Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why I enjoy being in this show:

I've been having quite a bit of trouble accepting all the positive feedback from the show. The patrons that come up to me after a performance and talk about how it affected them makes me uncomfortable. My brain wants to hear what they have to say, but I can't bring myself to accept their compliments in order to engage them in conversation. In fact, I actively seek criticism because, for me, it is so much easier for me to believe, and to accept. I automatically assume I am doing everything wrong, so I believe criticisms. However, it blows my mind that I might actually be dong anything right, and so, no longer being in character, and having to be ME during curtain call and after the show truly bothers me. I just don't know how to do it.

I talked with Heather last week about this, and she asked me why I like being in this show.  A flurry of emotions came over me. I love so many things about being in this show that it's hard to express them in a logical manner. I just want to spout all the reasons off in a random flood of emotion!

Let me count the ways:

1) I love being Miss Fisher. She's got this extremely hard exterior which in some ways is a lot like me. I've always laughed at those horoscope descriptions that try to lump you into a box claiming that all people born within a date range automatically behaves a certain way.  However, as I've gotten older, I have come to realize I do have a few "Cancer-the-crab" characteristics. They say Cancers are hard on the outside and soft on the inside. Now, unlike Miss Fisher, I do show emotion pretty readily, however,  I protect myself by anticipating the worst in an attempt to not be affected by disappointment.  This way, everything always comes out at least slightly better than expected. It works well for me, as I am rarely disappointed.

In Donald's review of our play, he described me as having "times when [my] expression hardens into an inscrutable shell." I find this interesting since it was a conscious choice of mine to play Miss Fisher as attempting to control her emotions at all times. Now, clearly there are moments when that goes out the window; Miss Fischer loses it on many occasions, but she have time to recalculate and try a new tactic to get what she needs from Picasso. Whenever she attempts a new tactic that she regains control of her stern exterior and regains a bit of power.  I love this about her character. She is passionate, but also harbors a bit of the manipulativeness that Picasso is famous for.

Now, I concede that perhaps I have restrained her emotions too much. However, she is a Nazi. The stakes are life or death. She has had to LEARN to mask her emotions or risk the DEATH of herself or her family members. The stakes could not be higher.   Also, this is a veeeerrrrry small theater. The audience can see everything from the beads of sweat on my face to the half-moon shapes on my 40s nails. I was very conscious of the fact that small shifts can, in fact, be read from the audience.

So, interestingly enough, one of the critiques of the show is actually one of my favorite things about Miss Fischer and the show!

2) Another reason why I love being in this show is I love responding to Jag onstage. He's far too much fun to work with, and in such an intense show as this, I really try to watch him to see him moments of truth and weakness. There are key revelations about his character that Miss Fischer uses against him later in the play: the fact that he has recently left Dora and that Conchita's story brings up feelings of betrayal and Guilt.  I admit that I am extremely lucky to be able to be acting opposite of Jag and getting the opportunity to respond to him in those moments of his character's weakness. Now, it's insanely fun to watch how he responds to me as well! If I say a line stronger than normal, he immediately becomes more defensive. If I say a line weaker (for example the second half of, "Some I give a warning... SOME... I let go") it is fascinating to see him back off so much more readily!  Wow, acting is so much fun! It's like reliving Groundhog Day where you get to try it over and over and see how differently someone reacts. I wish life was more like theater.

Now, I am attempting to give the same performance every night, but I'm beginning to accept the fact that it's just not possible. Life happens, and it affects the show. It doesn't make the show better or worse, but it changes the way the character is revealed through you that night. After my AVID students graduated, our dress rehearsal was fraught with emotion. There was no avoiding the fact that I was more emotionally vulnerable, and boy does that show itself onstage!  Thinking about this right now, I'm realizing that this Fictional Situation of "Picasso meeting Fischer" could have happened on an emotional day in their lives.  It also could have happened on a particularly strong and defensive day in Picasso or Fischer's life. Going into a performance every day is like living these emotions through the characters as they are in different places in their lives.  Theater is ever-changing, and you will always get something new out of seeing a second performance of a show.

Perhaps that's why we've had so many repeat visitors!

Well, I've been writing far more than I anticipated, and since I started this blog entry a week ago, I should probably publish what I have now and continue writing my reasons why I love this show another day!  Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The review.

Well, here's the largely positive review:

I'm breathing again.

Disappointing myself.

So, I've been thinking about how irritating it is when your brain says one thing and the rest of your body, (especially your speech) does another.

I have my lines memorized. Word for word. Jag and I even rehearsed at the coffee shop one Saturday where one held book and the other corrected every single word that was not quite right.  For example, I often say "I here these days you hide gold in YOUR closet where your soap should be," when it should be "I here these days you hold gold in THE closet where your soap should be.  Not a huge difference, but Jag and I are obsessed with word-perfectness. Shakespeare corrupted us.

We know the script, we do.  Yet, on opening night, something caused me to stutter, and that hindered my motivations near the end of the show. The most crucial part of the play became a farce of me dropping my actions/motivations and became me simply going through the motions. It's been bothering me, since I saw myself rise to the occasion on Saturday's matinee and evening show with no stutters and once again implementing those strong actions.

What the hell goes on in my head?

Why can't I do what I tell myself to? The 20 or so folks that saw Friday's performance deserved to see the best, and I let them down. I got nervous. I guess that's what distinguishes a professional from me; I am still (sometimes) inconsistent.

Something Greg Taber once said to me still affects me; It went something like, "The audience deserves your best performance every night.  When you go up to them after a show and say, 'I wish you could have seen it last night' you have cheated them out of a quality performance. It is your obligation to give them your best every night."

I'm sorry, family, friends. I didn't give you my best that night. I've gotten past the anxiety of opening my very first lead role. And now I'm in the groove. And this show ROCKS.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Opening Night

We opened "A Picasso" last night with a house of about 20 people. Not too bad in size since we only seat 45, but hopefully we can get a sold-out show at some point.

What surprised me most about last night's show was the amount of laughter the audience gave.  I know the show is witty, but I wasn't expecting to have to hold for laughs as much as we did. In fact, I'm not normally in comedies, so I hope I even did the holding for laughs thing correctly! Uh-oh.

I'm wondering if other nights will have as much laughter, or if it was that particular crowd. My family was there, after all, and they are notorious laughers.

Another thing that surprised and aggravated me was how I stuttered on particularly emotional points in the show. I must have been nervous after all, even though I told myself I wasn't. It's really too bad, since I was sure we'd have a solid opening based on the two run-throughs we did the night before.  In fact, we were so "on par" that Heather said we could go home after the first run-through, but Jag and I opted for another run since it was our first and only night in the actual theater.

I really can't wait to go onstage again for today's matinee. I cannot tell you how much fun it is to play dress-up and be this character that is so unlike me in every way. I was telling Heather that when I put up my hair, put on my garter, seamed stockings and 1930s bra and then look in the mirror, it's so surreal not being able to recognize that girl staring back at me. Add to that the thrill of being onstage and responding boldly to situations I, as Chelsea, would completely shirk away from and you've got an addictive combination (like crack!). Not that I would know.

I'd love to hear what people thought of the show, especially the criticisms.

Well, I guess we'll know soon enough, since our local reviewer was there last night. I don't know how I missed spotting him after the show... my mind must have been in a fog, or I didn't recognize him. Strange. He's like a ninja.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Picasso is a Tramp

When I paint a bowl, I want to show you that it is round, of course. But the general rhythm of the picture, its composition framework, may compel me to show the round shape as a square.  
When you come to think of it, I am probably a painter without style. 'Style' is often something that ties the artist down and makes him look at things in one particular way, the same technique, the same formulas, year after year, sometimes for a whole lifetime. You recognize him immediately, but he is always in the same suit, or a suit of the same cut.  
There are, of course, great painters who have a certain style. However, I always thrash about rather wildly. I am a bit of a tramp. You can see me at this moment, but I have already changed. I am already somewhere else. I can never be tied down, and that is why I have no style."                    -- Pablo Picasso

This quote is clearly the inspiration for a particularly funny bit in "a Picasso" (one of my favorite bits, actually).  However, I find it interesting on other levels; Picasso constantly reinvented himself as he didn't want to be caught dead in the same "suit."

I think the same philosophy applies to actors. It's important to challenge yourself to take risks, or else you appear to be playing the same character over and over again: same character, different play.  The problem with this is how do you manage to get cast in roles that will challenge you? It seems like many actors get boxed in, cast in certain types of roles over and over again. Does it appear that way to me because they don't take risks with the role and tend to play the role in the same way? Or is it that they are not being given opportunities by directors to try riskier characters?

I hope I keep reinventing myself like Picasso. I guess I want to be "a bit of a tramp."  ;-)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Bettering myself

With four rehearsals to go, I wanted to make sure I set aside time to categorize all my rehearsal notes. This way I can make connections and see progress as well as remind myself of the areas I need to work on in order to better myself at this craft called "acting."

Areas for improvement:

  • Early in rehearsals I had a tendency to rush through beats. At one point Heather called this "cutting myself off."
    • Now, I have slowed my rate of speech, but I still need to make sure my thought transitions are there.  I have a lot of specific transition notes; Miss Fischer has many calculated thought shifts. I need to make sure I give those thoughts time and let the audience see them develop as well as make sure they are connected to the thought that precedes it and follows it. 
  • In monologues, I can play with different tones (anger, humor, etc).  I have tried to infuse some anger in certain moments as an experiment, but I think I'll back off my anger in the line: "Purchased. At astronomical prices through Kanweiler and Rosenberg."  Having too much anger at this line throughs the following lines out of sync for me, so I think I'll tone it down a little, though it will probably still color the line.
  • Blocking: I must learn to stop upstaging myself. 
  • Picasso's insults: Find a way to respond to them.  
  • Physical commentary (blanching): No "musical theater" acting (no offense, GCP)! Acknowledge Picasso's actions and then choose to ignore them. This is much stronger, and less "Chelsea"
  • I look down or away too often. If I must look away I should choose a specific place to focus so the audience can see my thoughts and reactions.
  • Stand up straight... no sunken, defeated shoulders!

Questions to consider:

  1. Will she or wont she what?
  2. How is Miss Fischer's suffering informing her actions?
  3. What is Miss Fischer's greatest secret? 


  1. Mark off the beats/tactic changes.
  2. Where there is significant blocking, mark what the objective is, using this form:  I am _____ you or I want to ______ you.
  3. Later I actually used the Actors' Thesaurus to specify the action verb for these objective shifts.
  4. In some sort of short hand, mark in the margins when your character has the upper hand, is gaining the upper hand and has lost the upper hand.
  5. Watch some 1940s films with strong female leads like Barbara Stanwyck and Betty Davis.

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.