When I teach, to introduce my theory of why artists have to strive for the truth, and why telling their truth is the only way they will have a shot not only at a career, but more importantly, at fulfilment, I always ask the students a question; "Have you ever heard a song that made you feel like you just cried your eyes out ?" That question always gets a resounding yes. Every head nods, students immediately go to that sacred moment again. It's personal, and it's important. Then I ask, "How is that possible? How can a musician, possibly one who is long dead, know you that well?"
It's my way of introducing the value of laying bare your humanity for all to share. It's that artists truth that we are connecting to. It's the thing that makes us want to act in the first place. Someone, in a theatre, or a movie house or on a TV screen did something that smacked us between the eyes and made us say "yeah…that's right! that's exactly how I feel!!" and the inspiration for the actor to get up there and share their humanity is born.
When we are our best, that's how it feels. We get to share our feelings about the world that this playwrite or screenwriter has given us. It connects us to everyone who ever felt that too, and we feel it. And, we as actors LOVE watching fellow actors who make us feel that connection. Yes there is that professional unity among us that loves to compliment a good performance, but there is always that want for the piercing of our souls via the art. It's the most fun we have when it's not our turn to be acting.
I don't know her, or the history of the song, but I'd like to tell Natalie Merchant that King of May, might be the greatest homage/eulogy/tribute song for someone who has passed, ever. It's everything I'd do if I ever tried to write a great song for someone who was a king to me. It simply destroys me. I cannot hear the song without wondering how she knew exactly how I felt when my dad died 8 years ago. I can hear my sister's voice bouncing off the church walls as she belts that song out at his funeral, which didn't happen, but I can hear it. It makes my sit at my desk and cry about that day all over again. And it makes me wonder, how Natalie Merchant knows me that well?
Ah…these are the reminders and the artistic cleansers we need to avoid that "center on the universe" syndrom that will invade our ego when the pursuit of a career takes it toll.
Dear god we have a lot to share. Be brave enough to really share it. The monsters of this world have no problem sharing their anger, politicians their ambition, and celebrities their insecurity. Share the good stuff. Please. There is a fellow artist somewhere sitting in his office sobbing and having a moment with his dad because you did.
Ms. Merchant, wherever you are, I can't tell you how much I appreciate you braving the elements and singing for us.
In reading my Sunday LA times I read two articles that had me more scared for the future of the country than normal. I know we cycle through things, and old ideas, especially in fashion, become new again. It's the idea that everyone is under suspicion in this time of terror activity that is cycling back into our society. Not as blatantly as it did in 2002 but it's still here perculating and it's troubling. It's the concept that as artists with our free speech needs, we can express freely, as long as those ideas are not seen as terrorists ideas by the folks in charge. Remember the vigor McCarthy had in going after writers in Hollywood? Aren't we allowed to be Communists in America? Aren't we, infact, guaranteed that right?
There is an artist named Alex Schaefer who was painting on a street in Van Nuys and received a vist from two local police that wanted to ask him about his painting. Someone "had called in saying they were threatened by his painting" and the police had to investigate. His subject? A Chase bank branch in flames. He was asked about his intentions and if he was a terrorist and if he was going to follow through on the vision in his painting. I'm sure a lot of folks would see this as a good precautionary measure, but here is my issue…
On page A16 there is an article about how the NRA seeks to take another clarifying argument concerning the 2nd Amendment back to the Supreme court to get a ruling that states in plain english that every person in America has the right to carry a concealed weapon. This massive lobby group that is dedicating it's time and considerable money to the principle that we have the right to carry weapons at all times is seen as just defending our rights, but this painter who is expressing himself as an artist, is questioned twice by police about whether his hours spent painting something is really a gateway exercise to the plan to burn down the bank, which is, somehow, a terroist action. Gosh, I wonder if the manager of the bank (who was quoted in the article) called the police saying he was threatened by a man who was painting his branch in flames?
Don't start with the old; "you can't be too careful these days " dialog with me either. That's how McCarthy and Hitler started their reigns of fear, "Everyone is after you! Look! A guy with a paintbrush!!" In the big picture the NRA is doing is what they've always done; fighting to make your world "safer" by defending everyone's right to carry a gun. Ask Gabby Giffords how much safer she feels knowing that all the people of Arizona might soon be allowed to carry guns under their jackets.
So, to summarize… if you express your 1st Amendment right in a safe way, that contains a violent overtone (which is also your right) you are a suspected terrorist and need to clear your intentions with the police. If you lobby the Supreme Court for clairification of the 2nd Amendment that will win the right for all Americans to carry violence in their pockets, you're a patriot fighting for your rights.
Not everyone looks forward to expressing like we do. Artists, you must keep speaking up and making your thoughts known. Because, I ask you; If this man was painting a bakey in flames, do you think he would have been questioned about it? There is a system in America that says "Whoever has the most money is right." We hear it everyday and we learn it with every piece of lousy legislation we are forced to live with.
Paint every feeling you have about the system, write songs, create operas and musicals, write plays, keep expressing as purely as you can. Our connection to the human spirit is the world's only antidote to the corporate message of fear and control that makes my Sunday reading upsetting not just a couple stories about a guy who was rounded up because his painting expressed a vision that was a threat to society, and a huge lobby group that holds the vision that every person you pass should possess a threat to society and is getting ready argue for that vision with the highest court in the land.
The Working ActorThe Top 10 Acting MythsBy Jackie ApodacaAugust 15, 2011
Saw this and thought it was good food for thought. I don't know Jackie but I think she makes a good list.
I used to be the laziest, least ambitious person I knew.
Last week I went to the funeral for the father of a classmate of my daughter. My daughter wasn't able to go so I went. It made me feel like a grown up because even though I didn't go to "say goodbye", it was the right thing to do as a member of this community.
I do know his older daughter, I coached her in softball. She is a lovely girl who I tried to counsel during a crying fit at our last game. She dropped a ball that she thought cost us the win. It didn't, but her heart was broken just the same. I never met her dad, the man who died suddenly from a car crash last Monday, during any of the games.
The large church filled slowly, I only knew a few people in the crowd and I didn't speak to any of them, I just sat alone just observing the room and watching the slide show that played clips of his life. Then I read the funeral card they gave me when I signed in, and I saw his birthdate, and I saw a note from his girls, and suddenly I could not stop sobbing. Everything just hurt. I cried like I had lost a vital part of my world. With no explanation, I just kept getting pounded by waves of ache and cried.
I got up to find a tissue and spotted a friend who hugged me and we sat together and that helped, but the feeling stayed at throat level for the rest of the ceremony. I wept and listened to eulogies and learned, in teary snippets, about this man. In this environment, we have the grace of feeling great about someone, and feeling lousy we didn't spend more time getting to know him, even when we didn't know them at all.
And that was my take away.
How do we spend our time? I know this is an old theme and one that gets used in everything from greeting cards to business management courses, but I had a clear view of this from my seat in the church. Time. How do we spend our time?
I don't mean; Do you spend it "effficiently"? I mean; In what frame of mind? How do you use that space in your head? "Use your time wisely!" We hear that a lot, but it's difficult to know what wisely is, isn't it? I got a fresh view of it and I'm happy for that. That a man nearly my age with two (not three) daughters, who was a wild man of adventure and loved his music, loved his kids and made a room full of people (even strangers) cry madly, made me consider what I am doing with my time…and it did my heart good.
I went to my car and called my wife and cried all over again telling her how damn sad the whole situation was. A wife lost the love of her life, two girls lost their hero, and a family lost a beacon of light. Telling them that they should feel lucky for the time they did have with him is trivial. Time with him is what they want.
To the Mann family; I am so sorry for your loss.
A couple weeks ago I took my Goddaughter to college because college was on this coast and she had only the bus to get her from Sacramento to Chico. I have not seen this girl in 15 years, we keep up on the phone and email but we haven't had time together since our tea party at her house when she was 4.
I interrogated her about her college life and career trajectory and such. She is an RA, which, as she describes it, sounds like the last thing a college person would want to do in college. She is the den mother for a floor of girls in her dorm and she flat out loves it. And not the kind of; "I love it, but…" love. Nothing like that ever came out of her mouth as we walked the various big box stores getting her the necessary dorm room accessories. Not once. It was all positive. As an RA they pay you, and feed you and you have to be the answer person, the comforting ear, the decorator of 6 bulletin boards and the constant cruise director arranging things for your floor to do as a group. That sounded like a lot to do while you are also trying to get a degree. It was a new experience for me to see someone so young and so competent be so darn at ease with her life. She had no anxiety of this new school, new state, new floor of girls, new group of fellow RA's, and mostly; the expectations of all those girls on her new floor.
I kept offering to write her introduction speech for her with all sorts of clever braggert lines, she would chuckle and say, " I think I have a handle on my speech but thanks." You see, I've grown used to hearing people complain about being too priviledged in America. "Yeah I've been on a hit TV show for 10 years but my movie work isn't respected…", that sort of thing. Students never have enough time to enjoy their student life, actors without agents moan about getting one, actors with only a few auditions complain about getting rid of their agent so they can get more auditions, working actors complain about getting a better acting job than the one they are on…I'm used to it. I expect to hear it. I wrote my book to try to combat some of it. This time with her had me feeling like something was missing from her character. She had to be more uptight didn't she? "She just covers her anxiety well" I told myself because I wasn't easy with how easy she was through all this.
I hung my last sweater (imagine, she brought sweaters to California) getting her settled in and I left her and her mom in her dorm room and drove back to where I was staying. I used the drive to think back on the day and figure out how darn calm and confident that girl could be at 21. What came to me was a single word…
She was grateful for this school and this life and my time with her, and the RA job, all of it. It was so off-putting to be with someone who was so honestly grateful. It made me think hard on how I got here.
Why is she grateful? Now, doesn't your mind go right to; "Well give me some background, and we can figure out how she'd get that way…" And that's the point. We all give ourselves reasons why we live the way we do, especially the chosen folks who work in the biz. Aren't we the example of how good things can get in life? Don't we all strive for that exclusivity that comes with being famous? We are different because we entertain, right? It's a big responsibility. But how many of the actors that you know are really grateful to be actors? How much time do we waste complaining about what should be?
I'm so glad I had the time with my Goddaughter. She has no idea how far ahead on the fulfilment curve she is, but I do, and I'm jealous.
Neon lights, mile-wide billboards, and monster screens are not the only things that make Times Square a wonderland. On the ground – far below the hi-tech spectacles, and scattered throughout the hoards who visit the theater district each day – are live actors performing for the crowds.
Yes another clipping from Backstage…
I just loved this idea of actors taking to the streets to promote other actors and their shows in NYC. They hand out discount vouchers for shows. This might be the difference between people seeing the show and not, due to finances. I believe that art should be affordable for all if a society is to remain civilized. This isn't quite that but it's win-win in that actors take to the streets and…act for the sake of getting folks into theatres cheaper. It's a slice of genius. I also love the comment by one of them that now that he now loves toursist and the chaos of Times Square.
This looks really fun and as far as marketing goes, it's nice to think someone in the theatre world thought to use live actors to promote live theatre. What took so long?
So, You Wanna Start a Theater Company?By Simi HorwitzAugust 4, 2011
It is my contention that the future for actors is to form groups where you create and own the product. The "producers fee" from the sale of the product will be the only way actors can earn a living by acting. This is an article about an NYC actor who is producing his own plays. I have not read his book, but his answers in the interview are great insight for how to get thinking about building your own shows.
Click the small link above to read the article.
I'm not going to say love it, but I like it a lot because it's brave. It throws every possible demographic and nerd and loser and bombshell and thug at the screen and they all…sing. They allow every dysfunction between high schoolers to take place and they sing about it. I am so tired of watching shows where every kid's idea of how to handle anything difficult is to get drunk or fight someone. You might say, "Yeah but that's reality" and I would say "Yeah that's because that's all we've been modeled since we first started watching TV and, by the way, that's not how I dealt with things so…there!" But here is a hit show where even the geeks and losers find solace in something other than more self hate. But if you long for a bit of hate there is always the genius of Jane Lynch.
I like the current trend on TV shows that are bent on showing off art and artists, even the dreaded reality shows that turn everything into a contest. At least those folks are being judged on their dancing or singing or performing. The shows all point young minds toward cultivating themselves as artists to become a stars. Not trying to simply be a celebrity or worse yet; notorious (on a side note I wish everyone would just pull their pants up already. That fashion trend is so played out. Young America…by the time the fashion trend makes it to you, the folks that started it have moved on).
Art has gotten short shrift in America for a long time. Reagan started it by cutting the endowment for the arts budget and then school budgets and there hasn't been a political saviour since. We will spend a trillion dollars on defense next year and the budgets to both the NEA and NEH are being cut. Art is seen as an extra, as an expendable. But look at what's happened. The artists just keep coming back and making noise to be seen and heard. I love that these shows are hits and that kids everywhere are throwing their efforts on Youtube. I don't care how poor the video quaility might be, effort is everything. When kids everywhere are trying to best Glee's version of "Don't Stop Believing," it's very good news for society as a whole. The word is inspiration. These shows are inspiring the artist in all of us to just get up and contribute because right now it's cool to do so. I read there are 2 more singing shows coming on the air…good. One thing I'm sure of is there is more than enough talent to fill them, whether those folks tryout or not is another thing but after 25 years in this biz I can tell you conclusively, the ranks of artists runs very deep. It's the politics of competing that keeps absolutely every artist from trying.
I spoke at an acting for non actors class and all I talked about was how they should use the class to simply be as silly and outgoing and risk more than ever had before because it might be the only safe place they ever find to do that. The teacher emailed me the next week to say that a student in that class had decided to run for student goverment because my talk got her thinking about risking. Art inspires all.
The more we press to make art the way to deal with our fear and leave behind the morally bankrupt ways of the past, the better shot we have at really leaving the world better than we found it.
Okay, while looking for links on my book to update the site I found this blog by a fellow actor, teacher and Meisner student. It was written in 2009 and it's about me and a play I did years ago and a questionable incident that he compliments me for but I have to say I don't remember at all. His manner is quite nice and he points out that I affected him in a good way, but gosh…it's odd not to remember things like that.
The social network is really a replacment for the old "I went to a play once and the guy on stage…" kind of dialog we used to have and overhear and then of course repeat to others. Now…we can just bring up the original source of the "rumor." people are being quoted on their blogs. Which is just ramblings isn't it?
In any event, I write this as an endorsement of the sharing of personal dialog among artists and how we should seek to influence one another with how we feel about what we encounter in this journey of life and career.