Quotations: Volume 1

Here are some of the educational, inspirational, and humorous quotations from my classes this week:

- "You must have questions, but you might not be ready to ask them yet." ~ Movement Professor

- "My brother physically punches me every time I say a liquid U. 'Did you just say Tyoosday?' Punch!" ~ Voice Professor

- "Freedom is an artistic quality." ~ Acting Professor

- "How to stop is not a problem. How to start is." ~ Acting Professor

- "You had an affair with a pigeon, didn't you?" ~ Acting Professor to Two-Shots-Up, about her connection to an Exit sign during an exercise.

- "You can't walk in the same waters twice." ~ Acting Professor

- "Every generation says that theatre is going to die out, but it never does." ~ Textual Analysis Professor

- "Theatre can't be just about education, because if it is, frankly I'd rather stay home and have a cocktail." ~ Textual Analysis Professor

- "It was a cookbook. I loved it." ~ The Pro, on how bland reading Poetics was

- "If you write 'teaser' on there, I'm going to think you're talking about a guy at a bar." ~ The Pro, talking about our handout on stage terms

- "We are naïve people. We think the audience only perceives what we tell them. This is wrong. The audience perceives everything." ~ Acting Professor

- "You cannot fill a glass that is already full; it will only overflow. You have to empty it first." ~ Acting Professor, on why we have to break down our old habits before we learn new ones

- "When your art is your civil service, there is no boring exercise." ~ Acting Professor


Friday, August 29

I finally had a conversation with my movement professor about my lower back issues. She says that my issues aren't as bad as I think they are (probably because they've improved significantly over the last few years). She only notices the over-curvature in my spine when I'm doing exercises, not when I'm standing or walking. She says that we're going to work together, and she thinks that we can fix a lot of my issues. I'm thrilled.

We had our test over The Second Circle. She told us as we were taking it that she'd decided to make it pass/fail in order to make us less tense about the first test (which was beyond awesome of her). I think I nailed it all anyway.

We started with our test. We basically just had to explain what "destructuring" and "restructuring" are. I thought I'd done fine, until I realized that I'd just written about a paragraph on each, and some of my classmates were grabbing their notebooks so they'd have additional paper. So I might've been a bit too succinct... I'm worried about my grade, but it's only the first test. Once I learn her grading style, I'll adjust for future tests.

We went into tremoring after that. My body didn't respond well to the first two positions that we've been working on (ones where you're on your back with your feet in the air, and the tremors start in your legs). But we tried a "pelvic tremor" which she said works for very few people... and *BAM!* My body was shaking uncontrollably, to the point that I was frightened. It was UNBELIEVABLE, and SO COOL. It really shouldn't surprise me that the normal exercises don't work for me, and that I only respond to the thing that no one else does. I have always been a bit of a freak. I can't figure out why I keep forgetting that.

Acting was rough. We did an exercise where we were mentally exploring the concept of entirety, and separating our lives into chapters. For some reason, it made me intrinsically focused. Then I became self-conscious and felt the need to retreat. By the end, I was in a corner, preferring to be comforted by my favorite table (the one I bonded with earlier in the week) than connect with my classmates. It was such an unpleasant and foreign feeling. But clearly, the exercise worked; it taught me something about myself and brought me to a place I hadn't been before.

As class continued, things got tense as we moved into an uncomfortable, argumentative group discussion. And although I'm sure it's completely illogical to think this, I was worried the whole time that I'd somehow caused the whole thing. I felt as though the negativity I introduced into the atmosphere through my reaction to the exercise had infected the space.

I'm glad we have a few days to recover. This is one of a precious few weekends that I will experience in the coming year, and I think the time off is well deserved. It has been an intense and overwhelming week, and I need a little time to mentally adjust to this undertaking. And I think my class needs time to work towards the feeling of being an ensemble again before returning to classes.



Thursday, August 28

I got to school this morning around 8:45am. I left school around 8:45pm.

I'm pretty tired, but it was a good day.

In Movement, we started with our 5 minutes of jumping rope (although I think that "5 minutes" is suspect... it feels like far longer, and we made it through two full songs...), and then went straight into running laps. I think everyone is having leg pain of some sort as a result (I'm feeling it in my ankles and heels). We turned in our "personal injury report" (I just wrote about my back pain, TMJ, and stress stomachaches). We have a test tomorrow over "The Second Circle" by Patsy Rodenburg, which I haven't finished reading. Wish me luck.

In Voice, we started the "destructuring" process, through something called "tremoring". If you saw it in action, you'd think we were all delving into lunacy. It's actually really neat, but trying to explain it doesn't serve anything. Basically, you put your body into unnatural positions in order to induce shaking. It helps free up your breathing from learned behaviors. We're in the very early stages of learning it, so we're not shaking very much yet. I somehow managed to hurt my back when I was coming out of "child's pose" (like in yoga... it's a rest position, and there is NO reason that I should've hurt myself from it. I'm obviously talented in the self-destruction department). We have a test tomorrow on our first two FitzMaurice packets.

In Acting, we began to explore our space with the quality of flying and freedom. It was pretty much the best class ever. About 9 of us were just running around the room acting like 6 year olds (the others had different interpretations). I love re-entering states of child-like wonder, and that's exactly what we were encouraged to do today. We also had an exercise in which we rediscovered an object in the room. I picked a table, and by the end of class, I had named him Gino and felt a deep emotional connection with him. I know that sounds nuts, but I seriously cared for that table. I kind of miss him now, actually, as bizarre as that may be.

Textual Analysis wasn't nearly as intimidating as last time. We discussed our first reading of "Poetics" by Aristotle. At one point, we were on the subject of how Aristotle said a play was structured, so I said, "but that's using the assumption that you're dealing with a well-written play and a good playwright." That ended up being a far larger comment than I had anticipated, and led into an intense tangent. It's fascinating being surrounded by intelligent people. It feels like it's been so long since I've been under the shelter of academia, and I missed it. At my core, I am a student.

We had our first Tech class today from 6:30pm to 8:30pm. By that point, my whole class was exhausted and loopy. Luckily, we were only going over basics and getting a tour of the technically oriented parts of the theatres (catwalks, the booth, dimmer rack, storage spaces, and the like). We all wrote our technical experiences down and wrote our preferences for future assignments. I think I wrote that I preferred being a stage hand, working costume crew, or assistant stage managing (over house managing, light board operator, sound board operator, etc.). We'll see what happens.

Off to go study for tomorrow's tests!



Wednesday, August 27

Today was the second day of classes, and I'm already overwhelmed and exhausted.

Tonight I had to read the entirety of Aristotle's "Poetics" as homework for Textual Analysis.

For Movement, I had to write out my "personal injury report", explaining any physical ailments I have or have had in the past.

For Acting I have to read a couple of chapters from a couple of books, and also listen to some tracks from a CD that I don't have yet.

I felt like an idiot all day. Don't get me wrong, I'm a smart cookie. I just feel like I don't have the same working vocabulary for theatrical terms that some of my classmates seem to be equipped with. I'm also concerned that I'm at a disadvantage because of my ADHD. And on top of that, I don't really remember how to be a student anymore (several of my classmates are here straight out of undergrad, whereas I've taken a couple of years off).

In short, it wasn't a good day for me.

My legs hurt quite badly from the two days of jump-roping. I'm sure it'll get easier as time goes on and my body becomes accustomed to the trauma, but it's unpleasant at the moment. I think I'll take some ibuprofen before I go to sleep tonight.


Tuesday, August 26

To try to put everything from my first day of classes here would be far too long for anyone to want to read (and unless you really WANT me to scan each individual syllabus page by page, I see no reason to do so).

But here's an idea of what's going on...

I have Movement class every morning from 9:00am-10:25am. We all showed up in our requisite monochromatic clothing (worn in movement and voice classes so that the professors can better see our bodies). We began by asking for Bravery, Will Power, and Common Sense, all of which are required to be a good actor. Our professor explained that 90% of communication that Americans receive is non-verbal, which proves how important movement study is for actors. We will be studying the differences between "normal" and "normative" physical behaviors. We're going to start the class day with 5 full minutes of jump roping, which is not nearly as easy as it sounds. My professor commented today that our class seems to be pretty in shape, which should make things easier on us. We went through some "first day" sorts of exercises, which I think were so that she could assess our bodies and experience levels. We will be having our first exam on Friday, over the book "The Second Circle" by Patsy Rodenburg. Class ended with us asking for Health, Prosperity, and Harmony.

We have Voice class from 10:35am-12:00pm. That classroom has a completely different feel to it. In Movement class, everything is energetic and lively. In Voice class, everything is serene. The lights are all off, and we're laying on yoga mats for long periods of time. We're going to be doing a lot with "destructuring and restructuring" (I'll let you know what that means as soon as I figure it out). Our professor warned us that in gaining a more neutral speech, we might end up removing regionalisms and dialects that could alienate friends and family members (her brother apparently punches her whenever she says the word "Tuesday" with a liquid-u sound, so it's more like "Teeyoosday"). We received some handouts that we will be tested on this Friday. I was so relaxed at the end of class that I wanted to take a nap right there.

In acting class, I learned just how intelligent, opinionated, and vocal my class truly is. We spent the entire 3-hour class discussing (and occasionally arguing about) theatre as an art form. Apparently, we're going to be studying mostly Stanislavski and Michael Chekov. I have a grazing familiarity with Michael Chekov already, so I'm excited about that. But I think I'm behind most of my classmates in my knowledge of Stanislavski (I don't think a director has ever used the word "superobjective" in a rehearsal around me before).

Depending on the time of day you ask him, my professor will give you a different name for this class. So far, I've heard him call it "Textual Analysis", "Dramatic Analysis", and "Advanced Play Analysis". I'm sticking to Textual Analysis for now (which I admit is mostly because I enjoy saying the word "textual"). This is by far my most intimidating class. We have to learn not to project our ideas onto a text. The class is not about interpretation, but rather about reason and calculation. For example, we're not allowed to talk about someone in a Shakespeare play having "unconscious" desires, as to do so would be anachronistic. Freud was the first person to talk about the subconscious, so clearly Shakespeare wouldn't have told us that something was unconscious... I don't know. It's all very complicated, and my head was spinning for most of the class. Luckily, we only have it twice a week (thank goodness, because I think my head might explode if it were a daily event). We have been assigned to read Aristotle's "Poetics" at least once by Thursday (apparently we will be reading everything in this class multiple times, as "there's no such thing as a good first reading").

At the end of the day, I INSISTED upon taking a class photo. The rest of them begrudgingly obliged. Yeah, I know it was annoying... but in three years, they're going to be glad we have it.

Back Row: Wifey, D-Train, Iceman, The Pro, Big Show
Front Row: Two-Shots-Up, O.D., Disco (that's me!), Killer, Thrill, All-The-Way


Monday, August 25

Today was the All Conservatory Student Orientation. I am so, so, so excited for everything to begin, I can't even tell you.

The day started with the head of the program telling us, "You are an incredibly select group of people. Apparently, they watch 1200-1500 auditions each year, and only accept people who jump out at them as being special (my class is 7 males & 5 females, the 2nd year class is 4 males & 6 females, and the 3rd year class is 7 males & 3 females). He said that according to the yearly internal audit done by the university, our MFA acting program has been "shown to be the jewel in the crown" of the theatre program. He looked around the room quite seriously and said, "You guys are the future of the American Theatre -- it's all in this room."

Next came a discussion on safety procedures and "hurricane preparedness" (which actually seems relevant in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Fay -- the hurricane that was supposed to hit us, but didn't).

I was elected as one of two class representatives for the first year class (by "elected", I mean I was one of two people who volunteered, and the "secret ballot" we were supposed to have actually consisted of my classmates gleefully yelling out in unison to appoint me and my compatriot because they were glad to have dodged a proverbial bullet). The Pro is the other.

I've already gotten fitted by the costume shop for my understudy assignments, even though I won't audition for another few weeks, which was more exciting to me than it probably should have been.

We got a speech about having to pay our dues to the Actors' Equity Association (it's the union for professional actors and stage managers) now, so that we can get into their candidacy program. That way, we'll be eligible to join the union by the time we graduate.

We got all of the "scary" information as well. How, even though we don't have classes during holidays, we might still be required to be here (in case you have to work crew on Thanksgiving or have to go up as an understudy on Christmas Eve or something). We were told that our assistantship money will be cut if we get grades below B-level. Things like that.

Have I mentioned that I'm excited? Because I am. Seriously.

Classes start tomorrow. :)


Friday, August 15

Another email from my movement professor.

Hello, everybody:

I forgot to mention something VERY important for the first day of class: a jump rope. We will be jumping rope for five minutes a day to increase cardio/lung power. Did you know that five minutes of fast jump roping is equivalent to running for 40 minutes?

You will also each need a mini dvd tape. This you can purchase by the third week of school.
We use these to record your Alignment work, from the beginning to the end of your study (two years).

Did you know that there are 57 muscles in the face? 26 bones in the feet?

See you soon!


Wednesday, August 6

I got the following email from my Acting Professor:

Dear First Year Students,

In a few weeks we begin our year-long collaboration. In lieu of an introduction, I would like to share with you a few of my thoughts at the start of the year. The first conservatory year is typically dedicated to truth, to discovering the reality of an actor’s life on stage. Our ability to truthfully live onstage is at the very core of our creative process. But what is this truth of which we constantly talk? Does being truthful onstage mean that we need to appear natural, or does it mean that we actually need to live onstage as we do in everyday life? And if the later is true, then how?

Not many things in our everyday lives are preplanned, and even things preplanned get adjusted on a consistent basis. Life bombards us with “circumstances” and, as they hit us, we react accordingly. This is the truth of our lives. So, why is it that onstage we have to be in full control of all “circumstances”? Do we feel lost otherwise? Is it, perhaps, that onstage we feel the need to be more “expressive”, more “effective”, more “telling” than in real life? Do we feel that otherwise the essence of our character and their intentions might be lost on the audience? This need to be expressive, effective and telling compels us to control our every move onstage—this need compels us to “perform”?

We need to hold on to what we discovered in rehearsals, we need to convey the idea, we need to stay true to our character, to the director’s vision. We need to make sure that we preserve the blockings and won’t throw off our partner… We need to, we need to, we need to… So, where is the space for our creative freedom, for our spontaneity, for unpredictability? And what is our role as actors? Are we creative individuals, or mere copyists of someone else’s intentions? Perhaps, the best we can be is effective, expressive and telling “transmitters” of our own creative discoveries? The creative life, the creative process takes place at home and/or in rehearsal, while in our performances we merely copy those beautiful results. Does this mean that our audiences never actually see us create, but rather just recreate? Does this satisfy them, does this satisfy us?

I intentionally present these questions to you, with no attempt to provide any answers. We have a year to answer them together… What are some of the challenges I foresee on our way? As banal as it might sound, one of the main challenges I foresee is the struggle to balance the studio (classroom) part of our training and rehearsal work with the actor’s homework. For some reason (a lot of it having to do with the constant lack of time) we, contemporary actors, often skip the homework part and rely exclusively on the training/rehearsal period in our work. While every rehearsal is a day in the life of the character and a step forward on our creative path, it cannot entirely substitute for homework research and the imaginative process. Today’s rehearsal only exists for the sake of tomorrow’s rehearsal; it is meant to prepare for the work of tomorrow. Not being able to support and assess it through homework would be a great loss and an obstacle on your creative way. That is why, despite your busy schedules, I urge you, from the first day at the conservatory, to develop a personal schedule that will allow for individual (and group) homework.

I would even suggest that you make a further step in this direction and strive not to separate between your everyday life and your creative life. After all, what you do in everyday life, how you behave, what conversations you have, what creative games you play with your colleagues, and how you behave towards them and other people in your life – all of it can be treated as a exercise that could potentially expand your creative individuality, make you more interesting onstage, make you a better partner and ensemble member, and make your characters more rich and complex. The true creative process does not end with the end of the class. It continues within you subconsciously, and you can support it by consciously creating conditions that stimulate this process.

Your success as an actor and artist also depends enormously on the books you read, the movies you watch, the music you listen to and the visual art you view. Without such creative “inhale”, you will have less to “exhale” in your own creative work. This is why I find the time outside of the classroom during your conservatory journey almost as important as the classroom work. I am calling on you to structure this part of your life from day one and to continue adjusting it along the way.

These are some of the thoughts I wanted to share with you as we prepare for our first meeting on August 26th. During that meeting, we will discuss our year together. We will build artistic plans and outline creative objectives. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your summer. Here is to a great year!

He also attached a reading list.

1. Stanislavski, C.

Routledge, London and New York, 2008

2. Stanislavski, C.

New York: Routledge/Theatre Arts Books, Reprint Editions, 1989

3. ACTORS ON ACTING: The Theories, Techniques, and Practices of the World's Great Actors, Told in Their Own Words

by Toby Cole and Helen Krich Chinoy (Editors)
Three Rivers Press; 4th edition, 1995

4. Michael Chekhov

TO THE ACTOR: On the Technique of Acting
Revised and expanded edition, foreword by Simon Callow
With a previously unpublished Guide to the Psychological Gesture Technique, translation and commentary by Andrei Malaev-Babel, and a biographical overview by Mala Powers. ~ Routledge, 2002