This Is Just to Say

I have enjoyed

the actors

that came in

to callbacks

and who

were probably tense


its oddness.

Forgive me

I cannot cast you all

so brave

and so totally awesome.

Short post here just to touch on the callbacks for

our next Zuppa del Giorno show

, the which I'll be directing. They have taken place this week, and after a little more coordinating and ruminating we should have our third performer. This was effectively my first time on the other side of the table in an audition process, and I learned a lot from it (possibly at the expense of the actors involved?), both as someone conducting an audition process and as an actor in said audition. More anon on that. (I'm really racking up the promised 'blog topics here.)

This post is really just to say that everyone who came in was awesome. It was an extremely unconventional callback process, due to the developmental and improvisational nature of the show, and each actor handled it with style. See if this doesn't terrify you: We set out a table of assorted random objects, and had people in two-at-a-time. The game they played was to tell a story between them, with one person verbally telling the story and the other telling it physically. They could use any of the "props," and at any time they could switch positions, yielding their vocal or physical storytelling to the other, or swooping into the other role. And they just kept going until I said, "Scene."

Tough, no? Awful, really, for people psyched to have an opportunity. If I could have come up with any other way to find out what we needed to know, I would have done that. But I wish you could have been there, Dear Reader, because what everyone did was unique and effective and inspiring. So, thanks, Auditioners. I would like to take you all out for milk and cookies.

Spectacular Excerpt

So, I'm super lame, and still haven't edited the footage of The Spectacular Scrantonian Spectacular (see 2/16/10 for details) together and posted it on the interwebs and made us all famous. I guess, on some level, I fear fame and the changes it may portend. Fortunately for the world, Alicia Grega-Pikul and Kate Chadwick have no such trepidations. And so, one of my favorites from the Spectacular:

A Little Inside

Last night was the first on-our-feet rehearsal for the debut comedy I'm performing in:

Love Me

. It's written by

Jason Grossman

, directed by

Daryl Boling

, and features two actors with whom I've worked before as well:

Laura Boling

(nee Schwenninger) and

Ridley Parson

. So in many ways, the show is a fairly epic reunion. And in others, I'm not acting with these people at all.

It's a unique role.

The play concerns itself with a struggling young actor-turned-playwright living in the city, looking for love, and the various misadventures this engenders amongst his friends and love interests. This fellow, Charlie, has an inner monologue that's realized aloud on stage. I play Charlie's inner monologue. Now, the play as it was originally written simply used a voice-over for the inner monologue (henceforth, "I.M."), but Daryl thought it would be interesting to have a physical personification, and presto: me. Jason's done some rewrites to accommodate this notion, but by-and-large we're in a process of discovery about how the concept might play out.

Last night was a very interesting, probably evenly-matched mix of exciting revelation and humbling reality check. On the one hand, this role allows for some tremendous and unconstrained acting choices; on the other, it practically demands such choices. My expressions can be delightfully hyperbolic when it works, since they're the instinctive responses of someone's private thoughts, but it's also a bit like acting in a vacuum. More than a bit. I was surprised to find, last night, just how tough that would be. We had a moment here or there at which someone would accidentally acknowledge me on stage, and it was always funny, but by the end of the evening I found myself wishing it happened more. It is tough to act alone.

It's also good practice, and particularly good practice for some of my clown training. Since much of what I.M. does is judge his analogue self, I'm also reminded of The Action Collective's recent workshop (see


) with

Raïna von Waldenburg

. In other words, this role is an interesting convergence of my past experiences and my current perspectives on acting. It's also an uncompromising position for one who has been avoiding the bare-faced vulnerability of clown work for some time to be in, but sometimes that's exactly the sort of situation one needs to see past something. I hope that's the case here but, either way, there's nothing to do now but commit like crazy.

Perhaps the most interesting part of it all is learning what works and what doesn't in terms of working with my alter ego, played by

Aaron Rossini

. Last night we worked on the first two scenes, and the final one, so I was introduced and had a good scene of just me and ... uh ... me, then found out how it would be to play with others in the room, then how it all wraps up. Pretty good overview for a first rehearsal. I'm positively more at ease in the scene Aaron and I share alone, at this point, and even in that there were of course spectacular failures last night. I had imagined before we started that I would mostly be playing off of what Aaron chose for the character, but quickly discovered that it was going to be more of a tennis game than that.

Generally speaking, it was working great when I was like an amplified echo of his current moment, or a representation of his creeping, intrusive self-judgment as he moved in one direction or the other. Facing him is tremendous, and we have a really nice moment over a phone on a podium that I understand and helps me contextualize what we're aiming for in the rest of our scenes together.

There is a lot that challenges, too. For example, I am assumed to have an inherent connection to myself (of course) yet when Aaron and I are looking in the same direction . . . I can't look at him for cues as to how he's feeling. Also, in addition to being a bit energetically isolated from the cast, there's a strange Icarusian (is SO a word)


danger of either hyperbolically stealing the scenes, or being painfully extraneous to them. All this, and I should be funny, too.


But seriously: Yay, challenges! These are good challenges, and I'm happy to have them, as well as the opportunity to try and be funny for strangers again. I'm working on a show that reunites me with old friends, tackles themes and conventions that are very personal to me and

on top of all that, there's the free reign to be just as physical as I please. This is a good time for that. Let's live aloud, and let out our angels and demons.

Even if just a little, inside.

The ACTion COLLECTIVE: ACT V, scene ii - Personal Character - Find Your Voice

"Everything you create comes from here."

Last night The Action Collective held our second in a series of workshops focused on character building, and our first to be led by a guest artist:
Raïna von Waldenburg. Raïna is a teacher of Andrew's from NYU's experimental theatre wing, and we met with her a few weeks ago to discuss the possibility of leading a workshop with us, one based on her I Am One Who program of workshops. You can read more about her and her program on the Facebook invitation for the event, but here's a snippet of a description of the approach and goals:
"In a series of improvisations that require the actor to exist in the (power of) now, he/she will be faced with judges, habits, blocks, quirks, and latent talents that he/she has pushed aside. By literally inviting these undesirable parts of him/herself into the work, the actor suddenly has access to impulses that are alive, surprisingly truthful and emotionally resonant. The actor will learn to channel these impulses into acting that is present, open and honest, not forced, pushed or fake."
So: important and intimidating stuff. I was reminded, by her description of the technique and at times in practice, of the initial work Friends Heather, Todd and I did with Grey Valenti learning red-nose clowning. It involves that kind of sheer vulnerability and sincerity -- the very sorts of things I've been working rather hard (though somewhat subconsciously) to avoid in the past year. It also, however, has some important distinctions from that Lecoq-esque clown work, as I was to discover in the course of the evening.

An important part of the process has to do with identifying personal "judges," or voices of criticism within our own hearts and minds, and understanding them as characters. Raïna led each of us from theorizing what these individual, major judgments may be, through exploring them as people and finding a dialogue with them, right on to turning our judges into very promising characters in their own rights. She was incredibly present and listening and, though the work progressed very evenly over the course of three hours, you could tell that she was constantly responding to what was happening in the room, adapting our direction based on the "conversation" between students and teacher, or seekers and guide. Moreover, she did it all in such a way that we really had to give ourselves over to the work, because that was all we had to work with. Yet it was never strict, or forced. At least, not forced by her; there was plenty of forced work going on, whenever one of us got defensive or confused in an exercise.

A personal example: After some discussion of our personal judges, we began the exercises with practicing being open and available--present--with an audience. No need to do anything in particular, just don't retreat inward as you maintain eye contact and connection. This gradually developed in our observations and discussions into an informal rating system of 5 to 1 for how open we felt, 5 being not at all, 1 being as open as possible. One exercise along these parameters that she gave us was to start at 5 with everyone, and at some point in the course of 30 seconds flip into a 1 state. I found this really, really difficult (never really did get it) and in the course of my efforts, Raïna encouraged me to give voice to whatever impulse was preventing me from doing something so simple (my words, not hers). Eventually in the course of another 30-second attempt I twisted up my right elbow and neck in some abstract expression of frustration and sneered, "F@#$ this...." And that was good. And that was what we needed to move forward. Admitting my judgment of the exercise was how I could develop further into the work.

I think it's pretty safe to say that everyone last night learned something close to the level of a personal revelation or two (or, in my case, about a half-dozen). We were all working very hard, bravely, vulnerably and sometimes even without personal constraint. By the end, we were one-by-one improvising entire scenarios comprised of just us, and all the judges and judged that battle daily within us. Here was one of the important distinctions from the clown work that I've done, and the one that very nearly made me too defensively to effectively do the work: the naming of our judges. This requires a level of discussion and reflection that I believe actors tend to resist, because we're conditioned to -- afraid, aptly enough, of being judged as narcissistic and cerebral. And we resist it because it's frankly terrifying to acknowledge, to encourage, our judgments of ourselves. Adam Laupus made a pretty concise observation about it last night when he said that by naming one's judges, you begin to take their power back from them.

Apart from all that personal benefit, however, is a benefit of pure acting technique. This is an amazingly wonderful practice that bridges that strange divide between practices that help prepare for rehearsal and ones that are actually useful in rehearsal (for example, you would not [should not {yes; I'm judging}]) pull out the Meisner repetition exercise in the middle of rehearsing the last scene of The Glass Menagerie. This I Am One Who practice gives us a way to connect better with ourselves and our audiences, but also adds a powerful tool to the character-creation toolkit. It's genuine and impulse-based, breaks us out of habit, and it literally creates powerful characters for an actor to use. It's not often these days that I feel that sense of my perception of the acting process expanding, a feeling that I came to expect regularly in my studies at college. Last night, I felt that again, and I'm grateful to Ms. von Waldenburg for that.

In this sense, last night's event was a tremendous success for one of the goals of The Action Collective -- to provide actors with a space to do the work for which there is little time (or, in some cases, too much judgment) to accomplish in a typical rehearsal process. To enrich actors, instead of merely offering support. We may soon be making changes to the way the AC works, and what kind of work it takes on, but I'm encouraged by this latest workshop to maintain that priority. It's too important and too rare to neglect.

Commedia Day

Last Thursday, I failed, and was generously rewarded for it. The manner in which I failed was by opting out of performing with other talented artists for the International Day of Commedia dell'Arte, and I was rewarded by instead sitting in the audience and getting to enjoy multiple fascinating, commedia-inspired performances. It was quite moving, actually, to see such a concentrated example of the commedia dell'arte approached as a living tradition, which is an ethos Zuppa del Giorno has long espoused but rarely heard echoed back so specifically. I should have stepped up, and regret my own rather ironic sense of un-preparedness (is SO a word) to perform an improvised form, but regret nothing about attending the evening.

A couple of acquaintences with whom I've wanted to work --

Brian Foley


Billy Schultz

-- performed and were involved in pulling it all together, in association with

Fiasco Grande Productions

. It was an evening that seemed to aim to inform as much as it entertained, and all within a sort of informal framework of each act presenting itself with little explanation, then that performer hanging around a moment to introduce the next. I appreciated this, because it lent a feeling of inclusion, but it may have made some who were expected a more refined production feel awkward. In particular, I enjoyed a description of the commedia dell'arte given in prelude to the whole thing, by a gentleman named

Stanley Allan Sherman

. Mr. Sherman had that immediacy about his demeanor that is so essential to good commedia, and can be rather intimidating or unpredictable to folks unaccustomed to that sort of ride. He reminded me a bit of our friends Andrea Brugnera and Angelo Crotti, and I wanted to talk to him more. A young student was interviewing him before the show, and I was giddily elated to hear he designed the mask for a famous professional wrestler, Mankind, and that he

based it upon Arlecchino's visage

. Living tradition, indeed.

The evening included commedia tropes, clown routines, satire, buffon and acrobatics, and tons of just lovely silliness. There wasn't much traditional scenario work -- Brian came closest I think with a lovely solo piece reminiscent of the lazzi of perhaps Arlecchino or Pedrolino -- but I was pleasantly surprised to see transformational elements such as masks and wigs. Billy participated in a structured improvisation with a great premise: that of an international competition for paper airplane construction and flight. This was the piece that most reminded me of Zuppa's initial original work, insofar as it was essentially a use of commedia techniques and archetypes in a more contemporary context. I was later blown away by the comical mastery displayed by the


. They ripped it up, stitched it back together and made the whole audience more alive with laughter.

The purpose of this

International Day of Commedia dell'Arte

, as I understand it, is to bring a wider appreciation and understanding of the commedia dell'arte to the world in the hopes of getting it acknowledged as the major cultural influence upon western civilization that it has been. (So, you know: modest goals.) In the US,

Faction of Fools

seems to have taken up the bulk of the mantle of this promotion of "intangible heritage" and is doing an accountable job of mobilising troupes and players into action. It's a bit regrettable that, here on the northeast coast, the day takes place in February, given that outdoor performance would be both historically appropriate and good for advertising. Nevertheless, the day is a great idea that I hope carries ahead full steam into the coming years and toward its eventual aim. The Commedia dell'Arte is alive and well and almost no one seems to know it. I'd like to believe we can change that.

As to my failure, I paraphrase that towering Capitano Sinatra: Regrets, I've had a few. As much as it was scheduling and insufficient time to prepare (yes - to




) I think it was also a feeling of being quite out of touch with my craft, not having performed in the style since last summer's trip for

In Bocca al Lupo

. This evening rejuvenated that sense of connection, better than I could even have imagined, and has my imagination whirling again with archetypes and acrobatic gags. Who knows what will come of it, but I know that it will be driven forward by two things: the first, to never again be caught unawares for a similar performance opportunity; and the second is this feeling that I just walked into a room and found a panoply of old friends in the form of commedia characters. Thanks for that, everyone.