Thursday, December 11, 2008

Shakespeare, Killers, and the Destruction of History

I'm tired tonight, but need to keep writing--keep sending the words, feelings, and thoughts out to the world. I spent the day interviewing directors, looking at the theatre space again, and feeling the wonderment of a city with so many creative people. People that actually read scripts and respond to them... that's new.  Two years ago, I wrote about fifty query letters and sent scripts all over the country. Most of the responses (if I got one) were fairly close to illiterate, which was odd because sending out play scripts you would think there would be people that actually read them. I never got the feeling that anyone was reading anything. Here, every single person I've sent the script to has immediately read it and responded. Further, the responses have been amazing. The first director I interviewed today knew the play in some ways better than I did (and I wrote it) full of ideas for how the set looked, the casting, all of it. He got it. That felt really, really good. 

When I walked back into the Elephant Theatre today, I got that connected feeling that I always get walking into a theatre that has a life--I will never understand how the leadership at Metro Arts could tear down the theatre where I worked and built for so many years. Why would you tear a storied history right out of your school?  That was a theatre that was built by high school students for high school students. In retrospect, I really must have missed something that was occurring without me knowing, They needed to bring discipline to a creative force that was out of control, make it like everything else. I will never understand the reasoning behind that one. Then again, I may never understand, I have to let it go and move on with my life. However, sometimes late in the night when I think of the ignorance that went with that decision, I have to get up and pace until I calm down.  I was listening to some commentator early this morning on the news, asking if anyone thought that President Bush had any remote idea that he would come into office and in eight years systematically destroy six decades of diplomacy, turn the economy into an unfathomable mess, let corruption run amok,  and turn America into a real capitalist regime, besides allow corporations to raid the coffers of America. I think he (Bush) believes he did a good job. Critics are saying that it usually takes fifty years to judge a president, except with Bush, it took five minutes. I think there are people who have no idea of the destruction they cause, just because they can, or because of jealousy, or ignorance.  With Bush as a leader, I think the whole world can begin to understand though, how an entire society can make a mistake in selecting leadership. How did we get fooled so completely? It isn't any different on down the line. There are thousands upon thousands of little worlds that find themselves mired down with poor leadership. At Metro, five years in that space (five in the other) establishing a history that was tore out in a weekend. It will never, ever be the same place. Get that paycheck as high as she will go, and don't let something to good, be 'to' good. I'm sure the 'leadership' could explain all of the reasons to me--I'm sure each decision made would have some justification, some rationalization, some philosophical insight that Raymond, "the drama teacher" wouldn't understand. I wasn't just a "drama teacher" folks, I was a leader. When you walk into watch a show now, try and remember what you used to watch. Try to remember what was magic, and how magic galvanized an audience and a community. That is what you can 'take to the bank'. Metro magic died the day you tore down the theatre. Wow, I just defended my position, what a concept. Goodbye, Metro Arts, hello adventure. Goodbye, President Bush, hello Barrack! Goodbye Phoenix, hello, Los Angeles. 

I've been walking four miles everyday this week, taking my script and memorizing. I'm memorized through the first movement (six more to go), most of this material deals with my Father, and so there is much emotion in getting all those words committed to memory. Acting and memorizing really does 'do' something to your psyche that is profound. It isn't like memorizing for a test, the words, concepts, and ideas, get inside your guts. I've had people ask me, "well, you wrote it, isn't easy to memorize?" The short answer is no. Its just like memorizing anything, its repetition. However, Shakespeare is probably the most difficult to remember and memorize. Having had no real Shakespeare training, I managed to get myself cast in 'The Taming of the Shrew', and, Petruchio,  the first male lead besides. I literally had an actor's nightmare every night. I would memorize entire monologues and forget them the next day and have to do it all over again. Two weeks before the play opened, I had to literally sequester myself in my apartment and spend all day going over and over the material. Still, even with all the work, performing it was like walking through a maze. Because when you memorize, you memorize imagery and concept to go with the language.  With Shakespeare, the concepts and imagery were so foreign to me, that I had to rely on the cerebral experience, which became radically intense. It was like learning a foreign language without anybody to tell me what any of it meant. I had to semi-figure it out, and make it work. Probably a thousand hours of work there. I understood after doing that show why people who act Shakespeare have to spend years of study. It was a great lesson, but also gave me sort of an initial 'forced love' for Shakespeare. Now, what I do is take small parts from his plays and memorize, to keep familiar with the language. One of my favorite television clips of all time is when Robert Kennedy quotes 'Romeo and Juliet' to recall and honor JFK. 

And if he shall die, 
cut him into little stars,
and he shall make the face of heaven
so fine, 
that all the world will fall in love with night, 
and pay no attention to the garish sun.

Poetry, in my estimation, doesn't get better than that. 

If these words, concepts, and ideas get down inside your guts, something begins to happen that is really quite extraordinary. As the words begin to slip easier from the tongue, emotion begins to accompany them, and that's when you realize something is changing. It makes sense that actors who pursue a life of Shakespeare do so in pursuit of this knowledge and this experience, to understand and feel these great ideas. It just makes sense. I understand why someone would want to put themselves through the strains of taking on great roles, because each role will change the way they look at the world. If you were young and had the opportunity to play either Romeo or Juliet, your young mind and soul would never look upon love the same way. I have read stories about the trial and tribulations that can come at the cost of playing Lady MacBeth. 

I once played a murderer inside of a prison speaking to a psychiatrist for two hours. (I was on stage the entire time) After six weeks of playing the role, it began to play tricks with my mind. I began to dread going into the theatre, because it became so heavy. I would have to go into the theatre three hours early to get my 'tattoos', and by the time I got all of my prep work done, I felt exhausted and a little insane. Although it was a great role for me, I was glad when we came to the end. The research for the role was also grueling, because in preparation, I would put my tattoos on and find the underbelly of the city. I went to biker bars, cowboy bars, dives, anywhere I could apply the history of my character. Don't worry, I didn't murder anyone, but I did go very deep under for that role. I suppose it was worth it, but I remember being a little crazy for a month or two after. 

Its easy to understand how actors sometimes have difficulty with these transformations. That's why with this show, if I am to keep it alive with the possibility of touring, I have to have something I can live with. That will be the challenge, to make sure it has the 'lift' that it needs. To make sure it has nourishment, for me as well as the audience. On with the work. On with the preparation. On with the show... on with history. 


Gerry said...

Wow! You are also making history with this blog telling us what acting and writing a plsy is all about. When I read an entry like this I am very glad the blog was created. When I read an entry like this all the work I have done on writing seems to come back to me in a son's golden touch with words. Not in vain! That thought makes me cry. M.

Mojo Joss said...

Raymond, you aren't a "drama" teacher, you are a -theatre- teacher.

Metro lost its magic the year they started censoring artwork for first fridays. I remember being in the basement painting the walls back to white for my roommate, Angela. Pat and Matt didn't like her piece where she'd painted and splattered the walls red, and hung photos of the destruction of mother earth, for mixed media. It was deemed too gruesome. They were only looking at the surface of the art piece and not the true heart felt meaning underneath the onion layers.

I'm actually glad i was kicked out before the move. I remember visiting after the move and being walked off th premises because i was trespassing. I though it was odd because former students visited all the time. I guess students that have been kicked out get a different set of rules. It didn't matter that i had already graduated and was in college, in their eyes i was still the enemy.

Pamela said...

This entry was GREAT! I was absolutely enthralled with it as I read. I did not realize how much playing a part could affect an actor.
I'm sorry they tore down that old theatre. What a waste. Whatever reason they would give you wouldn't be enough, so maybe it's good that you don't know why.
Keep on walking! 4 miles a day is GREAT! You sound excited.

Nelishia said...

I was carried away with the energy behind your writing and just have a feeling that you are in the right place this time to shine and be recognized.
I worry about a world that would destroy and censor art.
I've been an actress and played some heavy parts as well and I can agree about how enmeshed we become with the role and it taking a long time to come back to ourselves.
Shakespeare is a big bite to chew and I would never volunteer for it. I only remember bits and pieces of Macbeth and the opening of Romeo and Juliet. But I haven't read it in a hundred years. I anticipate the great write-ups of recognition of who you've been all along. Thanks for making your blog. You'll be recognized for all you've put into this and how well, the sacrifices, they will come back to you.

annk said...

I think I understand imagination and the creative effort, although I was not on stage as a actor, but as a teacher. I know that surge when a project captures a student's imagination and comes out in spectacular.
A boy, B. J. Crease, took my 2,000 word autobiograph and changed it into 9,000 and had only just begun. He was diagnosed with brain cancer and died...but the explosion of writing he did before then touched so many. He is that star.
Poetry, amid mighty protests, dragged from poor students the best writing.
Drama...Raymond came to my rescue, wrote a play for the students in class actually using their names, and helped get it on
stage. The big criticism was that I was put on a play by an unknown writer ...WHAT DID THAT MATTER IF IT IS A GREAT PLAY????
I am finding the production of a play from scratch in the middle of L.A. - nothing short of a miracle! (my word verification today is terch...great word!)

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