Saturday, February 27, 2010

Theatre Education I: My Story (Tom)

Theatre Education I: My Story (Tom)

What an interesting article.I'd never considered the fact that so many pre-professional programs were becoming problematic to the art form of theatre. I can understand the fear, but I think the answer is finding the right program. My theatre program is about learning all facets of theatre. Perhaps we don't have enough years in school to truly understand everything in depth, but the emphasis here is never just on acting or singing or tech. I'm required to take costuming, stage craft, stage management, theatre history--and encouraged to take lighting, drafting, rendering and other technical classes. We have required crews to finish before being allowed to graduate. 3 Prep crews (meaning putting the show together before it goes on, which includes props, lights, shop, paint, and costume) and 3 run crews (teching the show during its run, which includes costume, props, light board op, sound op, spot op, deck, and any additional crew positions needed for the show).

I'm taught the philosophy that being well-rounded is going to not only make me a better artist but put me in the position to do more jobs. Now, I can see that this isn't exactly the education that Tom recieved during his Bachelor's training, but I think it's a far cry better than many of the other BFA programs in the country.

It's so important to research the schools you're thinking of attending to make sure they have the program that fits you and your goals. I'm honored to be at a college that really tells me about the real world. They don't encourage grad school, not only because they feel this program prepares a person for the professional world, but also because being in school and being an actor out in the real world are two different things. My school doesn't have an MFA program, so the BFA majors are more likely to have the opportunity to be cast, design, and tech a show. My professors don't follow the philosophy of "break down/build up". They also don't subscribe to the star system. My first year here the very first lesson we learned was that everyone would be starting at their own personal best. No one was going to learn the same way or at the same rate. We're not graded off what is "right" ( there is no right, the professors do subscribe to that), we're graded off our own improvement. Each audition we walk into, the casting isn't based on a previous show or the work a student does in class (there is some bias, we're only human). It's based on how well a person does that day, in the audition room. We're also encouraged to never get big heads (they chop that down right away) and to support our fellow artists. Theatre is a community endeavor.

I'm thankful that I stumbled onto a program that fits me and my ideals so well. I've enjoyed every minute of my time here. It's so easy to go to the first school that accepts you, or to not apply to schools that you would be happier at, simply because you never knew what their program was about. College theatre, if you're doing it as a stepping stone to get out in the real world, is a big deal. Choosing the wrong school can ruin your love of the craft very quickly. Take your time. And be smart about it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Elizabeth Farley Hair

It's so hard to curl my hair. Pin curling for the first time definitely didn't work. I tried that on Sunday night and I looked like Medusa when I woke up. Not pretty. Here's the latest effort with rollers that I slept in. Yes! I think it's success! We'll see what my costume designer and director think today! This is the curliest my hair has ever been by far...I think it needs to fall a little actually to look good.

The Way of the World

A title to a very famous restoration comedy. Also pertaining to my recent inevitable sickness before an important week for my own restoration show. It's tech week!! I missed two rehearsals this week (Mon and Tues) because of my sinus infection that apparently was not yet quite a sinus infection. But the world goes on, and by yesterday I was well enough to perform for crew watch! It was a bit of a slow night for me, getting back in the swing of things after 5 days off, but it was nice to finally do it. We had a guest audience of not only the crew and designers but also a family from our school's summer theatre (Whoot! Going there this summer), And 2 of our acting professors. Once of them specializes in restoration so it was nice to get some feedback from her before we perform next week. She was very happy with our movement patterns and the way we were handling our skirts as well as our fan language--so good on us!

The crew seemed to enjoy it as well. Of course, tech week involves the crew watching at least 4 performances so they either grow to love it or hate it even more. Hopefully the former. I'd like to think we only get better and not worse as time goes on. At least that's what we're getting trained to do at school, here.

My crazy scene was back in full force and it was a lot of fun to do after so much time off. I feel like I connected with something different and if felt right to me, so I have a different sense of the scene now.

In acting we did gestalts, which is the physical embodiment of an emotion. So we practiced the technique on monologues, beginning in a position that tells the audience exactly how you feel. Slowly you move out of the position, but you have to keep the energy going, unless it's a conscious choice to release it. So, say you start with you hand over your heart, then you could move onto grabbing that hand with your other hand, then bringing it out in front of your body, then maybe turning the hand over and staring at it, then opening the hand, then reaching forward as if to grab someone. It's a constant motion. I thought it was amazing! I'd seen actors do it before, without knowing that they were even practicing a technique.

Our first year at school we were taught to begin monologues in a state of neutral, which means balance weight, straight posture for diaphragmatic breathing, and arms at your sides. Then from there you would move into the physicality of your character. This was to show directors that there is a difference between the you that walks in, and the you that is in character. Now, Acting Professor says it's time to move on from that technique. There are only so many places you can go from neutral without looking ridiculous. It's a much easier way to embody your character to begin in a gestalt. There is also a unique tension that comes with it, because you're harnessing the energy inside you. I never noticed before how much energy I release while doing monologues, or just performing. Simply letting go of a motion can ruin not only the pace of a scene, but the energy behind your character and your emotion. There's a monologue in my show that I'd been having trouble with. I kept trying new things each night to keep up the energy (and to discover new things to make sure which one I really wanted to choose). Last night I tried a gestalt. It really helped me drive through the scene and connect my thoughts better. It's definitely a technique I'll be using in the future.

P-Tech we rehearsed our songs for Music Professor. We'll perform them on monday. I got some new blocking to try out and really just need to commit to it and I won't have so much trouble with it. He also tried to help me out on my singing, which I really appreciated since I don't know half of what I'm doing. Music Professor is very patient with me, and I enjoy working with him because of that.

Theatre History we've moved onto the 1900s! It's been a busy couple of days getting all that information down. We've begun talking about Expressionism, which I'm beginning to like the idea of more and more.

Unfortunately I'm still a little sick today (last night's rehearsal really took it out of me), but tonight is first dress Act I and we'll be going slower because of technical elements. So it will give me some chance to rest. I need to go check over my modern translation of my new Electra monologue for Acting 4 today!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hey la Hey la Neoclassicism

That was the ending of a song made by my friend to help us study for our theatre history test! The test ended up being a good deal shorter than our notes, which was cool because there was less to remember, but not as cool already worked so hard to remember all of it. But it's done, and I'm pretty sure I did well, so I guess we'll find out!

What a crazy weekend it's been! Friday night I saw Much Ado About Nothing, and it was phenomenal! It was the perfect play for theatre weekend at my school because the prospective students got a good idea of not only the talent of the students, but also of the faculty. Two of my acting professors were leads, and then we had a guest star--a man that used to be faculty but retired the year I came. He was amazing. I'm so sad I never got the chance to work with him. The show had a great pace, a beautiful set, and I understood everything that was going on (which is the true test of doing Shakespeare for the general public). It was also hilarious, which was slightly unexpected because I didn't find it near as funny when I first read it. I'm so proud to be a part of my program!

Saturday I went home with my roommate and we saw a production of Guys and Doll's at her old high school. Can I just say how sad I am sometimes that there are so many lacking high school theatre departments? The production was overall, well done. There were some elements such as staging that could have been improved upon, and of course there was more focus on singing than acting, but honestly it was a great show. My high school theatre department never had the resources of this school. Our sets were few and far between until my junior year, our singing ability was nil, and the amount of people interested was next to none. It was always a struggle to be taken seriously, and we fought a long battle in community outreach to get the public to come see our shows and support our department. I was so excited this weekend to see the amount of support from the community this high school had backing them. They're a very lucky bunch of kids. They also had a brand new theatre, which never hurts.

Today I auditioned for my first 'feature film'. Which means, my first non-student driven project, with the chance of being distributed internationally. Don't get too excited! It was a cool experience to audition for a group of people that have made films in the past. There are around 35 parts available, and it was nice because they're really attempting to work around student schedules. It's written and directed by two men from LA who have done several projects with Sony and taken some films to Sundance or Toronto (I think is what they said). The director grew up in the town I'm going to school in, so he was excited about the prospect of shooting a film at home and using the local talent since our theatre department here is nationally recognized. I should know relatively soon, but I was just excited about the opportunity! There's no telling how it will turn out, but I'm thankful that I have the chance to do some semblance of professional projects while I'm still attending school. It's great experience and another thing to add to the resume!

All in all it was a pretty packed weekend and I have a lot of work to catch up on to make sure I'm ready for classes tomorrow. This week Wednesday starts Tech Week for my show, which means the crew will come watch the show to get an understanding of their jobs and then we'll work out the lighting, sound, and set problems to make sure everything is running smooth by next week Wednesday when we open!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Almost the Weekend!

So close! I can't believe it's almost the weekend. I thought this week felt very long. I blame the rehearsal schedule and inordinate amounts of homework. Usually I have more time to focus on a show, when I'm in a show. This time around, it's been a bit more of a juggling act. I'm going to be optimistic and say that's a good thing, and a lesson I need to learn in this business. Life won't wait when I have rehearsal.

So, onto classes:

Acting IV: We performed monologues assigned to us last week. They were Spoon River monologues, and Acting Professor told us that we needed to find an action to act during the monologue, and then we had to end the action with the monologue. So I was Mrs. Williams, the milliner, and my action was getting dressed to go outside. It wasn't a difficult assignment, but at the same time there were so many options to choose from. I could have done any number of actions to emphasize my piece, and in fact, if I were performing it again, I would pick something different that accentuates more of the point of the piece. My Professor told me I could have done more with the hat I was using as one of my props to tag the ending of my piece. I agree!

Then we did a small exercise where we thought of a word that affects us, makes us feel something emotionally, and then we had to stand and embody it. Our position should tell others the emotion that we're feeling. Eventually we'll be applying this technique to Greek Monologues, because Acting IV first session is Greek Theatre. Second session we'll be moving onto Drawing Room Comedy.

Rehearsal was cool. I decided to reinterpret some of my scenes and tried some new emotions on for size. It was good for me, because now I know more of what I think my character feels, and also more of what my director wants from me. I've discovered this is a good way to get feedback, sometimes. Some of the directors I've worked with, if they're enjoying your work (so far), or can't think of anything wrong with it, they just don't comment on your scenes. A lot of the time this leaves me wondering if I need to change my interpretation (especially on an emotionally difficult scene, you'd think they'd comment), because if they actually like something, they usually tell you. So I toy with characters and try new things, and then they usually speak up and say "Oh, I liked the thing you did the other day" or "This was really great tonight, keep it!" Hmmm, almost a passive aggressive method, I guess, but helpful in getting the feedback I need to feel I'm on the right path!

Tomorrow I'll be seeing the opening night of Much Ado About Nothing, and I'm really stoked! It's going to be a great one!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Becoming a Regular Occurrence

Late Nights. I'm not a late night person. But...I'm a theatre person, so it's sort of required. I can do it when I need to, and I think--slowly--I'm getting into the rhythm of it.

I got out of rehearsal two hours ago, which is normal. It's rare to get out early. Anyway, I had a lot of homework. The homework load is definitely heavier this semester, which is expected but still tiring.

I had a monologue to memorize and a theatre history test to study for. I've been doing that slowly over the week. It's the longest test we've ever had in theatre history. I have probably 25 pages of notes on it ( I'm sure if I wasn't studying theatre that would seem like a normal amount of pages to be studying for a course test) and it covers at least 3 centuries.

I'd like to comment on the common misconception of theatre being an easy major though. It's the most difficult thing I've done in my life. I love every minute of it, but I love it most because it's challenging. There's so much self-exploration done in theatre, that in ways I think it's more difficult than a major that has lecture courses and weekly tests. There's constant memorization, and you're always putting yourself out there--allowing yourself to be vulnerable in front of people who are there to tell you how to do it better. It's not an easy A+. There's never a right answer, and there's always a different, possibly better, way to do something. It was hard for me to realize that what I love to do is satisfying in ways nothing else is, and at the same time I will always feel unsatisfied with my work.

I've come a long way after accepting that. But I digress.

It's late, I ranted, and I'm sure I'll do it again in the future--hopefully more eloquently.

Just to cover the bases:

Performance Tech: The class performed our individual songs today and then got notes. So we'll be doing them again on Monday. I think after that we'll be getting our final songs to start working on for finals. This class ends at midterms, and if we do well enough there's the opportunity of being put in the advanced section for the next half of the semester.

My song went a lot better than usual. I'm not much of a singer yet, but I'm slowly learning. I've discovered that performing usually frees my voice, so I often sound better in performance than I do in rehearsal. My movements were a little stilted, but it all comes with rehearsal, which I need to do more of. Good thing there's a weekend coming up.

Rehearsal tonight was Designer Watch, so it was fun to finally have an audience to play to. And we got to work in the space we'll be performing in! It's really exciting because our set has a lot of levels and it's difficult to move around them in our petticoats, so being allowed to practice in the space (instead of in a room with tape on the floor to signify set pieces) helps a lot. We worked on listening more and making bigger choices. It's always fun to remember to play around and not get stuck in repetition. Director said: It's a journey of discovery! And she's right!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Theatre Tuesdays and Thursdays

Tuesdays and Thursdays are my theatre-only days at school. This semester I'm taking voice lessons and Acting IV. So basically, it's always fun filled.

Voice lessons were just preparing my songs for my performance tech class and for future auditions (we have a mainstage musical and summer theatre musicals coming up). Acting was an exercise day. We all came prepared with an entrance. We had to find a play where an actor enters and does action before speaking--which, sadly, is harder to find in contemporary plays than you'd think. So we got to use the amazing materials of Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, Eugene Ionesco, and Ibsen. Not that we couldn't use others, but this is what most of the works were from.

I chose the maid from The Lesson by Eugene Ionesco. It was a lot of fun to play a scene with no words, because there's so much you can say without speaking. And then, when you finally say the line it has so much meaning behind it, and an audience is already connected with your character. A very useful lesson. We also did an exercise where we folded a towel the way our mother's would. Acting Professor told us afterwards," We feel like we know our mothers best, and that's how we should feel about every character we perform."

Rehearsal was a lot of fun today. My director decided we had settled into a rythm and were no longer listening and making new choices, so she had us do a run through with overdramatic choices and encouraged us to try all the things we were afraid were to ridiculous to put in the show. Of course that got us listening. There was a lot of great communication today and some new character relationship developments that I'm interested to build on in tonight's rehearsal. We're supposed to get to use the set today!! I'm very excited about that.

How the Story Goes

So I've been thinking for a while about creating a blog and keeping a record of my experiences this way. Obviously, I finally gave in and did it. I used to generally be against blogging mostly because I didn't understand how useful a tool it was. Now it's my turn to try my hand at it!

I've been mulling over the fact that my acting journals have become less and less in depth. I pay so much attention in class that I don't stop to write down a lot of information anymore; and the classes this second year are less lecture and more hands on so the journal has become more of a personal tool than a resource based on professors' lectures. I really needed something that I would feel inclined to update regularly, and my notebooks just weren't cutting it for me. So this blog is as much out of self-preservation as it is to inform others.

Let's jump right in, shall we?

Today was another crazy day in the life of a BFA theatre major. Non-stop class from 10 (yes I'm lucky enough that my classes start late this semester) to 4. Today was Global Studies, Theatre History II, Performance Technique, and my required math course. Then straight to rehearsal! The student run theatre on my campus is putting on a production of Playhouse Creatures, a drama about the first actresses on the stage in the 1600s. It's not historically accurate 100% of the time, but it's based on fact, and therefore a challenge that I'm enjoying.

Rehearsals go from 4-5:30 and then a dinner break. They resume again at 7:30 until 10:30. It's our 2nd-ish week of rehearsal and we're doing run-throughs, so it's a long night. However, I got to do a costume fitting today, and the restoration period dress is going to be an amazing thing to experience on stage. The costumes are so weighted down by layers that after only standing still for half an hour I was tired. I'm excited to build my endurance for a motion filled 2 hour long show!

This weekend is the opening of the mainstage show Much Ado About Nothing. I can't wait to see it! My classmates have been working so hard, and the guest director they brought in is well-versed in Shakespeare. I expect it will be an amazing show.

The plan is to continue to update this blog on my progress through school and to possibly go back and sum up what I've experienced so far in my year and a half in a BFA program. It's going to be an exciting journey.