Monday, December 30, 2013

2013

Do you know what was so freaking amazing about 2013? I think I can define it (to an extent). Several major changes I made of myself occurred:
  • I stopped immaturely victimizing myself.
  • I embraced what I crave artistically in the dorkiest, but most serious of manners.
  • I recognized that I am handsome.
  • I am a singer, and just because I have had my voice stifled by myself and others, does not negate that I am one now.
  • I have the technique and stamina to do 8 shows a week. And the next time, I'll do even better.
  • I learned that there is a difference between the words could and should. I could have been more spontaneous and carefree in college, but I wasn't. And that's okay, because I am now.
  • I accepted that I am not alone on the struggle bus of life.
  • I embrace that working hard is the greatest, most satisfying act. We can never know when life will end, thus the unwavering, wholehearted attempt at our goals is what counts most.
  • I have started to more fully consider how I can serve others with my voice and work.
  • I spent time in Europe with so many gay couples who are in functional, companion-based relationships that I felt these role models were dropping into my life for a reason.
THUS!!! What we are doing right now is more important than what we once did. Especially if we have recognized and grown from what we once did.

A few weeks ago, my grandfather and I were in the living room while he was trying to put on his socks. Never before had I quite paid attention to the fact that, since my childhood, this man who helped raise me has not been able to touch his feet without experiencing some tough pain. He has to pick up his legs and strain to place his feet on the other knees in order to slide his socks on. I said to him, "Papa, you are such a strong man. I wish I could be as strong as you." His response was, as always, assured, sympathetic. He may sometimes hesitate to speak, but only because he ensures (EVERY time) that he is saying the right thing. "Life's just hard. For everyone. That's what it's about. Working through all the hardness."

In that instant, every choice I'd made in Europe to cleanse my soul was worth it. It had brought me to a cathartic, vulnerable place. But it lingered, for I still could not bring myself to let it go. But Papa's words showed me how un-alone I am on this struggle bus of life. So many other people had helped along way, Papa just happened to say the IT sentence at the right time.

A List of What was AMAZING
  • Performing with my Showboat company, and feeling creatively supported by all of them at every moment, every performance.
  • The standing ovation at the end of our final performance on the Showboat.
  • The weekend at Laura's cabin. Swimming in a lake never felt so okay.
  • Southern California with my aunt, uncle, and cousins.
  • LA adventures.
  • Graduating from the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA, and being able to actually feel closure with my class of 19 others.
  • Recognizing that not everyone has others' interests in mind.
  • Working with Rory, and learning by his amazing, driven example as an artist in Vienna.
  • Pizza with Marle and Martino, then missing the LAST U3!
  • My class at the Internationales Kulturinstitut.
  • Drinks with Joanna and the other David.
  • Rachael and Yvonne.
  • Seeing Yvonne at the train station on Halloween.
  • Joe and Steve.
  • Christian.
  • The date with the Hungarian.
  • Theatercouch
  • Breakfast with Sonja.
  • Kaesekrainer Hot Dogs in Vienna.
  • Afternoon with Kristin.
  • Michael Gruber voice lessons.
  • Cake with Ian.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
  • Pia Douwes in Concert.
  • That very long, party-filled night in New York City with Clare.
  • Talking smart things with an amazing dramaturg.
  • Having access to the Lincoln Center Library's video archives of Dance of the Vampires, and two Fiddler on the Roof productions.
  • Seeing Aeysha Kinnunen perform in a lead role at the Guthrie.
  • Kate Roeder.
  • My decision to move to NYC.
  • Working out with my dad.
  • Holding my mother's dogs.
  • Embracing anyone I love.
  • The feeling of tears rolling down my face when I see art that is so beautiful, I can't do anything else.
  • The feeling of tears rolling down my face when I say goodbye to an amazing experience, because those tears are celebrating the JOY that had been shared.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Other Shoes

I keep waking up in BIG California, and it makes me realize how small I am. It makes me remember that there is so much I can't control in my life. Often, what we control, or is controlled by others, is so abstract.

Driving north to Temecula from the San Diego's Old Globe Theatre's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream this past Sunday night, my aunt pointed out where the checkpoints sometimes set up in order to check for drug cartels and illegal immigrants. The 'checkpoints' word seems so far away from my life experience, most especially because I have always lived so close to the Canadian border, and read of checkpoints existing frequently in South Africa and Eastern Europe and in prejudiced Hollywood action thrillers that take place in foreign countries.

A conversation was started about why people cross the border illegally. I claim ignorance to the exact issues that occur daily in Mexico and its southern neighbors, but there is apparent economic unrest and infrastructure struggles along with violence. What was most important in this conversation was acknowledging that a 15-minute drive from my $40 seat, and a man-made border separated me from a world where what it means to live and die and be patriotic are very different. The histories of citizenship and the perceptions of world politics and the values and the structures differ greatly.

What makes me so different from someone born in a town three minutes from my native one? The structures and values that surrounded me. The schools, the jobs my parents had, the money they made, the places they took me. When groups look at the "less fortunate," or, "the needy," churches and other care-giving organizations create "mission" trips, where resources and vocabularies from our American existence are introduced to them to make their lives "better." We transplant ourselves as vessels carrying out values and sharing (hopefully not imposing) our technology and practices onto them.

I am curious what we could learn if a mission trip organized of citizens from a "second world" or "third world" came to a town in the United States and taught children in our schools how to build their own toys or sing their traditional songs, or ponder the same life lessons they have. Would it make the American child more engaged with the point-of-view of a person from a war-torn nation rather than aware of the war-torn citizen's situation? My musings are thinking so, since instincts continue to tell me that the two understandings world in tandem, but are different in what they reveal to and within the observer.

I think these thoughts make it difficult for many to say "yes" or "no" to pardon illegals or invade countries with human rights catastrophes. Perhaps the washing away of these hard-line distinctions is ignored by many for that exact conundrum... it becomes harder to justify cruelty and power when what we do onto others could just well be done onto ourselves if the outside structures shifted ever so slightly.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Nomadic Dwelling Number 5- Lake Ponto Cabin

The fear of jumping into water and suffering the instant consequence of its chill has kept me from enjoying a swim many times. Those swims are memory-builders, adventure-containers, and vocabulary-strengtheners.

And seeing my strong, athletic friends jump in before me freaked me out a little more. My nerves of the judging eyes looking at me while I flailed about, trying to grab onto a towel in the darkness filled my imagination.

But my internal camera finally registered outwardly. Finally. The lack of electronic communication and the extreme peace of this private cabin on a lake got me to think about the whole picture. All the fears we men in the cast have shared about our appearances in the dressing room came to me. I saw these men as being better than me, but they're actually a lot like me. We all fear our hair thinning or receding (coughmorecough), our bodies aging, our hearts weakening, or money drying up, our families dying, and our lovers crying in hatred.

The only absolute truth on our bodies is on our skin. We cover our skin not just out of modesty, but in attempts to promote accentuation in certain areas of our own choosing. We also cross arms to cover up the body areas that release energies of seemingly uncomfortable emotion. We comb our hair a certain way to hide its flaws.

There was a moment this weekend where I said, "Yes, I am a beautiful body." That "yes" moment finally came where all the t-shirts I didn't wear so I could cover my bony arms with sweaters when I was a teenager, and the shirts I pulled back to accentuate my slim build didn't matter. The naked beauty of that lake was enough to make me realize that the naked beauty of our own bodies are enough! These naked elements potential to be vessels of joy and peace and wholeness. Of the understanding that we share one another forever and should never take that for granted.

I have returned to Minneapolis for my final week of employment and life here. I feel ready to be a little more present and a little more open to each step I am about to take on the next 3 months of travel, with its limited budget and grandness of geographic scope.

I have shared my summer with people who lived presently, day by day, in the long-running show and embraced the differences between each of us without self-interest. I am happy to have shared a celebration of life's truth with this group of people as our 84-performance run draws to its end.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Nomadic Dwelling Number 3- The Stage Door Attendant's Home

It was February 2010, and already I had spent seven months living in Minneapolis. I walked through the imposing Guthrie Theater, a large-scale non-profit theatrical organization, several times a week for class or to see a show or to sit in the "Hub," the green room/kitchenette, in order to do homework. To me, little else was as motivating to get my credits earned as sitting among actors appearing in The Importance of Being Ernest or Macbeth sitting around me in their costumes, and hearing their performances over the monitors.

With that being said, whether it was a result of my own psyche or the literal atmosphere of that building, I didn't quite feel as if I'd earned my keep. Yes, I was a first-year BFA student, and had nearly full access to the building with my security badge, and was a proud student of one of its resident voice/dialect coaches, Lucinda Holshue, but I still felt shy. In the long hallways, I'd dart my eyes downward in order to avoid saying hello to passersby, but I'd still feel bad if the same was done to me. I was keeping a low profile.

Actor training is useful for life, as it challenges one to consider action and engagement within a community. During our second semester, Ms. Holshue assigned us to interview someone with whom we were less familiar and that preferably didn't work in theatre. We would record this interview, and then come to develop a monologue which we would perform as our interviewee. Being dreadfully shy, I eventually chose my new housemate (who I will write about at a different point, I am sure). A safe choice, but still an unfamiliar one.

After my interview with her, my mind was opened up to the extraordinary growth one can go through by being open to the unfamiliar. My housemate dropped me off at the Guthrie that Sunday afternoon, where I was planning on doing homework for a while. But something in my heart was bursting. This need to share how much I wanted to embrace others!

A woman I'd said "hello" to, but never necessarily spoke with, was sitting behind the desk that day. Her name was Kate, and she is, as she self describes on her Facebook page, a but of a mother hen as the stage door attendant at the Guthrie Theater. Frankly, I can't imagine her not being there one day (which, of course, will one day happen). Kate is the embodiment of those beautiful pastel paper stocks filled with stenciled drawings and words of wisdom that come from sincerity. She is present. Smart without being cynical, open without being fooled.

My new-found interest in getting to know people allowed me naturally trusting self to open up to her. I genuinely expressed my interest in just wanting to speak to someone. Everyone around me has had their share of hardships and joys, and all that builds up to create the person they present to the world, for better or worse. Kate just started chatting with me about her job and the ghosts that haunted the original Guthrie Theater on Vineland. I talked about my own experiences with ghosts. Sundays are generally slow at the Guthrie. While it is a show-day, the offices are usually quiet. It relaxes the building, and Sundays have ever since that day been my favorite day of the week at the Guthrie.

Kate asked, as our conversation had lasted a couple of hours, nearing her shift's end, if I wanted a ride home. Being a child of the 90s and post 9/11 raised me to be weary of all offers from strangers, even ones dwelling and working in the same space as me. I could never even imagine offering a stranger my couch.

And the generosity didn't stop there. Over the years, I have been able to borrow Kate's car for errands on many a day while she was at work, and house sat for her many times to take care of her two beautiful cats, Elliot and Bug. Her husband has also become a good friend, and their lovely daughters have introduced themselves to me whilst in town.

As I sit in their living room as their house guest for a week, I feel so at home here. Kate is a soul that opens her arms, which metaphorically means she opens her heart to those she recognizes as loving and good. I hope I can always live up to her expectation. In a city that has been both good an bad to my spirit, she has always been a beacon of unconditional love. Lapses between meeting with her matter not at the end of the day. We are friends. Friendship, true friendship, defies age and geography. Forever in my heart, with pastel cardstock, will Kate be.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Nomadic Dwelling Number 1- The Wardrobe Supervisor

As of noon on this 31st of July (and what I alwasys remember as the birthday of Harry Potter and my late cat), my lease on W Franklin Ave in Minneapolis, MN, comes to an end. I am officially address-less. On paper, I suppose I look like a flake, save for the paycheck that comes in bi-weekly. I'm 23, with little savings, and no home to speak of. But in spite of this, I have a direction, and am lucky enough to have support from friends and family in many states and another country to help me go on my nomadic journey these next 3.5 months.

My first stop is with my friend Carrie. She lives in the Powderhorn neighborhood of Minneapolis. Her abode is cozy, a single-bedroom condo unit. She has two cats, Snoop and Lucy. Snoop is a very fun, special boy whilst Lucy is very shy. I sleep on the couch, with the blue curtains blocking out sunlight.

It is coincidental that my first host, Carrie, happens to be a wardrobe supervisor at the Guthrie Theater. I say this because of what I am about to share...

I woke up on my second morning in this space with a goal- to start my laundry. The novelty of FREE HIGH EFFICIENCY WASHER AND DRYER should be motivation enough for me to get my butt in gear. That, and the fact that if I do my laundry, I might actually be able to consolidate the number of bags I have... the less the better...

But, oh, no. David had to finally admit to himself that he is very much like those "oragnism" versions of human beings in the film "Wally," where, something like a thousand years into the future, humans are just overweight cushion dwellers who just have their minds occupied all day with books, games, TV, what have you.

It's interesting. That pursuit of the mind and the pursuit of what is front of us. I really wish, as I stated a few weeks ago, to somehow get better at maintaining the quality of my possessions and how I spend my time. But I can't pretend or aim to be a guru when I'm a 23-year-old, just graduated fellow. I'd rather sit around and watch the YouTube or read a book or sleep... Stop it! Stop it! I intend to say to myself. You get enough of that all the time. But it's so much easier, and perhaps safer, to keep learning knowledge than taking control of what is in front of me.

Right here, on this blog post, I am going to admit something. It is what I think is right in order to move forward- I hoard, I like to sleep, and I hate doing household chores. I am, in spite of my success with jobs and school work and intellectual pusuits, a lazy fellow in the home.

There's one load in the washer at the moment. And I cannot be so lazy as to congratulate myself when it is dry to place it on the couch later and decide, "Well, as a treat, you'll fold it tonight when you get back." How about my bigger accomplishment is to complete the task in one swoop?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

5-Year High School Reunion

Tonight, July 13, 2013, the alumni association at Bishop Stang is hosting my class of 2008's reunion. I can't attend, since that is located 1,500 miles away and I am committed to performing in Minnesota eight times a week.

I can't help but feel disappointed I am not there tonight. In spite of my high school friend connections dropping more often than sustaining, and my open sexuality being the opposite of the Catholic Church's teaching, and my lack of knowledge for who may or may not be attending, I really want to reminisce.

At the time of my graduation, I left on excellent terms with the school. However, I thought that I was so over that time in my life and ready to show the world that I could be an awesome, sexy gay man rather than a dweeby, tense, but very well-spoken and well-meaning teenager who'd never been kissed (until graduation!). The thing is... I didn't just stay closeted. I committed to the church's preference that a gay person be celibate without ever labeling myself as gay.

In high school, I never held hands with anyone, never flirted with anyone, never winked, never drank, never smoked (I did cuss, though!). I was a "leader" of the community; assigned several times to be an organizer/leader of major retreats as I became more of an upperclassman. Younger students would tell me that some teachers apparently called me "holy," and encouraged students to follow my example. I don't know how many teachers may or may not have done this, or why. But I do know that at the time, such comments made me feel quite nervous that I was a hypocrite. Maybe I was. But I was open with the fact that I didn't date anyone. In hindsight, I was likely respected for my awareness of my sexuality.

I constantly lived in fear that I would be called out as gay. I remember being nervous that my skinny arms or a curve in my hips as I walked might give me away. Every moment consumed me with self-doubt and attention, and a fear that I'd be disliked. The question of my sexuality was raised only once by fellow drama club member, Lizz (sic, however I don't think she spells it that way any more). She was driving me back to school from a group gathering (might have been Applebees or Taco Bell!), and she suddenly asked, "Do you like guys?" I paused and lied, "No," very carefully. She responded that she wouldn't care if I did, nor would any of our other friends. That may have been true, but I wasn't sure about the more broad consequences.

Time has made me a little braver. Time has made me a little more able to give the benefit of a doubt. Sometimes to a fault.

As I rode the bus home last night, I realized I was wearing my class shirt (given us in 2004 at Orientation! 9 years of top-notch quality ownership!). I snapped a photo of myself.

Here I am. 5 years older and 5 years wiser and 5 years more in search than ever before.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Minnesota Saints at Midway Field

I certainly am not the first or last person to say that as my time being a full-time resident of a city draws ever closer to its end, I am realizing there are a great many things I never actually did!

In order to not stress myself out over the myriad of undone things, I am not making a list with which to check off as the weeks go by. However, I am making an effort to take advantage of something on one of my days off each week.

Luckily, a perk of being in a long-running show is that sponsors sometimes give you free things. For me, that came in the form of complimentary tickets to the local Minor League Baseball Team, the Saints.

I was given four on Saturday for the Sunday afternoon game. Admittedly, it was impossible to get the other three claimed, but thankfully one of them was used! My former classmate Steven Lee Johnson (currently appearing in a great production of Clybourne Park at the Guthrie Theater) took the bait. Two theatre guys watching baseball. It was refreshing. SPF was needed (and maybe I didn't use enough!).

It is exciting to embrace those moments of athletic triumph and hope for the best with a group of other people. It made me realize that just gathering together to hope for the best may be one of the prime reasons people attend sporting events. At least in my section, not one person was using their mobile phone throughout the game, except for the fleeting time check or camera usage. Present and watchful was this audience. I felt like I was alive in the 90s again, when so much of one's life was focused on what was in front of one's face.

Just had to put it down.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Game Plan for Operation Quiet

Operation Quiet is beginning to sizzle in development ever so slightly, comrades.

For your entertainment, here is what I am proposing for my last 25 days in my apartment:
  • Leave the laptop in another room of the house. When I go to bed, if I can't sleep, I shall read a book or count sheep. I remember when I was a little boy, and those sleepless night required I do just that. The television was not allowed to be on after a certain hour, and the only computer heavily sat upon the desk in the office down the hallway.
  • My alarm clock is now my cell phone, so putting the cell phone in another room of the house seems impractical, yes? Thus! The phone shall remain on the other side of the bedroom during the night, waiting to alarm me at some hour the next day.
  • Upon waking up in the morning, 30 minutes will be spent either walking outside or reading a book on my back porch. This shall be done before I even think about checking my email or other social media. I may be a busy fellow in near-constant communication with others, but if communication has already waited through my sleep, another half hour isn't too shabby.
  • Utilizing one of the many tools on the iPhone for the good of my life, the TIMER shall allot 45 minutes each morning to the Internet research usage for pleasure.
  • I shall then pack and consolidate or go somewhere to write. Without the aid of the Internet's distractions.
Wish me luck! More changes shall be implemented as time goes by. You shall be kept in the know.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Day 1: Uncharged Phone

Me at the monument dedicated to Elisabeth,
Empress of Austria/Queen of Hungary, in
Budapest on October 26, 2011.
There's a scene in the musical Elisabeth called "Rastlose Jahre," meaning "Restless Years." This song, as songs so wonderfully can do, quickly jumps through the tortured empress' existential search for herself through travel. Whether she figured it out is debatable...

I feel rather similar. Whenever I have moved or traveled, the amount of growth in my sense of self (for the worse or better) is exponential. Our examination of relation with the other can reveal so much of what we do and do not know. But I want this search to be productive and informative. As I learned from a genius today, when we fail or slip up, we should do it so well that we learn something from it, not hit another dead end...

This Fall, I am traveling to Europe for 8 weeks. Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna, Brindisi, Rome, Brussels, and London. The latter will be a bit of a homecoming. Initially, I was going to "run away" to New Zealand for a year on the working holiday visa. But when I took a step back, I realized my search for myself in that way would be running away, I decided to change my course of action. I want to live a life of service and discovery, and hiding was going to stump that growth...

***

American Independence Day 2013, I left my iPhone charger in my dressing room, realizing this whilst on the bus ride home at 11:30pm. My next performance would not be until the next night at 8:00pm. I could have knocked on my roommate's door and borrowed his charger that night, but I took advantage of the semi-forced respite from constant technological communication.

Whenever caught in such a situation, I am reminded of two things. Firstly- that most of human history has seen the creature of habit able to let go of communication with through the ether when driving their cars or sitting in their buggie, so I might as well sink into that not-yet-dead quality of the human condition and embrace it. Secondly, that one of the most revelatory times in my life was during my semester abroad in London, where I had a "dinosaur" phone I used a handful times (with pixelated wallpapers!) and not-so-frequent access to WiFi.

As an acting student, I was taught to listen to my fellow actors' energies, the audiences' responses, and the words of the play. By embracing the "givens" (that which is "obvious"), I would learn a lot more about the story telling than if I tried to barge in and act upon too many pre-conceived notions.

I liken the smartphone habit that many of us in the first world have to those pre-conceived notions getting in the way of the "givens." As I look around my bedroom, I realize that I should clean it more often, and maybe sweep the kitchen twice a week instead of every fortnight. When I ask myself why none of these maintenance tasks seem to ever get done, I honestly answer, "Because you're spending your home time watching videos on YouTube and sleeping, and Skyping." I don't think I am the only person who walks into their house after work and immediately throws things to the side in order to turn the computer on. I have 25 days left on my lease for an apartment that has 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, a back-porch, large kitchen, library, living room, dining room.... You get the point- I live in a huge apartment, yet most of my time there is spent in my bedroom or in the kitchen, traveling a total distance of 20 feet. I do not ever actually enjoy that space, utilize it.

So I wonder what I am doing with my time and my life. As I prepare to move out and be nomadic from August 1-November 15, I am once again struck by how many papers and books and receipts and flyers I so unnecessarily hold onto. I am so grateful that I am moving, it is giving me a literal moment to wake up and smell the roses and to restructure for myself what is important to hold onto and what is not.

I want to wake up in the mornings and hear the silence of my home. To give my mind some time to consider the body it lives in and the life it lives before I turn on the cellphone and check my emails and my texts and my Facebook and my Twitter and favorite YouTube channel.

Be thoughtful. Be respectful. Be receptive.
I want to be real.

***

"We should absorb the music of all things inside us, fuse it to a unity inside us. We should bend over the heart of the Earth and listen to its beat."

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Phantom-18 Years Strong

There's almost always a "Phantom of the Opera" ticket lying around my home somewhere. But the newest one is special- It's going to be at the Providence Performing Arts Center with my grandparents, a few weeks after the 18-year mark of the day they brought me to first see it in 1995. Because of that gift of a day, and many other loving contributions later, I am where I am thanks to them!

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Farewell Speech

The Guthrie BFA hosts a private graduation reception at the theatre during the final weekend of performances. Some of what I said was very specific to that group of people in the room (teachers, classmates, underclassmen, families, friends, colleagues), all of whom are in the circle of my experience. As a result, I will share with you most of my farewell words to this four-year experience with some alterations.
It's a little rough around the edges, but most of this was off the tip of my tongue, and I've pretty much written the aforementioned selections of the recorded speech (thanks, Mom!) verbatim.
* * *
I grew up with Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and I had an extraordinarily difficult time loving myself as a human being and connecting with other people. But,  the other day, I'm sitting in my dressing room, and I'm working on a really special project that is a fulfillment of a longtime dream, and Jack Mackie, one of my classmates, is so supportive of it. And I'm thinking to myself, "Wow, I never would have thought, as a kid, that a cool guy like Jack Mackie would support me. And cool kids like Nate Cheeseman, even. I would have been so intimidated by them."

The best qualities of human beings are humility and empathy. Never strive to be the opposite. It is easy for all of us to get swept up in lies and gossip and pretentiousness because it is easier to do that than work at our best. Remember the beauty of seeing your classmates' hearts open and the beauty of them receiving your heart in return.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Equality...Empathy

Equality cannot be explained. Through my observation, understanding it comes from taking the time to experience new lifestyles/thoughts/geographies. Then, if we listen closely and actively enagge with one another, we develop empathy.  Sometimes, one must question the lens through which one was raised, which is often very difficult to do. However, I believe that until engaging with our empathy becomes paramount, the inability to understand difference will continue to be a carrot dangling on a string in front of us.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Process: The Rover

In makeup and costume as Ned Blunt in The Rover.
Every now and then, I'm going to share notes on a process (sometimes in hindsight, other times during) of an artistic nature. Likely, they'll mostly be about roles I play, at least for the next several years.
* * *
In November 2012, I and 14 others of my 20-member BFA class opened our university's mainstage production of The Rover. Ned Blunt was a special, special role in what I believe will be fondly looked at as the best experience of my drama school training (and I know will likely be so for several others in my class). The production was an adaptation by guest artist Joel Sass (who also directed) of Aphra Behn's 1677 comedy/drama. The adaptation did not update the language, but was a cut/edit to rearrange and shift certain scene perspectives. Like other modern productions, the action was changed from the Carnival of Venice to one somewhere in Spain.

This play is very rarely produced, particularly on a large scale. A quick search through PlaybillVault.com indicates that no Broadway production has ever been mounted. If you are unfamiliar with the play, Wikipedia has a rather comprehensive overview of the story. Similar to how many in the industry/academia consider Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, and The Taming of the Shrew "problem" plays,1 The Rover features women dealing with oppression and sometimes ambiguous motives for their actions, as well as the men's. There are attempted rapes, free-thinking women, including one who actively seeks out the love of the scoundrel title character (he tries to rape her sister). The play is mesh of action, comedy, female power, the male gaze, and characters' seeming ignorance.

The moment I received my script from the stage manager in early August (five or so weeks before the first rehearsal on September 12), I read through it twice. Then, I began to analyze Ned as best I could. The most important element of my process was to understand why my character is perceived as a fool/clown by the other characters. By finding answers through other characters' perceptive descriptions of Blunt, I then asked myself how I would be able to support their perceptions. Blunt does not think himself a fool, of course, but what could be his behaviors, social background, and physicality that would at least be perceived as foolish? From there, I could build those qualities up with truthfulness from Blunt's gestures and internal life. I have noticed that I seldom see clown characters in Shakespeare's plays played as true clowns/fools, especially when they are attacked, taken advantage of, and thus changed as a person because they start out as a clown/fool (i.e. Blunt, Malvolio in Twelfth Night, Parolles in All's Well That Ends Well, to name a few).  In my opinion, not playing the fool fully will result in a fuzzy presentation of their downfall... it will come off as confusing and unnecessary. In summation, what could I give my fellow actors to incite their perceptions of my Blunt, and thus truthfully move them to drag him down?

The givens of Mr. Blunt: He is wealthier than the other three English characters, naive with winning over women, and a "country bumpkin" from Essex. With these givens, I studied how the other three Englishmen were suaver, sexier, and more "action packed" in the script (and, eventually, staging). I had to contrast them in order to serve the text and story telling, in order to land the intention of the writer. They were punk-dressed and used Modern RP, I requested that I use a made-up English accent, crossing between Yorkshire (with its classic "u" sound, as in "cup") and Modern RP coloring in order to highlight his country "otherness." I figured I could get away with a creation of my own because the world within which our play existed was not realistic, and the idea of a mashed up accent is plausible, certainly (I have one in my own life, for example, since I've lived in RI and Minnesota for long periods). Plus, historically, accent has a great deal to due with perceptions of social acceptance in English culture.

To physically contrast the punk Brits who teased me, and the Spanish world my British character was visiting, I worked closely with the costume designer, Jonathan Singer. First of all, his design was so specific and clear with its aesthetic that it brought a wealth of inspiration. The feel of the pants around my waist, and the fit of the jacket, with the colors of the English flag and faded corduroy allowed me to sense who this young man was, and how he wanted to be perceived. He wanted attention, to be bold!
Most importantly, we discussed the makeup... I am of Mediterranean descent, and did not want to look as if I belonged in the Spanish world. We lightened my complexion, and added "rosacea" on my nose, cheeks, and forehead. The eyebrows were darkened and thickened to look as if they were in a state of lifted wonderment. Additionally, I had nearly no shading, rather opting to highlight most of my face, including near the eyes. This was to give the character a cherubic, naive look.

By having all this information ready, I gave myself much more room to play with my fellow actors from an informed, intelligent basis. I believe in spontaneity on stage, to live presently, but it must be crafted from a point of view and purpose. There are so many other options for entertainments out there. If I am to expect audiences to spend anywhere from $5 to $300 to see me perform, I better have more of a reason than just reciting lines and blocking. I expect the same as an audience member.

I don't want to delve too deeply into the implications of this role's purpose in the show at this time (that's a big debate, and another topic). But for now I am content to share a little snippet of how I approached this role, and certain aspects of how I engage with preliminary book work.

I believe that this and the Shakespeare plays listed above are considered "problematic" because of a fear of ambiguity in story telling. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the perpetuation of the "well-made play" came into accentuated acceptance. This is defined as a structure with thinly veiled exposition, with a specific rise and fall in action, leading to resolution. The Rover, arguably, has no neat resolution. Several characters, including mine, have stories which are not "wrapped up," as one might say. Actually, many consider these characters' actions offensive and unsympathetic.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Broad Lens/Specific Focus

Sometimes a photograph is so busy with stuff and ideas that one can't uncover its purpose. That may be a choice by the artist, but usually the viewer isn't trapped in a room with only that photograph. They can come to it on their own time. Sometimes they may even leave the photograph for a while and come back to it in order to gain a more fresh perspective.

Life, on the other hand, is always present, and thus relentless if it isn't handled with care. In the familiar spaces, one can be unwary of the possibilities for growth and thus, perhaps, empathy.

After spending the last four months of 2011 in London, with a 10-day sojourn through Eastern Europe, I had removed myself from the busy "photograph" of the United States for the first significant amount of time in my then 21.5 years of life. I was able to separate my own soul and mind from the social practices and beliefs of my native land. It is easy to be swept up into the hustle and bustle of a culture if it is the only thing one has ever known. To an outsider, it can be jarring. To an insider, that is just the way things are.

When I left for London, I was glued to my smart phone quite often, obsessed with checking my email, Facebook, and Twitter for some semblance of connection with friends and from others in the industry. Texting was nearly constant, even as I walked down the streets of Minneapolis or sat on a bus. I never took the time to face the world in front of me, no matter how comfortable or difficult it was being. I wonder how many stories I have missed out on because I had then (and admittedly still do now and again) spent time dealing with digital information in another space.

The fast pace of American life made everything a bit of a blur. According to Yale University's International Student Guide, one thing that may surprise students build is the individualism of our culture.
"In more collective cultures, accomplishments and successes may be viewed foremost as an honor to the group, for example, how it reflects upon one’s family or hometown community.  In the US, a person’s success is more likely to be attributed primarily to the hard work and perseverance of the individual."
The social constructs of the American dream drive the need to be competitive, to not lag behind. Look at Twitter. Hashtags appear during events with knee-jerk reactions being posted by twenties of people each few seconds.

Such a culture where the knee-jerk reaction is encouraged may sometimes get us to overlook the necessity to consider our words, actions, and internal monologues. Our jam-packed days, over-built cities, and countless sources of media leave very little space to meditate. As I write this, I miss the days where I woke up in the morning and listened to the sounds of my house, and the next action was stretching my arms as I stood. Now, I almost immediately check my email and social medias. I often try to let myself off the hook, Well, if I don't check it, I might miss out on a job opportunity and lag behind. The "classic" excuse of, if you can't beat them, join them.

I believe that I need to cultivate a sense of ownership and development with my creative, social, and spiritual self. It is easy for me to continue using social constructs that are very familiar as a crutch with which to stand. To coast through a day by "just getting by:" just passing the test, just finishing the paper, just memorizing the lines, just making an acting choice, just deciding to audition...in the nick of time.

The best actors I have seen are primely thorough. Through discipline, particularly in these distracting times, they spend hours preparing their roles. I can sense their specificity during their performances. In December 2012, I saw The Phantom of the Opera for the 16th time in London. That night, Marcus Lovett took the title of the 11th actor I had seen in the title role. Seeing this many actors in the same role has afforded me an example of the effects of thorough work. Lovett has stated that he arrives at the theatre quite early every day. He even has two white boards in his dressing room to give himself vocal/physical and acting ideas for each of his eight weekly performances. His research on the role is based on the Leroux novel of the same name (the inspiration for the show) and libretto, and he has asked himself practical and intuitive questions about the character. Thus, Lovett strives (and likely often succeeds!) in having a broad lens (all the research, information he has gathered for the character) with a specific focus (his character's dramaturgical purpose in the show, and his goals as an artist that day). [Check out his Twitter (linked above) and the backstage video with Time Out London here in order to find citations]

By reflecting on the work of Lovett and many others I have had the pleasure of seeing in other roles/shows, I have uncovered that I appreciate thoughtful thoroughness. I believe such a practice leads to accomplishment. It pushes individuals (not just artists) to have their content rule the context, rather than the other way around. Lovett's interpretation (content) of the Phantom fills in the blocking and music (context) with his uniqueness. I have seen other actors in the role rely too heavily on the context, and they are not remembered as readily in my mind, nor were they achievers of audience/actor reciprocity, via my observation.

So, how can I be more thoughtful and thorough, but live presently? Not just in my artistic work, but in my life. If I take a step back for a moment and truly look at the whole picture, I will see where I can navigate myself best, with my aspirations and philosophies guiding me.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Home Stretch

When the ritual of school is complete, a very new adventure shall begin.

Watch this space.

It will be time to own my story as I build it.