Five Hun Dread: The Sacred & Profane

In the waning days of 2006 I started this here 'blog in the interests of exerting a bit more control over  my online presence. It probably speaks volumes to my misconceptions about the Internet that I imagined I could "control" my online presence, but at the time I had just had a website put up for me, and simply wanted to contribute to that effort in a more personal way. After a short time, I found a guiding principle for the 'blog, which I decided would be used to explore and expound upon my efforts to live what I called "The Third Life." That is, a life lived outside of conventional norms and perspectives, one that aspires to be about more than just home and work, that incorporates something else (see 12/19/06, but also, and perhaps more interestingly, 2/21/08).

In the five years since I started the Aviary, one or two things have changed. I've been involved in myriad productions of great variety, including one low-budget sci-fi film and several original collaborations, traveled to and performed in Italy four times, and performed an extended-run NYC Fringe show that I helped develop. I got to play Romeo, well past my freshness date for that particular role. I moved three times, once between Brooklyn and Queens, and I took up aerial silks. Friend Andrew and I dared to experiment with a performance collective.  I've acted, written, choreographed, directed, curated and devised. In that time I also changed day jobs and taught in various capacities, including joining a UK-based corporate training company. Most significantly, my sister moved out of the city, and I married a woman I've known and loved since I was seventeen.

For a little over a month now, my evenings and a significant part of my weekends have been devoted to rehearsals for and performances of a play called Sacred Ground. It was written by my fellow As Far As We Know collaborator, Christina Gorman, and is the first time I've worked with her since we departed that show. Sacred Ground also represents the first naturalistic drama in which I've acted in the city since Lie of the Mind - which, as some may recall, did not garner me the most magnificent of notices. Well, it's only taken me about four years to get over that, and so I've been dutifully applying my craft to a rather down-to-earth, straight-forward drama. And I've enjoyed it. And I'd say I've even done a fairly respectable job.

It was very interesting, returning to a conventional off-off-Broadway rehearsal schedule in NYC. Rehearsals went rather late, and something about that - combined with working with all-new people (other than Christina), and tackling something by which I was more than a little intimidated - came to remind me very poignantly of how I generally existed in my 20s. There was almost literally no stopping, from day job, to rehearsal, to wherever life took me next. I'm just not as resilient now, and the hours came to take their toll on me toward opening. There were dark circles under my eyes and dark thoughts crowding my spare moments. I really felt the personal sacrifices I was making to be a part of this play, and that was another difference between the 80-hour weeks of my 20s and now.

I have loved the part. My character, Father William, is one with whom I can uniquely identify. There was even a time when I contemplated going to seminary (though never have I contemplated converting to Catholicism) and his sensitivity and passionate need to help were another reminder to me of my earlier decade. I can't, of course, speak to how successful I've been overall with my portrayal of him, but he has felt to me like a good match for my particular personality and skills (in spite of the lack of opportunity for self-effacing pratfallery). The experience of the show, trials and rewards and all, has felt redemptive of a few lingering personal regrets in a lot of ways - fulfilling exactly what I wondered about its potential when I auditioned for it.

It's also got me thinking about acting in a different way. It's strange how the process tosses us around, a profanity of effort for one sacred experience. It's incredible how hard actors have to work, yet for ultimately so very little ownership of what they create. At best, actors co-own a collection of moments. For stage actors in particular, those moments are as temporal as anything in life. Theatre actors have to sweat through constant insecurity and uncertainty, stand up for their perspective and submit to others' needs in rapid turns, and the immaterial reward is to stand in front of a large group for a time and accept the possibility that they are "with" him or her in a given moment. God in heaven, why would anyone do this for less than big money, or at the very least a livable wage?

This perspective on acting has been developing with me for some time now, but my experiences on Sacred Ground have helped me put it into more cohesive language and context. In part, I can understand this view because of some of the challenges I experienced directing The Puppeteers. During that process, I continually found myself vacillating between the perspectives of a new director doing his best to make something a little daring and different, and that of myself as an actor in a Zuppa del Giorno show. It's often said that the best quality an actor can have is the ability to access a child-like self or state. I have to wonder if actors are given any choice in the matter, really. Every scrap of their work is entering an unknown world head-first. They are effectively forced to make mistake after mistake after mistake, and surrender themselves to forces they've no hope of fully comprehending.

Nearly five years on from my first post - and on this, my five-hundredth - the landscapes of many things have changed. Not the least of which is the landscape of the Internet itself. I've succumbed somewhat to the more-visual and less-verbal style of the "tumblelog" here and there, posting tiny entries that do nothing so much as capture (and attempt to render somewhat less temporal) brief moments of contemplation. I thought, however, that I'd return to a bit of my former style for this post. At least the length and varied direction is a return. My tone, however, has undeniably altered. Well, it's still pretentious and overwrought - don't get me wrong. It's also less immediately gratifying, I think, and looks a little farther into the horizon.

When I examine my life now, I've got no true regrets. That was one of my goals as a college student, about to venture into adult life and trying to make sense of what I wanted from it - to have no regrets. At the time, that meant pursuing a life as a professional actor, heedless of anything else. Now, my personal "Third Life" has more in it than that, and some potential for a greater richness of experience. It's taking a certain amount of courage to embrace that, to embrace everything I want. But I've done it before. I'll do it again.


Found here.
I know I couldn't act my way out of an unlocked locker in junior high. I didn't know at the time - that's one of the blessed ignorances of youth that allows us to learn, I think. No, at the time, I was just excited to be there. Excited to get that outlet for all my confused emotional and physical energy, excited by all the trappings that were new to me.

Prior to junior high (and the inimitable Mr. John Newman) what I knew about performing was that my peers responded more when I made a performance more physical - especially when I inflicted some kind of damage on myself - and my teachers responded better when I recited lines clearly, from memory. What more could there be to it? It would take me many more years to learn even the most basic of acting skills and concepts, but in junior high I was suddenly and thrillingly dropped into a semi-professional environment.

We had published scripts. We spent time on dialects. We had auditions as well as performances for people other than our parents. We had a vast theatre - hell, we had TWO theatres at Lake Braddock, both the classroom proscenium (which dwarfed most off-off-Broadway spaces) and an auditorium space (co-designed by a former theatre teacher, so it was built as much for plays as for more official events)

Probably the biggest thrill of all this, though I can't explain quite why, was "tech day." Tech day was when we moved from the classroom stage to the auditorium for the first time. I don't remember if it was a formal thing every show, but it felt like it to me. It felt like getting real. We would open the doors to the curving, dark hallway that led around to the auditorium, and immediately we'd hear power tools and smell sawdust. That smell, in the cool dark, just before stepping into a vast room of seats leading down to a three-quarters-thrust stage . . . well. Memories.

I've had my last day filming on Android Insurrection out in Metuchen. In terms of a career as an actor, this work probably won't hold a lot of significance. I mean, it could be huge, just as anything might, but it's not a job I need to sing from the mountaintops about. (Getting on IMDB finally is a little mountain-toppy for me, though; perhaps I'll sing it from a monadnock.) It was more significant to me, though, than just a bit of fun. Working on this movie was a bit like revisiting that initial thrill I felt as a pre-teen, invited to walk down a dark corridor into a little living through fiction.

And now, too, there's a teaser for the movie. It expresses quite well, I think, the level of fun and excitement involved in making a genre movie of this sort. These movies, they seek to thrill and titillate us. Maybe we find them appealing because we feel a little younger watching them, a little less prepared, a little more thrilled. Our teaser starts with "In the 23rd century..." rather than with "In a world...", but danged if that isn't close enough to titillate me, just a little:

Android Insurrection Teaser from Andrew Bellware on Vimeo.