Friday, November 30, 2012

Live Tweets for LOVE SONG!

On opening weekend, we were excited to have Megan Smith (@mightymegasaur) in our audience. We asked Megan to use her phone to “live tweet” throughout the show, letting fans know about her thoughts about feelings about LOVE SONG while it was happening (think: running commentary that you hear on DVDs, only it’s on Twitter in 140 characters or less!

Without further ado - our Live Tweet Transcript!

Show: LOVE SONG by John Kolvenbach
Theater: The Seeing Place Theater
Date: November 24, 2012 (8pm)
Tweeter: Megan Smith

7:15pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Live Tweeting for “Love Song” tonight, very excited! @TheSeeingPlace (@ ATA’s Sargent Theater)

7:30pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Cast warming up pre show #lovesong @theseeingplace

Photo by Megan Smith
7:35pm Megan @mightymegasaur
The lovely stage manager/actor Shannon MacPherson from the booth #lovesong @theseeingplace

Photo by Megan Smith
7:40pm Megan @mightymegasaur
“the pre show music is kinda dark and intense so I like to play something light for the actors” -Shannon #lovesong

7:45pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Shannon was right, we just switched from some rocking Black Keys to brooding Smashing Pumpkins :) #lovesong

7:46pm Megan @mightymegasaur
House is open! #lovesong

7:50pm Megan @mightymegasaur
However far away, i will always love you…Singing along to #Lovesong by The Cure brings me back to my high school days

7:55pm Megan @mightymegasaur
I hear there’s a big secret in this play. Hooray potential #spoileralert. I can’t wait to see if I can figure it out! #lovesong

7:58pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Looks like a full house tonight #lovesong

Photo by Megan Smith
8:03pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Very intense opening moment inside the characters paranoia. Great setup. #lovesong @OhBrandonWalker

Photo by Matthew Sussman
8:09pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Taking Joan’s side on this one, u shouldn’t cry when ur boss tells u to file correctly. Oh & keep your underwear out of sight lol #lovesong

8:16pm Megan @mightymegasaur
A human baby in a box?! Lol #lovesong

Photo by Matthew Sussman
8:25pm Megan @mightymegasaur
So true! “I was in love and in Paris, you keep the ashtray”-Molly aka @erincronican #lovesong

8:28pm Megan @mightymegasaur
ohhhh…k…..”I don’t want to have a fork if it’s going to lie to me”-Beane aka @ohbrandonwalker #lovesong

8:46pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Okay there must be a secret here about their relationship… Who is she, really? #gettingwarmer #lovesong

Photo by Matthew Sussman
8:51pm Megan @mightymegasaur
#liberated Beane is cracking me up #lovesong

9:01pm Megan @mightymegasaur
“what secret ingredient makes you think things are possible…fucking”-Beane #lovesong

9:03pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Apparently Harry is turned on by fruit stands lol #lovesong

Photo by Matthew Sussman
9:10pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Who likes the new in love version of Beane? If you’re following/watching, let’s take a poll #lovesong #newbeane or #oldbeane? #intermission

9:23pm Megan @mightymegasaur
“it’s like I’m cutting class, smoking pot, and tricking my mom… It’s exciting”-Joan #lovesong …HA yes.

9:31pm Megan @mightymegasaur
#newbeane is romantic bringing Molly flowers and telling the story of how they met :) #lovesong

9:35pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Ahh love “I will build a house in your molars”-Molly #lovesong

Photo by Matthew Sussman
9:40pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Oh snap the secret is out! #lovesong

9:50pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Genius use of the set here in the 2nd act, bringing back that intensity of the closing walls, very nice! #lovesong

10:01pm Megan @mightymegasaur
These poetic turns in the script are really interesting, nice juxtaposition with the comedy #lovesong

10:03pm Megan @mightymegasaur
#curtaincall and a little closing speech (sorry its blurry!) #lovesong

Photo by Megan Smith
10:15pm Megan @mightymegasaur
Took a quick survey of audience, seems abt half & half as to who was able to figure out secret but it certainly evoked emotions #lovesong

Doesn’t that make you want to see the show? :) Get your $12 tickets here:

Be sure to follow Megan Smith on Twitter. And, while you’re at it, follow us as well!

Friday, November 23, 2012

From the Rehearsal Room: Javan Nelson as "Bill"

As a special feature on opening weekend, we're excited to introduce you to our cast members and their experiences creating the world of LOVE SONG. 

LOVE SONG opens November 23 and runs through December 9 - Wed-Sat at 8pm and Sat-Sun at 2pm. For tickets and information, click here

Introducing: Javan Nelson, who's playing Bill in LOVE SONG. Here is his first-hand account of the rehearsal process. 

A good friend of mine and a fellow actor holds as his personal career motto: "speak it into existence." I've heard the phrase over and over for months, as he pummels along in his journey toward stardom. Sage words, I always think, considering them mildly as another of those upbeat, motivational catchphrases to be stored in some mental knapsack and brought out occasionally for particularly blue days. The other day it was finally brought out, leading me to an incredible breakthrough in my acting process--but in a way I never expected.

Several days ago the director of our current production, LOVE SONG asked her actors to prepare for a scene. She charged us to speak out our feelings, motivations, and objectives out loud as our characters. She explained by doing so we were helping to make our characters' circumstances real to us in our minds. We were speaking the fictions of the play into a truthful existence. Now, many actors may have learned this simple technique when they first began studying their craft. It may even sound rather, well, "duh!" to some of you readers. But if any of you actors out there are like me (I imagine there must be some of you), speaking into existence is a procedure you have probably overlooked.  

Certainly I have come across this concept many times throughout my artistic development, even utilized it continually in my work, whether it be through in-character conversing with my scene partners during rehearsal or reminding myself of my objectives backstage before a show. My oversight, however, has been to take advantage of speaking into existence, thinking of it as a mental exercise that can be accomplished in one's head. I have been thinking into existence rather than actually saying the words out loud. To my great surprise, the two are not nearly the same and both are necessary in creating strong work.

Physically verbalizing my character's thoughts--his feelings, his desires, his fears--has proven incredibly helpful in convincing my mind the thoughts it is manufacturing for a character are actually true. Particularly for the character I play in "Love Song," the technique has deeply advanced my preparation for a performance. Bill is a lowly waiter dealing with a heavy sadness at the time of the play. He has decided, however, today is the day he moves on, finding happiness once again, whether he's ready or not. I began practicing speaking into existence during rehearsal a few days ago, talking out loud as Bill. I confessed to myself that I was sad and coached myself on all the things I was going to do to make myself happy again. While I was not particularly down that day, this silly act of saying out loud that I was sad completely changed my mood. I was able to reach an emotional depth I simply could not achieve if all the work had stayed in my head. And because Bill (like Javan) was trying to convince himself he could feel something he wasn't feeling right now, every time I confessed sadness felt like a new stab of torture. It heightened the sadness, hence heightening the obstacle and the desire to overcome the obstacle. Of course, none of this work would have been effective if I had not prepared my creative work and done a substantial amount of mental work; but by putting the work into the air rather than keeping it trapped in my crowded head, I was acting out in real space rather than my own theoretical headspace.  

For those of you who may be like I have been in the past, I know what you're thinking: this seems deceptive. You can really convince yourself of something by saying it out loud? The scary answer is "yes" (and I'm just as surprised myself). It's truly astounding how we can manipulate our minds with the proper nudges. I must reiterate, none of the verbalization would have been helpful if I had not first been implanting conscious mental thoughts--before you can speak into existence it's crucial to try thinking into existence first. But by ignoring one technique in favor of the other, it's very possible you're robbing your acting of its full effect. And if you need further proof, I urge you to try it yourself. If anything, it's incredibly simple and entirely worth the shot.

Now, I realize the "speaking into existence" that my actor friend regards as a personal motto is a bit different than what I have talked about. His speaking into existence refers more to sayings like, "I will book a gig this month," in order to motivate the psyche and encourage your self-esteem so that you have the confidence to accomplish your career goals. In the course of writing this blog, however, I discovered a powerful link between the phrase my friend holds dear and the one my director asks of her actors. Verbalizing your career-oriented goals and verbalizing your character's thoughts go hand in hand. Speaking your character's thoughts into existence may very well improve your work, and when you feel your work is strong it becomes much easier to convince yourself you can reach your career goals. Personally, I always feel encouraged about making my dreams come true by knowing those dreams depend on the reality of my own strengths as an actor. I'm a big proponent of giving yourself hope--our futures are in our own hands, we have only to apply ourselves to the greatest parts of our own abilities. So, don't be afraid to put yourself out there. Speak out!


Javan Nelson is an alumni of the University of Arizona Fine Arts Acting Program. His work in the NYC area extends through Stageplays Theatre Company (Narrator, Someone Should Kill That Bastard Bran Bentley *staged reading), Random Access Theatre (Orsino/Antonio, Twelfth Night), Columbia University School of the Arts (Archibald Higbie, Spoon River Anthology), and Rescue Agreement (Nikola Tesla, Electric Eden). He has also worked regionally with Arizona Theatre Company (Tom u/s, The Glass Menagerie), Arizona Repertory Theatre (Adam, The Shape of Things; Peter, The Diary of Anne Frank; Costard, Love's Labour's Lost), the Rogue Theatre (Improvisor, BoMA Improv Troupe), and the Now Theatre (Ali, The Retreating World). He is thrilled to be a new member of The Seeing Place, bringing vital theater to a hungry audience.  Web:

From the Rehearsal Room: Marnie Klar as "Joan"

As a special feature on opening weekend, we're excited to introduce you to our cast members and their experiences creating the world of LOVE SONG. 

LOVE SONG opens November 23 and runs through December 9 - Wed-Sat at 8pm and Sat-Sun at 2pm. For tickets and information, click here

Introducing: Marnie Klar, who's playing Joan in LOVE SONG. Here is her first-hand account of the rehearsal process. 

LOVE SONG is the first production I’ve been fortunate enough to work on with the great people of The Seeing Place Theater. After seeing numerous examples of Erin and Brandon’s work in other productions, I’m thrilled to now have a “behind the scenes,” if you will, or insight into the way they operate.

I’ve been acting for a while now and have learned several different acting techniques over the years. Usually, when learning a new process, I’m able to take all the variations I’ve learned previously and apply them into one solid form through the rehearsal process, which I’m therefore able to bring to the stage. Working with Brandon and Erin is also just that, however, they’ve added their own methodology to great success. Their process is so unique and yet it all makes sense.

After going through some table work/dramaturgy and improvisation exercises, I remember our first rehearsal we were on our feet for the first time, script in hand for two scenes. While it doesn’t sound too far out of the norm (incorporating the lines of the script, your intention and physical activities) that day we learned something called “speaking out.” This was a process very foreign to me, as it incorporates not just the subtext of the characters, but actually all the “actor thoughts” that are ever present in our work as well. I learned that while that seems easy enough, I’m not actually used to articulating every thought on my mind. I seemed to just relish in the word, “ok" but not everything that “ok,” really encapsulated. Such as, “ok...I feel incredibly awkward,” or “ok...this is what I'm talking about,” and so on. I learned that we're allowed to feel the things we're feeling and think the things we're thinking - now how do I actually incorporate those realities into my work?

One example that stuck with me occurred early on when talking through beat changes. If there's a scene where my character spans multiple thoughts & emotions, how do I take that journey? Speaking out allowed me to talk through my private thoughts as the beats progresses. These were things I had in my mind but has never articulated. With speaking out, I now understand completely why or how I would go from one though to another. And articulating it? That’s something I’m working on…


Marnie Klar is originally from Virginia Beach with a BFA in Musical Theatre from the University of Miami. While at Miami, Marnie performed in such productions as Into The Woods (Cinderella), The World Goes 'Round, Tartuffe (Elmire), Piece of My Heart (Mary Jo) and Mame, directed by the legendary Jerry Herman. Favorite regional credits include Three Tall Women (B), Wild Oats (Jane), A Lie of the Mind (Lorraine), all at the Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. Favorite NY credits include Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis (Venus- HERE Arts Center), Warning Adult Content (Elizabeth- Shetler Studios, TDG), Jewel Thieves! (Lady Lynne Fortescue- Time Square Arts Center), and Fleet Week: The Musical (Lucille Lortel Theatre- Fringe NYC '05 Winner Outstanding Musical). In 2011, Marnie presented her first all rock cabaret, "Marnie Klar Sings...," and was featured as part of the "People You Should Know" Cabaret Series at Don't Tell Mama.  Member AEA  Web:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Invites To Shows...Are They Spam?

As The Seeing Place is preparing to open LOVE SONG, many of us have a familiar sinking feeling in our stomachs that it seems is somewhat universal when it comes to putting on theater in New York.

Strangely enough, it's got nothing to do with the show.  We're scared to do it, certainly - but I've put my acting career on the line enough times to know that if I get slammed or praised, my ego might react for a little while, but it's probably not going to appreciably change my life.  We may not make our money back, but it wouldn't be the first time - and we've promised six plays this year.  Heck, we just sold a bunch of season tickets to those plays.  So, we're committed. 

What many of us are most scared of is alienating our friends when we ask them to come. 

If I tell my friends that I want them to see my show, then they tend to hear one of two things:
1.)  I want everyone to come see ME and support ME and look at ME and love ME!
2.)  I think of them as walking dollar signs - because I'm a producer on the project.

Here's the problem:  I have to market to people or they won't know about the show.  The world doesn't revolve around me, so we have to remind people that we really want them to come - or they don't.  I just missed a dear friend's show that I was dying to see, because he only told me once.  Surely, no offense is meant when we reach out a second or third or tenth time.  In marketing, it takes 7-10 times for anyone to take notice.  I've found that it's not a much better average with our peers.  We all lead busy lives.  We forget easily.  And in fact, I only come to my friends' shows when they let me know that they want me there.  Simply mentioning it is not enough.  I want to know that they stand behind their work.  I want to know it means something to them.  Why?  Because that means that it's better or I'm going to like it more?  No.  Because I know that they have something to share.  

I know I get confused when I reach out to my friends and get a response as though I've harassed them.  It's heartbreaking to tell someone how important they are to you and be met with, "Yeah, I heard you the first time."  Or "I've already supported you this year."  Partially, I get that response because we're in our fourth season.  But it goes deeper than that.  We live in a commercial city, and unfortunately we seem to have bought into the idea that Art is either a commodity or a favor.  It makes us sad. 

The thing is, I'll bet that most of us are not looking to impress anyone.  Personally, it feels good when people like my work.  It feels even better when people like The Seeing Place Theater's work - and I mean that.  But more than anything, we all kill ourselves bringing something to life.  And then we birth it for three weeks and it's done.  I want to share it with the people I care about.  And after the show is over for the night, I want to spend time with the people that came.  Because theater is (and always has been) about COMMUNITY.

We sit in a dark room and celebrate humanity together.  And then we have the opportunity to come together afterwards and discuss life.  It's unfortunate that the Theatre - and even movies - have become something of a bourgeois pleasure.  And that price is costing us something very beautiful.  The group of us at The Seeing Place firmly believes that the Theatre is an important past-time.  To us, it is sociology without the science.  And that's why we keep our ticket prices so low.  As screwed up as Lenin and Stalin may have been, they understood how mainstream cinema creates a common language for people of all walks of life to come together.  In their case, they may have been speaking of propaganda in film.  But it applies even more to live theater.  There's a reason why Harold Clurman referred to great plays as being "propaganda for a better life".

This is a call to arms.  We need a shift of focus in our community.  We're opening a show on Friday.  We want to share it with our community - especially with those closest to us.  It's not because we need our egos stroked.  It's because we want to share our souls with you.  And we want that to create something bigger than a show you came and liked.

Consider that, when I invite my friends, that it's as though I'm suggesting we go to a movie and hang out afterwards.  The only difference is that I'm providing the entertainment.  I expect that the show is only the first part of our evening together.  And I challenge this community to engage in that possibility with me and with The Seeing Place. 

We open John Kolvenbach's beautiful comedy, LOVE SONG, this week on Black Friday.  When you come, please stay after and crush a cup of wine with us.  How often does a community get a chance to conspire?  I never knew the exact definition of that word until an actress names Rhona Gold taught me.  It literally means:  To Breathe Together.  It's touched me ever since.

What thoughts do you have on the subject?

Friday, November 16, 2012

"Organic Theater" - Part 3: Objective

"Competition [in a scene] is healthy. Competition is life. Yet most actors refuse to acknowledge this. They don't want to compete. They want to get along. And they are therefore not first-rate actors."
- Michael Shurtleff

I don't normally find myself quoting Michael Shurtleff, but it rang particularly true when it was brought to my attention by Erin Cronican (our Managing Director), who is directing our upcoming production of John Kolvenbach's LOVE SONG.

There seems to be an epidemic going around our theaters.  I call it playing nice.

We spend our lives learning how to avoid conflict.  In my opinion, that's really the main thing taught in the majority of public schools: socialization.  But we get it from our parents, our peers - literally everywhere we turn, we're taught how to get along.  We learn very early on that Sharing is Caring, that we can't hit people or roar at them when we want something.  We can't just take food off of people's plates.  We learn to bite our lips, watch our mouths, hold our tongues...the sayings go on and on.  And all of these maxims serve us very well in life.  Not so well onstage.

The truth of it is:  we can't afford to behave onstage the same way we do in life.  Many of the great acting teachers have cited a difference between Naturalism and Realism onstage.  I'll go into greater detail on that in another post.  But the long and the short of it is this:  We go to the theater to see ourselves.  It's why we chose The Seeing Place as our name, the literal meaning of the Greek word, "Theatron".  In our minds, the theatre should be a place to express the things that we don't want to admit about ourselves in public.

We can hardly aim for that kind of goal if we insist on behaving in an everyday fashion onstage.  But how do we go about achieving that kind of heightened expression without setting blocking or levels of emotion?  What's to keep the strength of the story intact?  What's to keep us from avoiding conflict and behaving naturally, when that's what we've been taught all our lives?

In every theater around town, actors and directors alike stress the importance of raising the stakes.  But how do we do that? 

To answer that, I think Phil Connors says it best:

"It's the same thing your whole life.  Clean up your room.  Stand up straight.  Pick up your feet.  Take it like a man.  Be nice to your sister.  Don't mix beer and wine - ever!  Oh yeah...don't drive on the railroad tracks.  I don't know, Gus.  Sometimes, you just have to take the big chances.  I'm bettin' he's gonna swerve first.  I'm not gonna live by their rules anymore.  You make choices, and you live with them."
- Groundhog Day

Essentially, we have to change the way we're looking at the world.  David Gideon, my teacher, talks about the importance of recognizing the fact that we get applause onstage for the same things that we'd be thrown in jail for in real life.  But that's not just going to happen of its own volition.  We literally have to give ourselves permission.  Because there are no consequences onstage.  We're there to celebrate the reaches of humanity.  And we all have to play with the same kind of openness that we did when we were kids, playing make-believe. 

That said, there is still one more piece to the puzzle.  Simply acting with abandon doesn't help tell a story.  Though it's tempting, we can't just be free onstage. Why not?  Because that would destroy the reality of the play - unless the character is a psychopath.  We still have to live within some guidelines.

There is a sign posted in our rehearsal space.  It reads "GO AFTER WHAT YOU WANT."  And it really brings the whole thing to the surface.  How many people do you know that say they want to be actors, and yet when you ask them when they went on their last audition, they couldn't even begin to tell you?  I'll bet they have the same problem in their work onstage.

The singularly most difficult thing for an actor to find in a play is:  AN ACTABLE OBJECTIVE.  Many of us are taught to look for some action verbs or what our characters want is.  But in reality, what are our characters aiming for?  How are they going to get it?  Those are big questions.  And we spend a lot of time answering them at The Seeing Place. 

But it's not enough to have it in mind - in life or onstage.  We have to DO something about it.  I can know that I should exercise if I want to slim down until I'm blue in the face.  Nothing's gonna happen if I just think about it, though.  Sometimes, I literally need to force myself to act on my desires.  It can't be a matter of 'when we feel like it'.

Because our characters are at big points in their lives.  They're taking action.  There's a reason that Long Day's Journey Into Night takes place THIS WEEKEND at the Tyrone mansion - not last weekend or next weekend.  This is the time the family DID something.

I learned this from one of the greatest books on playwrighting ever.  On the second page, it says...

Let's begin the process simply, with a one-line definition of a story:
A speaker tells a listener what someone did to get what he wanted and why.

One more time, because I think it's important:
A speaker tells a listener what someone DID to get what he wanted and why.

The objectives are our lifelines in the theatre.  If I go head first after what I want, and you do too, then BAM - immediate conflict.  I've been told that the greatest stories happen when two opposing viewpoints on living go into battle.  Just because Torvald loses the at the end of Ibsen's A Doll's House, it doesn't mean that he shouldn't be fighting for his life all along the way.  Otherwise, we'll know what happens in the end before he does.  Our failures onstage are what tend to give us the greatest successes. 

It's in that collaborative competition that the story is told.  We can't afford Kumbaya in the theatre.  I don't want to give my scene partners the benefit of the doubt.  I want to challenge them.  I want them to challenge me back.  It's just like any other game we play.  We should play to win.

There seems to be this idea that in an ensemble theater, everyone should give to everyone else.  We agree.  But we shouldn't make ourselves smaller to do that.  I'll end with Marianne Williamson's overquoted quote that is especially pertinent:

Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate,
but that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us.

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won't feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.

It is not just in some; it is in everyone.

And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give

other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

What are your thoughts on the subject?
This is the third post in a series, defining methods The Seeing Place Theater uses in our rehearsal process to create Organic Theater.  

Other posts in this series:     Part One: Speaking Out  |  Part Two: Physical Reality

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Organic Theater" - Part 2: Physical Reality

This is the second post in a series, defining the unusual methods The Seeing Place Theater uses in our rehearsal process to create Organic Theater.

"We don't use blocking."  That used to be our catch-phrase.  You can't imagine how many people have been up in arms over that concept with us over the last three years.  There's always someone there to suggest that it's possible to craft moments, block things out to a 'T', AND live through a play as though it's the first time.  And while I suppose there is some truth to that in that we could easily represent life on the stage and pretend it's the first time, why wouldn't we just live each moment for the first time?

"How do we do that?"  You ask.  And it's an important question.  Many theaters just say they live it for the first time and still use blocking.  Some don't block and just encourage actors to find the story each and every night - and I suppose that if they were especially well trained, then that might work...but most aren't.  What we do is to answer a question, based in what I consider to be Lee Strasberg's greatest insight into the theatre:

What would I be doing if the scene weren't taking place?

When asked, most people seem to want to tell us what they'd like to be doing.  "Oh, I'd be at a bar with some friends."  From my understanding, Strasberg would commonly respond to this kind of remark by saying, "Great.  You go to a bar with some friends, and I'll get an actor who will actually do what he'd be doing here if the scene weren't taking place."  And that's the rub:
What would I be doing IN THIS ROOM if the lines of this scene weren't taking place?

And then we actually DO those things throughout our scenework.  That's our blocking.  That's our physical reality.  By answering this question, The Seeing Place is able to live through something onstage that is unique to each night, rather than setting the actions and their timing in advance. Another way to think of it is this:  If your scene partner had to run off to the bathroom and left you onstage by yourself, what might your character be doing here in your imagined reality?

To illustrate: Let's take the first scene of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for example.  What would Brick be doing if the scene weren't taking place?  Some things might be...
  • Cooling off from the hot day - might include fanning, ice from the drink, etc.
  • Drying off from the shower he takes before the play starts and any sweat that accumulates.
  • Keeping his sprained ankle elevated.
  • Drinking with the energy to fade out or "get that click" and maintain it, rather than to get drunk.
  • Getting dressed in silk pajamas...or getting ready for Big Daddy's Birthday Party - even though the lines might suggest otherwise.
At Strasberg's behest (which I constantly hear from my teacher, David Gideon):
Do what you would be doing if the scene weren't taking place, and don't stop doing it unless something happens to interfere.  But if there is an interference, stop and take the time to actually deal with it.  But as soon as you are able, go back to doing what you'd be doing if the scene weren't taking place - even if it doesn't make sense.

That's a very complicated statement - though we've found it to be relatively simple in execution.  Simple does not mean easy.  It requires a change of viewpoint from what we normally find in the theater.  Many actors in our mainstream theater seem to rely on the guidance of directors to be told what to do and where to go.  Even in TSP rehearsals, there is an occasional outburst of, "Just tell me what to do and I'll do it!"  But we don't let our group go through the motions onstage.  I'm not suggesting that there are not actors out there that are organic and alive in their work.  But we are a full company of actors that set out to remain creative in performance.  We have to keep our thinking caps on.  For us, it's not simply a matter of saying lines well or expressing whatever emotional reality is going on.  We're aiming to live fully into an imaginative situation onstage.  The tasks we do keep us concentrated and engaged.  We can't fake them.  That gives us grounding, whether or not we're having a good night at the theater.

The primary thing that The Seeing Place aims to create in our work is the simple reality.  If someone is drinking tea, we want them to actually make it and actually drink it.  If you need to sweep a stage, go ahead and actually sweep it.  That's the easiest part of acting.  As Lee Strasberg had posted over his door at The Lee Strasberg Theater Institute, "It's not about emotion."  That's not to suggest that the emotional reality isn't important.  But at Strasberg's insistence, we can't go for emotions:
"The emotions take care of themselves."

Of course, there will be exceptions and times when the play calls for something slightly different - as was the case in our production of THREE SISTERS, which had some "stand-in" props that were not 100% realistic.  But even then, we were still doing what we'd be doing if the scenes weren't taking place - within the confines of that reality.

Lee Strasberg's insight into this element of human behavior, which The Seeing Place uses in our work, is based in an observation that Strasberg made about people, which is that in life, we don't stop doing what we're doing to have conversations.

David Gideon, my teacher, has given the following example (I'm paraphrasing):  If we're driving to Boston, we don't stop the car to have an argument.  We may begin an argument and respond so intensely that we feel out of control and NEED to stop the car to deal with the situation, but as soon as we've got it back under control and can continue driving, we do.

And that's how The Seeing Place goes about doing something unique to each night.  Sometimes, the emotional reality interrupts in one place or another, sometimes it doesn't.  Sometimes, we're doing one activity in a certain place in a scene, sometimes another.  It's completely based on how things play out that night.  But it's all connected to the logic of the scene, the play, the character, and our own observations about people and our world. 

I've even used this approach in plays that were stringently blocked by a director.  In reality, the director doesn't want to have to block actors that stringently much of the time.  If the actor comes in with a logical life to carry out onstage, most directors are more than willing to work within it. 

All in all, I find it to be much more fun.  After all, it is a play.  :O)

What are your thoughts on all of this?

Other posts in this series:     Part One: Speaking Out

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What Is "Organic Theater"? - Part 1: Speaking Out

This is the first post in a series, defining some of the tools we use to make the theater you enjoy on our stages.

For a long time, we've been very hesitant to talk about our process.  It tends to get a bad wrap.  Anytime someone doesn't understand something we do, they blame the way we work - as though there would be no problems if we were to just follow the theatrical norms in our business. 

The biggest mystery seems to revolve around what we call "Speaking Out" (In the past, we've referred to it publicly as "Structured Improvisation", because we felt it needed a layman's term).  Over the last three years that The Seeing Place has been around, people have taken this phrase to mean anything from a lack of textual analysis to a complete disregard for the playwright.  Both could not be further from the truth.

It's hard to describe what we do in terms that people outside of it can understand.  As with bike-riding, there's a lot of jargon representing uncommon experiences - that are best learned in action, rather than words.  Simply put, "Speaking Out" is a means to combine the Actor's thoughts and impulses with the Author's words.

Speaking Out is a practice that we've borrowed from Lee Strasberg's work.  For those unfamiliar, I like to describe it as being similar to Meisner's Repetition Exercise, because it functions to answer the same problem -  helping the actor respond impulsively and get out of his own way.  As far as what we do at The Seeing Place is concerned, it is a rehearsal technique that allows our actors to actively keep their creative juices flowing and address any difficulties that come up.  The main benefit is that it forces actors to really talk and listen to one another.  As Bobby Lewis said, "If it's not talking and listening, it really doesn't matter how much more it is."

We've found that with Speaking Out, we are able to facilitate actors in effectively getting their work into their lines.  There is a common worry that speaking your thoughts will put you in your head.  That is not the aim.  It's not about creating new dialogue.  It's about living in the situation.  In our process, there should be no discrepancy between the actor's spoken thoughts and the author's written lines.  Speaking out is not private subtext.  The other actors can and do hear you.  They respond in the same way as you would to someone screaming "Hello!" at you.  Actors are encouraged to take the same energy of their thoughts into their lines.  This gives them a means of addressing expression - so that their work gets out of their heads and into reality.

Without giving a formal tutorial, what we do basically looks like this:

Let's say that the lines of the scene are:
A:  Hi.  How are you?
B:  I'm fine.  Thanks.  And you?

Speaking Out is loosely structured like this:
A:  [1st actor speaks his impulsive thoughts, then]  Hi.  How are you?
B:  [2nd actor responds, speaking impulsive thoughts, then]  I'm fine.  Thanks.  And you?

In action, let's say that actors A and B are in a lover's quarrel.  Let's say that A stormed out of the house, giving B some time to pack up and leave.  This is an example of how this conversation might manifest, while speaking out.

A:  I can't believe you're still here!  Hi!  How are you?
B:  I'm...really sorry, okayI'm fine.  I promise.  Thanks.  And you?

1.)  There is no distinction made between the author's lines and the actor's thoughts. (In the last example, lines are only in bold to provide clarity.  There should be no notable difference between lines and thoughts in either energy or volume.)
2.)  The actors thoughts affect the manner in which the author's lines are said. 
3.)  The actors can choose to speak freely within their own lines, but offer no improvised thoughts after they give the cue.
4.)  B is responding in situation to A's behavior, though not necessarily to the improvised words.  In other words, B does not say "What made you think I was going to leave?" 

It looks very complicated.  And it is at first.  There is a learning curve.  But only because Speaking Out requires actors to be active participants in their work.  They are forced to think on their feet.  They have to get personally involved.  They can't plan how they are going to say their lines.  They have to go with today's reality, right now.  It will be different tomorrow.  In this way, their work is full of life each and every time.  They also bear the full responsibility of communicating with their scene partners - because everyone is accountable to keeping the ball in the air. 

Every actor, I'm sure, can identify with the following experience.  You plan out exactly what you want to do in a scene, you have the creative juices flowing before you enter, you walk into the scene and...say lines without doing what you set out to do.  Oops!  We've all been there.  Speaking out gives you a practical tool in rehearsals to address those kinds of difficulties in the moment.

You may be wondering why anyone would bother with this kind of work.  First of all, it really is fun to live through an imaginary event, rather than represent it.  But the chief reason is this:

The playwright does not and cannot mean anything without the actor's interpretation.  In order for the playwright's words to sing, they have to resonate personally with the actors.

Also, please keep in mind that this is a rehearsal technique.  It's nothing that ever happens on our stages.  In production, you'll only ever hear the author's words, unless there is some unavoidable emergency - which happens in any production from time to time (it's the fun of live theater).  Most audiences comment that there is very personal character work and a lot behavioral nuances in our shows that the actors seem to share.  That's a direct result of Speaking Out.

You may worry that The Seeing Place does not hold writers in the highest esteem.  We absolutely do.  In fact, we do everything we can to dissect the situation, the story, the characters, and our own interpretations.  The playwright wrote way more than the words on the page.  A play is a skeleton.  It is our call as actors to give it life. 

Please comment and ask any questions you may have.  Please also share any experiences you've had in improvisation as a rehearsal technique.  Either way, we'd love to hear your thoughts.