Thursday, May 26, 2011

Plays as Literature

Would Miss Fischer have been so passionate about art if her family had not been forced to sell their "degenerate" collection in 1933? I'm not so sure.

The same thought process works for martyrs: Seeing people die for a cause attracts more fervent followers. If there is someone willing to sacrifice anything for an idea, we think, "there must be something there." Labeling Fischer's family art collection as taboo might have made her more attached to it. She may have thought there must be something there in the art that was worth risking everything to create.

I wish Miss Fischer was real. I would love to pick her brain.

This is an amazing play. Onstage I enjoy cranking up the pressure on Picasso to see what new information I can uncover about him. It's so fascinating to see how adjusting one reading of a line completely changes the way the other character responds. The second time through "unit two" Tuesday night, Jag changed his reading of a line and exploded in anger in response to something my character said. It surprised me, and revealed different information about his character than before. The surprise I felt also revealed some new things about how I viewed Fischer. Even though she thinks she's got him pinned, he still surprises her.

I'm starting to see how simply reading a play as literature in class does such a disservice to the author. Plays are obviously meant to be performed but I never believed viewing a performance to be crucial for understanding the play. I was so surprised after the first night of blocking how different my responses to Picasso were compared to how I thought they should be from just studying lines at home. Once I was up on my feet and feeling uncomfortable at the closeness of Picasso or defensive from the way he delivered a line I was able to understand the pressure Miss Fischer was under in an entirely new way!

Theater is so very fascinating.  It allows me to access true parts of myself that I never get to express in real life:  Pure manipulation, Insults you secretly think but are not appropriate to say in real life, and most of all honesty.

Acting really is truer than life.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Paintings, Pictures and Portraits, Oh My!

Repeat with me:

A painting can be a portrait or a picture.
A portrait can be a picture or a painting.
A picture can be a portrait but not a painting.

These words are not interchangeable. At least in "A Picasso."

This coming from the girl who gets Barstow, Belmont and Butler mixed up because they all start with Bs.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Research: Nazi armbands

As far as I know, the word Nazi appears only once in "A Picasso." Today I was talking to my husband about the play and he was surprised by the lack of the term's appearance.  

He asked if I was going to be wearing a Nazi armband. I told him I didn't think my character would be required to wear one because she is just part of the Ministry of Culture. He said I should research that, so I did. 

I relayed to him an early conversation Heather, Jag and I had about whether our set should contain a Nazi Party flag hanging in the background.  I was opposed to the idea since I thought it would make the show solely about Nazis and less about art. Manuel felt the flag should at least be in the Lobby or Hallway since the circumstances in the play would never exist without Nazis  This made me think: Am I wrong?  I really feel the more powerful approach would just to have stacks and stacks of paintings lining the set, and if possible the hallways and lobby to give the audience the feeling of walking into a warehouse and to set the somber mood. After watching "The Rape of Europa" I was struck by the images of paintings stacked against walls. I thought, who were these stolen from? What became of those pictures? 
The Jeu de Paume - The "hub" of Nazi-confiscated art.

However, I am willing to admit that I may have been wrong. Since Heather and Jag were leaning in the flag direction, and now Manuel is, maybe I'm the only one not on board.  Manuel thought the armband, at the very least would be a good idea, and I was thinking the Nazi party pins the antique stores have loads of would also work in its place. 

I'm having flashbacks to the terrible feeling I had when spouting off all those anti-semitic things to Jag in Merchant of Venice. I would have never thought that in my life I would find myself wearing Nazi paraphernalia. It makes me a little uneasy, but at least I'm not the one who would have to be staring at it the whole time. 

So here's my research:

Nazi Armband System

The "armband system" was instituted by the Nazi Party in 1939. The purpose of the armband system was to denote positional titles within the Nazi Party.

There were three groupings of armbands, classified as "operational", "administrative", and "command". The operational armbands were used by Nazi party political leaders on the local and county levels of the Party and were worn by those Party leaders directly engaged in implementing Party policies to the public. During World War II, this was most often associated with food rationing, war relief efforts, and civil defense.

The administrative armbands were worn by office staffs across all levels of the party, although mostly were used by the regional staffs of the Gauleiters.

I'm thinking that a woman working for the ministry of culture in 1941 would most likely have worn a Nazi armband, after all. Reproductions of them are only $10 online, so I'm wondering if we should get one. I'm not sure how much the Nazi pins are at the antique store.

Nazi Pins
The Golden Party Badge (above) was the basic Nazi Party Badge with the addition of a gold wreath completely encircling the badge. The badge was awarded in two sizes: 30.5 mm for uniforms and 24 mm for civilian jackets. It was worn by the first 100,000 members of the party (these were denoted by the party members' number stamped on the reverse)

Guess what number Hitler had stamped on the reverse of his pin?  Yup, number 1.



My favorite place to memorize is at Revue on Saturday mornings!

I love memorizing. I have all the elvish lines spoken in the Lord of the Rings films stored in my brain and I sometimes spout them off angrily to sound like I'm cussing folks out.  I also have "Supercalifragislisticexpialidocious" memorized "backwards" as it appears in the song as well as the alphabet spoken as one long word. These come especially handy when my students are noisy beyond all reason. I start sharing my useless knowledge with a couple dutiful students and suddenly like a wave the rest of the students want to hear what I'm saying. Go figure.

I'm interested in knowing how other people memorize scripts. I do it the typical way, at least I'm pretty sure it's typical. I pick one line, then add the next line in succession and go back and test whether I've got that section and so forth.  When googling effective memorization strategies, I saw a recommendation to write out your own lines in your own handwriting to access a different part of the brain, or even to record them and play them back either with your lines spoken or with a space left where your lines should be.

Do people actually do that? It doesn't seem necessary, but who knows!

The thing I'm currently struggling with is Jeffrey Hatcher's style of writing. There are some sections where my lines just don't seem to belong next to each other. I would tell my students this is choppy writing and to add some sort of transitions between the thoughts. I think that's what's leading to my cutting myself off in rehearsals; I'm really snippy and short with my thoughts rather than drawing them out.

Part of it night be that the two parts I have the most trouble with are later in the script, which I, admittedly have not devoted as much time to practicing. I really need to spend some time working through the beats and figuring out which thoughts connect to each other.  Hopefully going off-book this week will help me.

Here is an example (with the bold part being the parts I can't seem to connect without sounding choppy):

"There was a show, a group show in '35. He begged to be a part of it, the notoriety. He hadn't had much success. It was very political. They even issued a manifesto, very brave, which he signed in very big letters."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Things I'm insecure about:

Numero Uno: Spitting on people, especially someone who is my friend!

Let me tell you about the number of times I have exchanged any type of bodily fluids with anyone:
  1. I kissed this guy in Denmark in the 7th grade who tricked me by betting two girls he could get me to kiss him behind the theater curtain. I kissed him... two girls jumped out behind a box out, giggling.
  2. Marrying Manuel.  I'm serious.
So, not to mention how bad I feel spitting on poor Jag. I'm normally a pretty nice person and can't believe how mean I must act to him. I can't believe he's okay with this.  This reminds me of when I had to spout all those anti-Semitic remarks to him in Merchant and would always feel utterly crappy about myself afterwards. Jag's response to me: "You have restored my faith in humanity."

Numero Dos: Being expected to look attractive. Especially with my mouth open. Hahaha! Yeah.

The other insecurities can't be listed here because they will reveal too much of the plot.  ;-)

Research: Guernica

Guernica is a painting central to understanding the motivations behind both characters in "a Picasso"  I have become slightly obsessed with this painting, and through my digging have discovered quite a number of amazing facts (mostly from Wikipedia, but again, extremely condensed to the pertinent info and with a million images added to enhance your experience).  For example, I had no idea of the sheer enormity of the painting:

Guernica is grey, black and white, 11 ft tall and 25.6 ft wide, a mural-size canvas painted in oil. Picasso's purpose in painting it was to bring the world's attention to the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica by German bombers, who were supporting Franco during the Spanish Civil War.  Picasso completed the painting by mid-June 1937.

Deaths in Guernica:
In 1937, von Richthofen wrote that most of Guernica's inhabiatants were away on holiday resulting in few deaths.  However, other accounts state that the town's inhabitants were in fact congregated in the center of town, as it was market day, and when the bombardment commenced, were unable to escape the inferno because the roads leading out of the center of the town were full of debris and the bridges leading out of town had been destroyed.

Guernica shows suffering people, animals, and buildings wrenched by violence and chaos.

Painting details:
I condensed all the symbolic awesomeness to a few key items:
  • The overall scene is within a room where, at an open end on the left, a wide-eyed bull stands over a woman grieving over a dead child in her arms.
  • The centre is occupied by a horse falling in agony as it had just been run through by a spear or javelin. The large gaping wound in the horse's side is a major focus of the painting.
  • Two "hidden" images formed by the horse appear in Guernica:
    • A human skull overlays the horse's body.
    • A bull appears to gore the horse from underneath. The bull's head is formed mainly by the horse's entire front leg which has the knee on the ground. The leg's knee cap forms the head's nose. A horn appears within the horse's breast.
  • Under the horse is a dead, apparently dismembered soldier; his hand on a severed arm still grasps a shattered sword from which a flower grows.
  • On the open palm of the dead soldier is a stigma, a symbol of martyrdom.
  • A light bulb blazes in the shape of an evil eye over the suffering horse's head (the bare bulb of the torturer's cell.) This is related to the Spanish word for lightbulb; "bombilla", which makes an allusion to "bomb".
  • To the upper right of the horse, a frightened female figure, who seems to be witnessing the scenes before her, appears to have floated into the room through a window. Her arm, also floating in, carries a flame-lit lamp. The lamp is positioned very close to the bulb, and is a symbol of hope, clashing with the lightbulb.
  • Daggers that suggest screaming replace the tongues of the bull, grieving woman, and horse.
  • On the far right, a figure with arms raised in terror is entrapped by fire from above and below.

Symbolism and interpretations

The following list of interpretations reflects the general consensus of historians:

  • The shape and posture of the bodies express protest.
  • Picasso uses black, white, and grey paint to set a somber mood and express pain and chaos.
  • Flaming buildings and crumbling walls not only express the destruction of Guernica, but reflect the destructive power of civil war.
  • The newspaper print used in the painting reflects how Picasso learned of the massacre.
  • The broken sword near the bottom of the painting symbolizes the defeat of the people at the hand of their tormentors.

Picasso's comments on the work

When pressed to explain symbols in Guernica, Picasso said,
...this bull is a bull and this horse is a horse... If you give a meaning to certain things in my paintings it may be very true, but it is not my idea to give this meaning. What ideas and conclusions you have got I obtained too, but instinctively, unconsciously. I make the painting for the painting. I paint the objects for what they are.[3] 
 However, Picasso said as he worked on the mural: 

"The Spanish struggle is the fight of reaction against the people, against freedom. My whole life as an artist has been nothing more than a continuous struggle against reaction and the death of art. How could anybody think for a moment that I could be in agreement with reaction and death? ... In the panel on which I am working, which I shall call Guernica, and in all my recent works of art, I clearly express my abhorrence of the military caste which has sunk Spain in an ocean of pain and death."
But far from being a mere political painting, Guernica should be seen as Picasso’s comment on what art can actually contribute towards the self-assertion that liberates every human being and protects the individual against overwhelming forces such as political crime, war, and death.[7]

And then there's this:

While living in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II, Picasso suffered harassment from the Gestapo. One officer allegedly asked him, upon seeing a photo of Guernica in his apartment, "Did you do that?" Picasso responded, "No, you did."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Painting.

I had a revelation about Miss Fischer today. Through Miss Fischer's lines one might assume she is extremely interested in art. "What is it, chalk? Charcoal?"  "Is that how you did this one? With a mirror?" "Am I right about the period?"

However, in the staging yesterday, I realized I wasn't drawn to the portraits when asking those questions, but to Jag's reactions. It could just be that we were holding imaginary paintings in our hands and there wasn't actually much to look at... but it was an interesting notion to me that as Picasso studies the portraits. Miss Fischer studies Picasso.

He is the painting.  And she is the critic.

...take that as you will.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Today I learned...

Today I learned why actors have lower incidence of Alzheimer's.

Rehearsals make my brain hurt; I can only assume this is because of how many areas are being accessed at once.

There is so much involved in rehearsal. Basically it's simultaneously:
1) Recalling memorized lines
2) ...while at the same time trying to convey appropriate emotion
3) ... trying to remember where to stand
4) ... and add to all of that: Trying to produce a consistent accent

OUCH!!!  I think every area of my brain is lit up at once.

Here... memorize this with an accent and move to a table while reciting it:
I em pratty suure zis iss mye brein:

I am in no way complaining... rehearsals are my absolute favorite thing in the world. Learning and challenging myself makes me so. very. happy.

And being happy has only attracted even more amazing things into my life.

By the way, I found a photo of my "odd" work ensemble I mentioned a few posts back:

The two kids on the left really are nerds. I am so in awe of them!!!  
...Do you think I am I trying too hard?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Research: Picasso's Mistresses

So, The three main women in Picasso's life up until 1941 (the setting of the play) are listed in order below. All three of them were left for other women, which was a pattern with Picasso. So, these relationships overlapped. All three were very jealous when they were the ones being cheated on. Go figure.  I condensed the pertinent info below so I can quickly reference these in the future. All three are very important in the play, so I also found significant portraits of them and photos to add to the Wikipedia texts below.

1918: Olga Khokhlova

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pablo Picasso had designed the costumes and set for the ballet. After meeting Picasso, Olga left the group, which toured South America, and stayed in Barcelona with him. He introduced her to his family. At first his mother was alarmed by the idea that her son should marry a foreigner, so he gave her a painting of Olga as a Spanish girl (Olga Khokhlova in Mantilla). 
Olga married Picasso on July 12, 1918.  They were happily married and were often invited to parties and social events. On February 4, 1921, Olga gave birth to a boy named Paulo (Paul). From then on, Olga and Picasso's relationship deteriorated. In 1927, Picasso began an affair with a seventeen-year-old French girl, Marie-Thérèse Walter. In 1935, Olga learned of the affair from a friend, who also informed her that Walter was pregnant. Immediately, Olga took Paulo, moved to the South of France, and filed for divorce. Picasso refused to divide his property evenly with her as required by French law, so Olga stayed legally married to him until her death from cancer in Cannes, France in 1954. (Read more after the jump!)

Research: Degenerate Art

Degenerate art  Some Interesting things I've learned today from Wikipedia (wildly truncated!)

By 1937, the concept of degeneracy was firmly entrenched in Nazi policy. On June 30 of that year Goebbels put Adolf Ziegler in charge of a six-man commission authorized to confiscate from museums and art collections throughout the Reich, any remaining art deemed modern, degenerate, or subversive. These works were then to be presented to the public in an exhibit intended to incite further revulsion against the "perverse Jewish spirit" penetrating German culture. Over 5,000 works were seized.

The confiscated art was shown in degenerate art exhibits with nazi slogans written on the themed room walls. Prices museums had paid for the pieces were displayed (though the prices were greatly exaggerated). The exhibit was designed to promote the idea that modernism was a conspiracy by people who hated German decency.   (Read more after the jump!)

Saturday, May 14, 2011


"The actress’s next-door neighbors, who may not have had the chance to see her perform, might say that the person they know could never have been, under any circumstances, either elegant or cruel. " - Wallace Shawn

I wonder what percent of the people I come in contact with know anything about this other side of me. I'd say 1% of people I work with and go to church with have any idea who I become when I step into rehearsal. That's sad, isn't it? I mean, I'm "odd" at work, that's for certain. I wore a Gryffindor tie and student-donated nerd glasses to school last Thursday just to make my students laugh... but, who knows exactly how angry I became as Othello last year? I remember vividly stepping offstage, shaking so much from the anger that it was nearly impossible to button my Tybalt vest and hop back on stage after. Who from work knows this? Nikki does, my senior student Andres does. Wow. I guess that's it. 


Is acting a secret? I guess in a way it is. I know I annoy my Facebook friends with posts about upcoming shows, but very few have actually seen me perform, and it's impossible to relay what you actually do through one-sentence blurbs. 

I'm feeling a little alone at the moment. 

I assume it's the same for all theater-folk who go back to the real-world after a temporary high. I wonder how many of my coworkers are artists, musicians, creators at night and here I am being the one who has not the slightest idea what that means for them.

Swirling Questions

Two days of table work under my belt and already this play is creeping into my subconscious. I have been cast in a two-person drama called "a Picasso" which has already challenged me in lots of good ways.
Day 1 of table work.  I'm sure we scared a few café patrons with our yelling.
Heather has given us a few of her usual characterization worksheets, and I am scintillated by thinking of answers to the questions. One of them suggests drawing a sketch or attaching song lyrics of something inspired by the current rehearsal work. Since I can't draw or sing, I thought I would create a blog to help me visualize and explain things more effectively. I think of this page as sort of a digital scrapbook. If I can get a digital copy of the questions, I will post them here, but until then, here are a few of the questions currently circling around in my brain.

New discoveries about Miss Fischer:
I went into this process thinking of my character as being somewhat selfless and sympathetic though of course not ignoring all the typical issues surrounding being a nazi interrogator. Then, hearing Heather and Jag discuss Fischer as being entirely self-serving made me take pause. I can't get that thought out of my head. If that is true, in her mind Picasso would be almost entirely to blame for making her that way. Of course, not directly, but indirectly though the burden of being associated with Picasso's degenerate art.

Fisher hates Picasso and all he represents: the breaking of rules, the womanizer tendencies and complete disregard for others' feelings.

I had a long conversation with Manuel about the process of my discovery of this character. I have so many questions about this very complicated woman and what drives her to make each and every choice in the play. However, there are also questions I have about Picasso. I spent the day researching his three main relationships before 1940 and I just can't figure out what about Picasso would make women throw themselves at his feet just to be tossed aside when the next young beauty came along. Picasso must have been amazingly charismatic to drive these women to intense depression and jealousy when they were tossed to the curb.
This painting is called the Weeping Woman and demonstrates
the intense pain harbored by one mistress, Dora Maar.

I just can't understand how women could be held so captive by this man's personality that they would face the inevitable just to have him.

One of my greatest challenges right now is constructing a German accent for my character's voice. I have been working so hard on it that I have to take breaks to recover from the headaches such intense brain work has inflicted on me. I have a new respect for actors. I am considering going to that Oregon dentist doctor in hopes of acquiring the rare "foreign accent syndrome." I'd probably get something like Chinese  though, which might be kind of a pain to work with.  In related news the German accent creeps into my teaching, making me even more weird to my poor students and also invades my dreams, which were already plenty weird before.

Quote I can't get out of my head today:
"We have the right! We make the laws!"

I simply cannot WAIT for blocking work next week. I really want to get up on my feet and see how the action plays out. This show is INTENSE, and even though I have already used that word three times in this blog so far, I have not gotten tired of saying it.

Related song of the day:

Why THIS blog...

A year ago I had the good fortune of being asked to be Helena in an Alumni scene of FPU's Midsummer Night's Dream.

That set off an amazing chain of events which started by me Googling "Shakespeare in Fresno" 
which led me to audition for the Woodward Shakespeare Festival 
which led me to meet my now friend and mentor Heather Parish. 
which resulted in me being cast for three shakespeare-related shows in five months

Heather has a propensity to push people to do things they don't know they can. This is evidenced by her comment to me that I could make my own Regency dress for a Jane Austen Festival with not much effort at all. That little nudge led me on a very fulfilling sewing journey. Now she has cast me in a high-intensity show called "a Picasso" which is pushing me in so many more ways.

I'm not a leading lady.  I'm just.. not. This is new, and scary, and mind-blowing to me. My insecurities led Heather to publish a very public letter to me (and to all actors) asking what I was afraid of.

She asks:
What is most important? That you take action or that you succeed at it? That you are making choices or that the choices are approved of? That you practice bravery or that you practice security? That you do something interesting or that you do something correctly? That you share yourself with the world or that the world comes to you?

Here was my response to her:

I really feel that this past year has been a series of stretching myself towards doing things that terrify me. Taking the action is important for me, just to prove that it is possible for me, ME to do it. I remember the first time I actually got cast in a play; After four years of advanced drama classes yet never being cast in a Buchanan production, I remember getting a part at FPU and thinking, "Holy crap, how do I even know I can memorize a lead part? What if my brain can't even RETAIN all that information?" I thought I would fall flat on my face, but I didn't, and it wasn't until five of us broke up the entire Book of Acts and performed THE BIBLE, word for word that I felt I could memorize anything. I guess I have to reach true difficulty before I feel I have mastered something.

I have discovered about myself in this past year that acting (and sewing) are the only areas of my life that I actually enjoy and look forward to criticism. (Remember when you had a note for my in GNDGMJ and I lit up as I mouthed "Thank you!!!"). At work I get nervous that an evaluator might give me a note on my teaching because I feel that there is no going back and fixing it for those students. Their learning on that day, or that year has already occurred when the feedback is given. How I handled a situation in that instance is static and can't be reshaped in the mind of the student. It kills me thinking I may have botched the learning of hundreds and hundreds of students, and therefore, squirm about receiving specific feedback on that particular lesson.

However, with acting, every single note given not only shapes the next performance, but can also be applied to acting as a whole. I will never forget how upset you were about those sunglasses I left onstage during Merchant. I was devastated that I hadn't thought about retrieving them, but I had never had a situation like that come up before and needed that one lesson to help me on my way. I was so proud during the recent Gerstenberg one-act I did when I completely demolished Julia's teacup onstage: Since I was a houseguest in the skit, I rushed to pick up all the pieces as I uttered a million "pardons".  I came away from the situation feeling so confident that I had put into practice a new idea I had learned: To react and use everything to fuel future choices! With Picasso, I look forward to being pushed to consider new choices I have not explored before. I also look forward to creating and developing aspects of the character's background that the audience may never even see. But most of all I look forward to playing with relationships. This play is so much a tug-of-war where every word is a deliberate choice made in order to advance one more handgrip on the rope.

The thing I am hung-up on is the second part of your question: What's important, that I take action or that I succeed at it. Well, yes, it is important for me to succeed. I have failed at many things in my life: I was laughed out of karate class, I had a piano teacher who scolded me for bombing at recitals because I made him look bad to his peers.

I am not so much concerned about critical acclaim or receiving the commendations of my peers, but I do need to feel that I have not failed at this task. What that looks like for me is this:

1) Did I take risks with the character that came across to the audience?
2) Did I put into practice things I never expected that I, MYSELF could do?
3) Did I complete each performance with consistency?
4) Did I give my scene partner something to work with, that he could use to motivate his actions?

But most important, and probably most silly... did I not let down the people who have trusted me and put their effort into my performance? I realize this is probably the most controversial of my definition of success, but know that I am included in this list of people. I do not want to let myself down. I love Miss Fischer, and this play. I tear-up every time I read the part about how futile art is if no one is alive to enjoy it. However, I don't want to let you down, or Jag, or Rico... all people who are investing their soul into this play.

So, I can't say this is just about taking action for me. It's also about succeeding, just not in the "pat on the back" kind of way.

This has fueled me to think more about myself as an "actress," though I still hesitate to call myself that. This blog is a very personal attempt to think aloud and find myself.