Thursday, June 21, 2007

5/5 Meme

Sorry everybody - I wrote a novel

1) Name your area of expertise/interest:

Writing and Directing for Theatre.

2) How did you become interested in it?

I'm trying to pinpoint how I became what I am. Hard for me to say, so here are some stories...

My sister and I were each others' sole playmates for a majority of pre adolescene. Our folks bought land way out on the dirt roads, wanting to get away from the city and the traffic and the people. One thing my sister and I did often was make radio shows for our folks. I can still remember my dad laughing at jokes me and my sis wrote and performed on cassette tape.

I remember in the third grade, There was this thing called the Magic Circle, it was a psychologic technique/tactic used by the grade school teachers to get kids to open up and share. There is a whole story in there about how my mother hated it cause of the "magic" association, but that is for another time. Anyway, I really wanted to be able to share but didn't have too many tramatic and hilarious escapades to recount, so I became a magnificent liar in the 3rd grade. That is to say, my ambitions as a liar were magnificent. The actual lies were so over the top I got found out almost instantly when in the presenc of grown ups. I was sent to see a psychologist who tested me and determined that I was so smart that 3rd grade reality was a bore to my advanced mind;). Someone somewhere suggested to my parents, hey if he likes telling grandious stories, put him on stage where he can do it without it being lies (this has my mind spinning. I so rarely go back to these memories.) We went to a community theatre, where a musical revue was being performed. I remember my dad saying "it isn't over till the fat lady sings" just then what appeared to be the biggest woman I ever saw grabbed her children, pulled them onto stage and they closed the performance in true Von Trapp family fashion.

Also, after seeing Star Wars and seeing behind the scenes film footage, that was the first time I realized that there were people who spent their time telling stories about places I'd rather be. My dad had bought me a book about the making of Star Wars or was it Empire Strikes Back (memory combines the images). I poured over those books, the evoloution of design for the animals, the aliens, the robots. And my mind filled with potential stories, most of those stories are gone to the ether...but my imagination was sparked.

The radio shows came back in the 5th grade, but this time it was me and a buddy from grade school. His name was Waco (after the town in Texas, which was his truck driving father's favorite). Return of the Jedi, or was it to be Revenge of the Jedi and the Hobbit cartoon were the major influences at that time. We held auditions in the classroom walk in closet for the female lead in our radio show.

I also believed that these people (actors,movie directors,etc.) lived in a lap of luxury. Somehow even at that young age, the concept of Hollywood wealth and glamour had been communicated to my young impressable mind. So I loved the idea of being a priveleged hollywood elite. Ha!

3)How did you learn to do it?

Directing came first, then writing came out of necessity.

While a college student in Florida, I learned to direct all my favorite playwrights. Then I moved to NY where all my favorite playwrights were busy producing and directing their own work already. The void of directors who worked with contemporary dramatists in Florida was already filled in NY. I realized that if i wanted to make a difference I needed to start writing. First I wrote so that I could direct. I wanted material that I could manipulate and control without worry, and that seemed the most obvious route.

Then eventually I wrote things that I felt only I could direct. This was becuase I wasnt able to get everything from in my mind on the page. The writer in me needed more time to convene with the director to work things out in the mind, on the page, and on the stage. I was utilizing the rehearsal process as an arena to complete the final draft of a script. This was an incredibly useful step for me when it came to realizing an arc to the story rather than just a series of interesting images. Which was my starting point. Eventually I learned better how to arrive at a "well made" story (Aristolean well made) Even if my scripts were "experimental" or "way out there".

Now, I'm thinking of myself primarily as a writer will the skills necessary to direct the shows. I am trying and succeeding I hope, to get everything on the page, even if that means stage directions that rival O'Neills.

Long story short, you learn by doing. oh yeah, and don't wait for someone to discover you. Do it yourself. But do it!

4)Who/What has been your biggest influence?

At what point in my life? This is a tough question for me, I have trouble thinking of one individual who through the years has been the site of inspiration or to which I held myself up to comparison.

In high school - Pink Floyd, George Lucas, Joseph Campbell, Bloom County
In Community College - Stephen Sondheim, David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman, Sam Shepard
At University - Art in America Magazine, Samuel Beckett, John Zorn, Maria Irene Fornes, and Erik Ehn
In New York - Julie Taymor, Guy Maddin, Mac Wellman, Robert Wilson,
In Chicago - Juxtapoz, Studs Terkel, Johnny Cash, Nelson Algren

Ok, the more I think about it, the man who probably more than any other set me on the path I'm on was my gifted teacher in high school, Jim Tiller. He challenged me to be more that a comedian, more than a laugh hog. He was the first person to tell me that I shouldn't just be an actor, that I should be a director/writer. No one else issued that challenge to me. And even though I didn't direct while he was still alive, his words seemed to rise back to surface a year into Community College when I started directing and loved it so much that I stopped acting.

5)What would you teach people about it?

Motion is holy...keep it moving...somehow...even if it is slow moving...active

Half as long, twice as good

Right out of the gate? Graduated high school and thinking about going to a college for a theatre degree? Don't! Unless you are getting a serious scholarship for a BFA program from the college. Most of these schools are now just sort of factories where the majority of the faculty focus on a minority of the students. The reamining students are allowed to tag along in order to help cover the college's cost of doing theatre, maintaining the building, and paying the teachers. Most BA theatre students will come out of their 4 year programs with only 1 or 2 performancess under their belt, lots of required time in the shop, hanging lights, sewing costumes. Oh yeah the student will also have spent 5 to 6 figures. Now if you were to not borrow that same 75,000 dollars and instead relocate to chicago or new york or la for 1 or 2 years, work the dayjob pouring coffee, waiting tables, etc. and try out for every show you can...

1st - You'll get a taste of the lifestyle that most theatre practitioners maintain after college while waiting or striving for that big break.

2nd - College will still be there in a year or two, and after actually living the life of a starving artist, you may discover that going to school for accounting, or a communications degree isnt all that bad.

3rd - Lets say that after 2 years on the street (ok you're now 20 years old, ancient!) if you still want to get a degree in theatre...you will have a leg up on your competition. You will have life experience, you may have a bunch of shows under your belt if you are lucky and/or hustled the past 2 years. You'll also have a firmer notion of what it is you want to do or say as an artist aside from "I like being in front of an audience". Most kids whether they want to be actors, directors, writers for theatre leave the college with a degree and an assload of debt at the age of 22. Most Americans and artists havn't really learned how to think critically as an adult at that point. That isnt to say that they dont have the capacity. What I'm saying is that they are still children due to experience. And even the most intelligent and observant child will lack the prespective of an adult. Life has to kick you in the nuts once or twice first before you realize things like the following.

-no one is going to just give you what you need in life.
-aside from your parents (if you're lucky) most people including some of your teachers aren't going to give enough of a damn if you starve to death.
-life is tough. You have to work for living. Only the lottery winners have it easy
-P.S. you are not going to win the lottery

Most the kids in school haven't realized this and they are on stages trying to use method techniques to play characters 10 to 20 years old than them. They dont have the life experience to play 40 or 50 year olds convincingly. The analytical tools they are getting would be better suited if they were all playing 20 year olds rather than dreaming of playing Martha and George in Virginia Woolf in their senior year. All this and they are going into debt. Regardless of any noble intent on behalf of its better teachers) the Univserity based Theatrical education model is a drain.

If after 2 years of striving and hard work, etc. etc. you still love theater and have to do theatre school then you can consider spending 4 years and tens of thousands of dollars getting that degree.

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