eighteen years... damn. I knew Dan way back then too -- way, way, way back when he was young and spry.

Actually, judging from last night's rehearsal, he moves pretty well for an old guy...

I tease because I love.

Anyways. After the normal greeting and reading of the rules the actual rehearsal began.

Remember when I said I hate auditions? Well, I love rehearsals!

I actually love rehearsals so much that I become disappointed when the show finally goes up. I always feel there's so much more I could have learned and discovered through the rehearsal process. When the show finally goes up, this learning stops as I am forced to "lock down" the character.

For instance:

Warning: In-Depth Textual Analysis to Follow

Note: Any textual analysis in this blog will usually involve me blowing smoke out of my ass. I over-analyze everything. By the end of the rehearsal process, when I've "locked down" the character, I've discarded most of the ideas I've been kicking around. I'd estimate that I only end up using 20% of the concepts I've played with.

The first scene of the show opens in a wax museum with the gods complaining about the state of humanity. They then decide to bring in Death to teach mankind a lesson. It is Buddha who brings up Death first by saying, "It's time to call up another One."

There are two interesting things about this sentence.

1. The capitalization of the word One. Capitalizing a pronoun is a Euro-centric practice used when referring to the Judeo-Christian God. So what does this say about the personification of Death? Is Death considered another God? Or does Death exist outside the realm of both gods and men? Since Buddha refers to Death as "another one", the short answer is that Death is a god. The complex answer may be that Death is the axle of the wheels used symbolically throughout the play.

2. The fact that the gods can summon Death and subsequently order him around means that they do not consider Death to be on the same level as they are. So if Death exists somewhere caste-wise between the gods and men, is he the author's personification of a psychopomp? Or is Death simply a lesser deity much like Hades was a lesser being when compared to Zeus in Greek mythology?

There is a second moment in the first scene that I want to touch upon as well:

After the gods order Death to get Everyone, Death's first question is whether or not he should get everyone, i.e. - the entire world.

Is the sign of a malicious or mischievous psychopomp who wants to reap the souls of all of mankind? Or is he a merciful mediator between the living and spiritual worlds who is initially surprised by the term 'Everyone' and wants to make sure that the gods did not screw it up? Personally I'm going to stick with the latter, though I certainly can see some mischief in Death.

I'm holding off on expanding any of these ideas until blocking is fully done, though I will continue to toss up random thoughts throughout the blocking process. We don't start character work until week two, and there's no real reason to jump ahead in that game.

Random Note: the above analysis came from TWO lines in the span of thirty seconds. If this doesn't prove that I over-think things, I don't know what does.

End Analysis!

There were a few other interesting things that came up in the rehearsal process. The first is the problem of dueling languages. Since the play is both spoken and signed it's taking a creative effort on the part of the director to create something coherent without being distracting. I'll say this - I feel for Joe Toto and Jenna Cintavey - it seems like they're going to end up memorizing the entire script as they are the primary 'voice' actors. Mad props to them!

Well, I'm interested to know how some of the other actors viewed the first rehearsal. Especially those who haven't acted before. For me, everything seems very normal. But I imagine for someone who hasn't had the same experience would see something and say, "that's weird, grandma."

Second rehearsal tonight! We're scheduled to block scene two and to discuss Deaf culture. I'm interested to see if a better understanding of a culture that is mostly foreign to me unlocks any additional layers to the script.

I've been getting a lot of questions at rehearsal as to why I, as a mostly deaf person, have never learned sign language or been a part of Deaf culture. And honestly - I don't know. It was never something that came up in my life. My only experiences with Deaf culture have been courses in ASL, a few meetings with Deaf people, watching the Flying Words Project, and discussions with Carol.

I'm also hoping to add photos and videos to future entries if a) I can get the camera to work properly and b) I can manage to steal video from Carol's class.

Auditions: Part Three (the Day After)

Posted by A Quiet Man with a Loud Voice | Labels: , , , , , | Posted On Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 2:42 PM

Second verse, same as first.

I'm not going to go into details about the second day of auditions as it was essentially the same as the first day.

Only with different people.

The only thing worth noting is that I was better prepared for the challenges this time around, and the energy level of the second day was just as high as the first.

Fade out.

Cut To: Next Day.

The cast list is now up and it has come with a few surprises. As cast lists always do. For example, I wasn't expecting the role of "Everyone" to be split between four people. And I'm dying to see what Dan, the director, has in mind for that.

Me? I'll be portraying Death.

And I'm already off-book.

...'cause I got no lines!

Tangent!

A couple of years ago I was working on the rehearsal process for the Winter's Tale where I was horribly miscast as Antigonus. You know the famous Shakespearean stage direction "exit, pursued by a bear"? Yeah, that was me. Before being chased off, I was forced to do battle with the bear onstage. The bear in this case was a five-foot-four guy in a bear suit built for someone who was around six-feet tall.

For a better visual picture, just think of it this way: the bear had a saggy ass.

The whole scene was so absurd and so bad that, from what I understand, the house manager had to warn people that if they laughed inappropriately during it, they would be taken out of the theatre. Which was too bad, because Antigonus' soliloquy/monologue prior to being attacked by a guy in a ill-fitting bear suit is one of my favorite speeches in all of Shakespeare.

"Dreams are toys."
-the Winter's Tale III, 3, 1531

Anyways, very early in the rehearsal process I was told, essentially, that I was not allowed to use physicality to convey the character. The character according to the director, since this was Shakespeare!, had to come out solely through the language. "Let the words flow, like a river," were his exact words.

He then made a wave gesture with his hands.

I was then admonished for using my own hands when I spoke to emphasize whatever pathos I was trying to get across. I was told to keep them close to my body, at my sides, hanging limply.

No, I am not exaggerating.

This is the exact opposite kind of actor I am. I'm physical. I talk with my hands.

I read once that less than twenty percent of human communication is verbal. The rest is all body language, eye contact, spatial distance, etc. The Winter's Tale is the second worst theatrical experience I've ever had in my life. It didn't help that the play itself just wasn't very good either. Except for the second half when the comic portions of the script managed to sneak through the static direction.

Random Note: The worst theatrical experience I ever had in my life was Othello. I'll share the details sometime in the future. To tantalize you, let's just say this: it involves an ancient curse that shall not be named.

During that entire two month rehearsal process, I started wondering if it was possible to convey a character without the use of language. Is language necessary to convey all the weight of the emotions needed to craft a character?

End Tangent!

Death, in For Every Man, Woman, and Child, does not speak. He uses sign language perhaps once or twice in the entire show. The rest of his "dialogue" is performed entirely in mime or conveyed through physical expression.

Death is, essentially, my chance to see if language really is necessary for communication. This is one of the roles I've been dying to tackle for some time now - and I'm finally getting the chance. The biggest problem I foresee with the character is the lack of textual clues, which means I'm probably going to end up drawing from past incarnations of Death in literature and other outside textual sources.

Its probably a little more extensive than necessary, but I used to be a Theatre/English double major - and its the Literature nut in me sneaking out, I guess.

Random Note: I'm only maybe a semester and a half away from picking up my English degree if I ever save up enough money to get it. Then I can have TWO economically non-viable degrees instead of just one.

Auditions: Part Two (Day One)

Posted by A Quiet Man with a Loud Voice | Labels: , , | Posted On Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 1:17 PM

Best. Auditions. Ever.

Really, no lie. I probably should be angry as hell that all my preparation was for naught, but you know what? I have never had as much fun at an audition as I did last night. And it served to remind me that just when you think you've got it all figured out, someone is determined to throw you a curve ball.

To begin with: all that script work I did? Pointless (at least until the rehearsal process starts). We didn't touch the script at all last night -- instead what we did was completely physical theatre, a little improv, and a lot of mime.

I've done physical theatre auditions once before, at Redmoon Theater in Chicago, and I stunk those up. Those were the first physical theatre auditions I had ever done and I had no idea what the hell I was doing. Redmoon is well known for doing crazy theatre, especially at Looptopia, a massive theater event/spectacle that takes place on the streets of Chicago's loop and is a showcase for some of Chicago more avant-garde groups. And their in-house performances are usually top-notch amazing.



Anyways -- back to the auditions last night.

It began with a very simple task: in mime, perform a short piece in which you go from one place to another. This led to some very interesting takes on normally mundane activities.

I can't remember all of the mimes people do, but they included: taking care of a dog, blowing a wad of bubble gum (and being unable to get rid of it), and forgetting your drink ontop of your car. I think I was the only one that failed at doing 'mundane' -- I did a Western.

The auditions only progressed from there, getting crazier and crazier. At various points we were asked to physically take on the embodiments of various aspects of humanity such as: "Good Deeds", "Knowledge", etc. This was probably my single biggest challenge. How the hell do you personify "Good Deeds" in mime form? There were exercises in which gang/slacker life was stereotyped, Death had to convince a character that it was time for him to depart, and so on and so forth.

The Death exercises proved the most intriguing to me, as I never knew there were so many ways to personify death in a physical form. It is worth noting that for the bulk of the audition - we were performing in mime - not vocally. So it was a hell of a task.

There were a few things I noticed. The novice actors, the ones who hadn't acted before, didn't know one of the cardinal rules of Improv. That is, "Yes, and..."

To clarify: when someone gives you something such as, "Wow, Cleric, you look so good! I can't even tell you had a baby last week!" the correct response is, "Yes, and - my little girl is giving me fits." Novitiates to the improv form of theatre will, by and by, respond with, "What are you talking about? I didn't have a baby."

Improv is all about receiving not giving. It's something that it took me a while to realize and now I enjoy the art form when its done well because of that.

On the other hand, the auditions served to reinforce one thing I largely suspected for many, many, many years. Those of us born with a hearing loss (whether minor or major) tend to be much more skilled in spatial awareness than those who aren't. In addition, those who know sign language can create some pretty specific mimes as ASL is a language based on the principle of physical theatre.

This idea is something I'm looking forward to exploring in the future and will undoubtedly expand on it in a future blog entry.

Anyways, it was an amazing audition last night - everyone completely blew me away. And I'm looking forward to tonight except for one thing: I woke up today sore and exhausted. I slept for TWELVE hours last night.

Seriously.

Auditions: Part One (Pre-Audition)

Posted by A Quiet Man with a Loud Voice | Labels: , , , | Posted On Monday, August 17, 2009 at 3:32 PM

I hate auditions.

I'm not one of those people that gets nervous before auditions, I just hate them.

I don't know if words can fully express the amount of loathing I have for auditions, but I'm going to attempt to explain as best as I can.

For non-theatre readers -- there are three kinds of auditions: cattle calls, monologues, and cold reads.

1. Cattle calls are horrible for your self-esteem. Just the name itself will give you an idea of how awful these types of auditions are. They are generally used for major productions (we're talking theaters with a million-plus dollar budget) and for film/television. What happens is this: You and about ten other people walk into a room and line up. The director/casting director/whoever looks you over and decides if you're good looking enough to be in their Beverly Hills 90210 ripoff and sends 99% of the people home.

2. Most theatre productions in the big cities rely on monologues. Monologues are the bane of actors everywhere. A good deal of your free time is spent reading hundreds of plays in search of that elusive monologue. A good monologue is something close to your type, close to the play you're auditioning for, and not over-done. Since most auditions require two contrasting monologues, you've got to hunt down TWO of them. A comedy and a drama. Good luck finding a funny comedy monologue that isn't a stand up routine. God forbid you do a monologue some other guy did not more than ten minutes ago. I've never seen a director more annoyed as when seven people did Puck's "If we shadows have offended..." speech for a production of Midsummer Night's Dream.

Protip: Never, never, NEVER, use a monologue from the show that you are are auditioning for. If you're auditioning for Hamlet don't use a speech from Hamlet. If you're auditioning for Boy's Life, don't use a speech from Boy's Life. Actually, don't ever use a speech from either of those plays they are both horribly overdone.

The reason most theaters require monologues as auditions is because they regularly get over 100 potential actors and have to weed that down to about twenty for the callbacks. It's a matter of time. If you fuck up ONE of your two monologues, you won't be asked back for callbacks. If you fuck up both, there's a good chance that theater will never ask you to audition for anything again.

3. Cold reads are my favorite type of auditions. You're given the script and put onstage to read directly from it. You'll either read with the assistant director or you'll read with fellow acting wannabe. Cold reads are most often used as part of the callback process. The director has more time during the callbacks to ask you to read the part a variety of ways, to see how well you adapt to his instructions and how versatile of an actor you are.

The major problem with callbacks is who you end up paired to.

I'm of the belief that acting is all about reacting. If you're paired with someone who is completely flat and unemotional - you don't have anything to play off of, and thus suck. If you're paired with an idiot that doesn't understand the play - you are given crap to play off of, and thus suck. But if you get paired with someone talented -- your audition is going to be all the better for it.

The good part about callbacks and theaters with enough time to audition with cold reads is that you are often given multiple chances to read different roles with different partners. But it all depends on who your partner is. It helps your own chances tremendously if you've acquired a copy of the script beforehand. That way cold reads aren't quite... as cold. If you can, ALWAYS read the play beforehand. That way you're not stumbling over lines.

If you're like me and OCD about plays - here is how you prepare for cold reads:

First you read the play from cover to cover so you know what its about. If the play is based on an old play, you read that play too. For Every Man, Woman, and Child is based on a medieval morality play entitled Everyman, so I read both of them. I had read Everyman several times in college, but it didn't hurt to brush up.

After reading the play, you read it again -- looking at the characters that most interest you. You read it at least once-per-character. After you've read it the second (or third or fourth) time, you start doing research. You read reviews of past productions to see how other actors tackled the roles. You read scholarly works on the play. You read alternative versions of the play. You read playwright's notes. You read whatever you can get your hands on.

And then, if the play you're auditioning for had an older play it was based on, you read all the crap on THAT play you can get your hands on. And then you badger your former professors (especially if one of them is the director) with the most inane questions you can think of. Because annoying the director before the show is always a good idea.

Thankfully, Dr. Nadon and Dr. Robinson were both good sports about my incessant babbling.

Then you read the play again.

And then you audition.

Not everyone is as obsessive as I am, and that's fine. Most people just read the play and do research after they are cast -- but I like to be obnoxiously prepared. You should read the play at least once, if you can. If it's a new work, you're just S.O.L..

I'm slightly worried about the auditions -- not because I think I'll suck or anything (although that's a very real possibility) -- but because the show requires a cast of 16-20 people, half of which are deaf. The show is supposed to be done half in sign language and half in verbal speech.

I'm hearing impaired. And as far as I know, I'm the only 'hearing-impaired' actor in the Youngstown-Warren area. If there are others, I haven't met them. I don't even know more than three people who can sign fluently, and I only know one deaf person. My worry stems from the fact that I do not know if there will actually be enough deaf actors in the show. And if there are, I have no idea how experienced they will be.

I've never considered myself a part of the 'deaf' community, though I have a 64% loss in both ears. I forget how many decibels of loss it is, but a loss greater than 90 decibels is considered 'deaf', and I believe I'm fairly close to that mark. I'll look up my loss later in the process to satisfy my own curiosity.

Anyways, auditions for For Every Man, Woman, and Child are tonight and tomorrow. I'll be attending both auditions even though actors are really only expected to attend one. Depending on how it goes I'll either post an entry tonight with details on how it went or I'll combine both auditions into a single post and put up an entry tomorrow night.

All This Happened, More or Less

Posted by A Quiet Man with a Loud Voice | Labels: , , , , | Posted On Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 3:19 PM

Way back when George Bush was still president, the economy hadn't yet tanked, and the majority of us were under the illusion that the war in Iraq was a righteous one, I had the privilege of being cast in the role of Dogberry in a production of Much Ado About Nothing at Kent State University's Trumbull Campus.

The play, directed by Heather Fenstermaker (now Heather Whetstone), was integrated into a course I was studying at the time, "Introduction to Shakespeare" taught by Dr. Carol Robinson. This course still stands as one of the seminal experiences of my college career. This is partly because of the sheer volume of work cleverly masked as fun-and-games and partly because I somehow ended up learning something, a rarity in the early days of my collegiate career (I barely payed attention in class back then).

While we studied other Shakespeare plays in the course, the main focus of the course was using the medium of video to present a report on the production of Much Ado About Nothing. Some of my fellow classmates chose to focus on the interplay between Beatrice and Benedick while others focused on the technical aspects. Me? I did a report on myself.

Fair warning for those who have not yet had the privilege of meeting me: I was, and still am, a huge narcissist.

"If there's anything around here more important than my ego, I want it caught and shot now!"
-Zaphod Beeblebrox in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams


I'm also kind of lazy when it comes to coursework and figured that, hey, since I'm already doing research on Dogberry for the play -- might as well use that same stuff for the class and cut my workload in half.

But something odd happened in the middle of the process. I actually found myself becoming more involved than I usually did. I was forced to look at the play from both the actor's perspective and the scholar's. Right now, in 2009, I wish I did a better job chronicling my journey during that production. The opportunity was there was certainly there -- there's plenty of video footage of me with really bad hair talking about the various aspects of the production.

It was a missed opportunity, and one I regret not taking advantage of. I wish I had kept a written record of the process, something like a journal, or -- I don't know -- a blog.

But back then, in 2003, blogs were relegated to emo-wannabe and/or angry teens posting on livejournal and/or deadjournal about how much their life sucked.

I know. I was one of them.

These days, however, blogging has become rather mainstream -- some political bloggers have even been invited to the White House Press Corps. And various major news organizations are making the transition to the format.

Theatre blogging, on the other hand, hasn't quite taken off as well as political blogs. They mostly become relegated to theatre reviews or audition notices. There are exceptions, of course, including these two favorites of mine:

1. An Angry White Guy in Chicago is exactly what it sounds like. Unapologetically liberal, Don Hall bounces from discussing his political views to very informative posts on the state of independent theatres in the city of Chicago.

2. Angela Learns to Act is a blog chronicling Angela's "attempt" to earn her M.F.A. in Acting. She just completed her first year at the conservatory - and will be beginning her next year shortly. It's actually very fascinating to read, and her blog has garnered quite some attention - and is now being used as a marketing tool by the heads of her program.

Random Note: I met Angela while auditioning for grad schools in 2006 - we both visited Ohio State University's program - and we have since stayed in touch, mostly through the internet or enjoying giant margaritas and Mexican food. Yeah, I was a fan of Angela's blog well before she got all famous. She's as funny, warm, and engaging as her blog makes her out to be.

I have not yet met Don Hall, and probably would quake in fear if I did so - despite the fact he supposedly lives down the street from me in Chicago.


It is now 2009, blogs are mainstream, the economy has tanked, Barack Obama is the new president, Jay Leno no longer hosts the Tonight Show, and I have graduated from college with a B.A. in Theatre Studies and moved on to Chicago. There I helped found a small theatre company, Blackbird Theatre Company, which I have since left. I worked offstage for a Tony Award Winning theatre, which I have since been laid off from. And I have attempted to apply for graduate school twice - each time with comically disastrous results.

A few months ago, I received a somewhat cryptic message from a very dear friend of mine, Jess, who mentioned that my old stomping ground of KSU-Trumbull was putting on a 'deaf' play - Every Man, Woman, and Child by Willy Conley. Not long after, Dr. Robinson contacted me and nudged me in the direction of talking to Dr. Nadon, a longtime friend and mentor of mine and head of the theatre department at the Trumbull branch of Kent State University.

So I did.

Fastforward to August of 2009, I've stuffed the majority of my belongings into a storage unit in Chicago, packed up a suitcase, and made my way home to Ohio to take part in the production. Since arriving in the state two-weeks ago, I've pushed myself into a scholarly overdrive - analyzing and taking apart the play and comparing it to the medieval work that it is based on, Everyman.

In a recent conversation with Dr. Robinson, I mentioned that I was thinking of starting a blog to chronicle the whole process, and she enthusiastically urged me to do so. If nothing else, I figure, it can be used as an additional resource for her current class -- which she is integrating with the production of Every Man, Woman, and Child.

So, here it is: Downplayed and Upstaged. This is intended to be both for my own satisfaction, for students in Dr. Robinson's class interested at getting a more in-depth look at the process, and for theatre nerds who dig this sort of stuff.

I do not promise to update after every rehearsal, though I will certainly try. The way I see it, if Angela can update daily while juggling a full graduate-level course load AND rehearsals, I should be able to as well.

Random Note: In 2003, Dr. Robinson and Dr. Daniel-Raymond Nadon were supposedly working on blending together all the footage from Much Ado About Nothing to create a documentary of the whole experience. It has been "almost finished" for six years now.